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Secret Service, TSA, and Military Scandals Break the Public Trust

When the good go bad

Nearly a dozen U.S. Secret Service and nearly 10 more U.S. military personnel are implicated in a prostitution scandal in Colombia while their boss, the president of the United States, meets with leaders from the Americas.

Several TSA agents are arrested for stealing, assaults, possession of child pornography, and other infractions.

Military service personnel urinate on the dead bodies of their enemies while others pose for photos with their body parts.

So when did the good guys, the ones who took oaths to protect us (and one another) suddenly become people of questionable character?

That’s a question a lot of people are asking, from professional peers to the news media, the people they serve, the Congress, and everyone else in between. We’ve seen more than our share of colorful stories of late that are giving us all a reason to take a moment and shake our heads in disappointment, if not outright disgust.

Questions about the operational culture of the organizations, employment screening procedures, personnel stress and maturity are all being bandied about. As repugnant and as embarrassing as each of these episodes may be to their respective organizations, the truth is each of these incidents is emblematic of the fractured, imperfect and wholly fallible fabric of people and organizations in our daily lives.

Every person, regardless of who they are, what they do and where they do it, is fully capable of doing the right things for the right reasons. They can be constantly trained on procedures and operations to do their job to its ultimate perfection and superior performance. All of those things that go into doing their jobs can occur on a day-in and day-out basis, but in the end they are all performed by imperfect people that are also fully capable at any instant of succumbing to temptation, greed, or other poor behaviors.

There is no such thing as a perfect organization or a perfect person. All are fallible. But what every organization and person does have within their power is judgment. It is that individual authority to decide what you are going to do at any given moment. It’s that internal process in our brains that guides our decision-making process and asks, “Which path do I take? What door do I open?”

How you exercise that judgment often says an awful lot about an organization as well as an individual. That’s a big reason why we are shaking our heads at these recent incidents.

The U.S. Secret Service is one of the world’s most elite law enforcement organizations, charged with, among other things, protecting the president and our nation’s other executive leaders from harm. Because of the disastrous consequences that could befall the nation’s leaders should they somehow fail at their mission, their operations should never be compromised.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed to make sure no one got onto a plane or any other mass transit vehicle and turned it into a weapon to kill people. For all of the gripes and frustrations that people may have about taking their shoes off and being scanned before getting on a plane, the fact is that air travel and other modes of transportation are safer and a harder target for the real bad guys who would try to replicate the murderous attacks on the passengers of four airplanes more than a decade before.

For the U.S. military service personnel serving in Afghanistan, they are truly serving in a no man’s land where some very bad people continue to do horrific things to their fellow Afghans and others. Their service for over a decade in a never-ending struggle has rid the world of some of the worst examples of the human species. Each service member, regardless of military branch, has been led and trained by some of the world’s finest, and has been expected to represent the best of our country at all times.

Unfortunately, the operational judgments of what can truly be called a small minority group of individuals in each of these organizations has left a very public stain on the larger majority of their organizational brethren. That’s a horrific shame on many levels, but it’s the nature of how people look and perceive things to be when something like the recent events occur. People are often very quick to assert that if it has happened once, it must have happened dozens of more times before. Thoughts of that nature are fallacies, and should be called out as such.

No one should believe for an instant that the actions of a few Secret Service agents in Colombia are emblematic of the values and skills of the larger organization that they came from. Nor should the wrongful actions of a few TSA agents or ill-behaved military service personnel be considered representative of the larger organization and forces that have served with honor and distinction.

In going forward, internal and external investigators, media personnel and congressional members will ask lots of probing questions about these incidents. Those are certainly appropriate given the public responsibilities each taxpayer funded entity has, but wiser time can and should be spent on refining and educating every employee of the effects their individual judgments have upon not just themselves but others. There is little doubt that none of the offending individuals in these incidents gave their names or reputations any positive enhancement. They have in many ways ruined their professional careers for good, and have probably done equally devastating harm to their personal reputations as well.

Regardless of whatever stellar service any of them may have provided previously, their failure in judgment in a single moment in time to uphold their training, their integrity and the reputation of the organizations will linger for a long time. Somewhere along the line, each of the individuals involved in these cases forgot the fact that judgment is inherently a given trust to make the right call, even when you think no one is looking. For reasons that can never ever be explained, failed judgments, like broken trusts, always come out in the end, and so do the consequences.

