Secret service chief’s sacking had nothing to do with gender

Julia Pierson withheld crucial information and papered over fiascos at a vital agency

Julia Pierson prepares to testify before a White House committee last month. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Julia Pierson prepares to testify before a White House committee last month. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

 

Did Julia Pierson get pushed off the glass cliff? Writing in the New Republic, Bryce Covert suggests that Pierson’s sex – she was the first woman to run the secret service in its 149-year history – played a role in her demise.

“Time and again,” Covert wrote, “women are put in charge only when there’s a mess, and if they can’t engineer a quick cleanup, they’re shoved out the door.” She added: “As with Pierson, women are often put in these positions because rough patches make people think they need to shake things up and try something new – like putting a woman in charge. When it’s smooth sailing, on the other hand, men get to maintain control of the steering wheel. Women are also thought to have qualities associated with cleaning up messes.”

Other feminists also debated if top women have a shorter leash than men. In this case, though, the shorter leash was on the White House guard dogs. It is hard to believe, but the officers in charge two weeks ago when an Iraq veteran named Omar Gonzalez clambered over the White House gate and ran, with a limp because of a partially amputated foot, past an unlocked door into the East Room, did not unmuzzle the Belgian Malinois.

Navy Seal dogs

Osama bin Laden

It is true that women often get top jobs, like evening news anchor or Hollywood studio chief, after the institutions have lost their lustre. But, in Pierson’s case, she earned her abrupt exit fair and square. It’s no blot on the copybook of women. She withheld crucial information and helped paper over fiascos at an agency where mismanagement and denial put the president’s life (and his family’s lives) in jeopardy.

Presidents are hesitant to ride herd on the agency because, as one White House insider noted, “these people know everything about him, his wife, his kids, his in-laws, all of his secrets. You feel a little vulnerable when people know things about you.”

Pierson (55) benefited from her sex in getting the job. The White House thought it would be good optics – that most egregious word – after a dozen secret service agents were caught cavorting with hookers in Cartagena, Colombia.

Belligerence

Hillary Clinton

Pierson, a 30-year veteran of the agency, was anything but forthright on the botched response to Gonzalez, who easily penetrated what is supposed to be one of the most secure places on earth. A gang of secret service hotshots couldn’t bring down a guy sprinting across the White House lawn? The agency made a risibly disingenuous statement saying that the intruder was caught “after entering the White House North Portico doors” and that the officers had shown “tremendous restraint and discipline in dealing with this subject”.

Pierson was anything but inclusive with the president when she failed to notify him that his agents had let an armed private contractor with a troubling record, acting in a troubling way, into the elevator with him in Atlanta. This, even though they had a meeting in the Oval Office eight days later. She also did not reveal it during the congressional hearing, where she accomplished the impossible, uniting the parties in outrage against her robotic testimony full of excuses and bureaucratese about “the totality of the circumstances”.

Angry

Washington ExaminerWashington Post

When not bungled, secure and inviting are not mutually exclusive. Pierson shattered the glass ceiling, but she also helped shatter the concept of an invulnerable praetorian guard – a lapse that puts the president in greater danger from all America’s crazed enemies. Two women reacted like champs, as the elite guards focused more on protecting their reputation than their charges’ lives. Michelle Obama was rightfully livid about the lapses and presumably had a hand in the shake-up. And, in a 2011 incident in which a man shot at the White House, shattering a window on the Truman balcony while Sasha and her grandmother were inside, secret service officer Carrie Johnson was a heroine.

Dunderheads

Washington Post

It shouldn’t be that hard to protect the White House with a $1.6 billion budget. The agency says there’s a manpower shortage. But the problem really is that it’s another bloated, mismanaged bureaucracy full of favouritism, bickering and leaks.

After 9/11, the government was revamped to make sure we would never fall asleep at the switch again. But it keeps happening, with everything from Islamic State to the secret service. Indeed the latter is performing about as well as the Iraqi security forces have been against Islamic State. On both fronts, the White House is saying that this time it will work better.

In the movie In the Line of Fire, John Malkovich’s ex-CIA psychopath muses to Clint Eastwood’s secret service agent: “You have such a strange job. I can’t decide if it’s heroic or absurd.” Can we have more heroic and less absurd? – (New York Times service)

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