It’s those consequences that are paid for by those left behind; those who were doing their intended jobs in the first place. They’re the good guys, and on top of trying to stop the bad guys, they also have to rebuild the broken trusts. That can often be a harder mission to fulfill.


Richard “Rich” Cooper is a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC, a government and public affairs...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-27753">

    There is no trust to regain. Our Federal policing and security agencies, and the military lie to everyone outside their secret society as policy. Guys I know that have been in the military for life are ruined as people. They have had crappy lives by choice. No one is drafted anymore. America owes nothing to any of these “heros”.

    And as history shows, our noble diplomats, spies, grunts, sailors and jarheads have been contracting diseases from hookers forever. Tax payers should demand complete accounting of all DoD spending. Then cut the Pentagon budget in half and fire a lot of Brass. It is a criminal enterprise that is robbing American taxpayers blind. The lack of ethics is just a smelly part of the mix.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-28368">

    TSA screeners are sometimes involved in drug smuggling and theft, that’s true. But their worst crimes are the crimes of violence committed against defenseless children, rubbing the genitals of underage kids through their clothes against their will. Four-year-old Isabella Brademeyer had it exactly right to run away from the TSA screaming – they were definitely trying to harm her because they were forcing unwelcome sexual contact on a child. All TSA employees have agreed to compromise morality to the point that they will put their hands down the pants of an unrelated minor for cash. TSA screeners are all traitors to the Constitution, and further they have caused needless psychological distress by re-traumatizing rape survivors and creating new sexual assault victims every day. Sexual abuse is the far worse crime that all TSA screeners are guilty of. I don’t really care if the TSA steals my Ipad – here, you can have it, you can have my wallet, anything, just keep your filthy hands off my body! My body is my own; it is not the government’s plaything.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-28406">
    Bill Fisher

    John Pistole and Janet Napolitano are responsible for the abusive practices being inflicted upon travelers by TSA every day and they should be prosecuted for violating the basic human rights of millions of Americans. Under their policies, TSA screeners have been turned into child molesters and our children taught to be victims. Al Qaeda has succeeded in altering our way of life and stripping us of our liberties and Pistole has been their willing accomplice.

    In less than 10 days they molested three children, a ten year old with a diabetes pump, a four year old who hugged her grandma and a seven year old with cerebral palsy, twice! They also sexually assaulted a Congressman, molested an elderly couple and robbed them of $300, closed two terminals for security errors and four TSA screeners were arrested for smuggling drugs through LAX.

    Meanwhile, a report from Atlanta indicates that they are allowing airport workers to operate in secure areas of airports without completing background checks. Yet the TSA apologists continue to say that this crime and abuse by TSA is somehow improving airline security.

    There were a total of 91 TSA workers arrested in the last 16 months including 12 arrested for child sex crimes, over 25 for theft, ten for smuggling and even one for murder. Crime, abuse and incompetence is so widespread in TSA that even Kip Hawley, the last TSA Director, has called for its overhaul.

    This just demonstrates how stupid and perverse the TSA approach is and why it needs to be overhauled. TSA has done more damage to our liberty, way of life and morality than Al Qaeda could have ever hoped to do.

    It’s long past time to replace this agency with a sensible and effective system.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-28988">
    David Cutchins

    Not to excuse the actions of those involved, but if there is a common thread between these seemingly increasing occurences of poor behavior on the part of our public servants and the military, is it not a lack of leadership? What is leadership if not successfully setting an example that is consistently followed? When there is a leadership vaccuum, at best, there is declining discipline and integrity in the ranks. And when the leadership dictates, for example, that an immoral lifestyle is acceptable, then why should we be surprised that the result is a decrease in personal standards? The leadership has lowered the bar, the troops have followed that lead.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-142081">

    Thank you for pointing out that the majority of Secret Service Agents take their duties seriously, serving with honor and pride. Human nature is fallible and nothing will ever change that. The Agency is constantly challenged to adapt, improve, improvise, and change to successfully accomplish objectives, while remaining steadfast to their oath: “Worthy of Trust and Confidence. I was married to one of those “testosterone soaked” men for 17+ years. His name was the 36th addition to ‘The Wall Of Honor” at HQ just last May. And I can assure you the SOP manual was as much a part of his daily life as putting on his socks, washing dishes after dinner, or changing a dirty diaper. His body fat was 10.5%, he could finish a mile in 10.3 min., and split a pea with a Sig at a 1000 yards. Yeah, I’ll take that kind of testosterone 7 days a week. It’s a sad, sad day when when the good guys get thrown out with the bad.