Racism Within the Secret Service Colors Recent Threats to Obama’s Security
Pending lawsuits and a letter from a congressman point to a pattern of ongoing racial dysfunction within the agency
The safety of President Barack Obama or his family has been put at risk at least five times since 2011 due to security lapses by the U.S. Secret Service.
Although the particulars of each incident vary, Matthew Fogg, an expert in federal Equal Opportunity Employment (EEO) cases, contends there is a little-discussed factor that may well be playing a major role in what a recent report from the Department of Homeland Security’s [DHS’] Office of Inspector General (OIG) describes as the “management challenges” and “potential systemic issues” facing the Secret Service.
That factor, Fogg argues, is the atmosphere of racial tension and discrimination that currently pervades the Secret Service.
Four of the incidents that posed a threat to President Obama or his wife and chidlren are still under review by the OIG, according to a report it provided to the DHS secretary this past spring. Those incidents, as outlined in that OIG report, include the following:
• A 2011 incident when shots were fired at the White House;
• A 2014 incident when an armed private security guard came in close proximity to the President;
• A 2014 White House fence-jumping incident;
• A 2015 incident when an individual possibly known to the Secret Service landed a gyrocopter on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.
The OIG completed a factual inquiry into the fifth incident earlier this year in which, according to its preliminary report, “two senior Secret Service special agents, including one who is responsible for all aspects of White House security, disrupted the scene of an investigation of a suspicious package [on March 4, 2015] during an elevated security condition at the White House Complex.
The OIG report states further that the OIG is “deferring conclusions about potential systemic issues facing the Secret Service” until probes into the other four events are completed.
The racial dysfunction that potentially contributed to the security lapses at the White House and beyond, as Fogg suggests, exists not only among the Secret Service’s 3,200 special agents. It also extends, according to information recently uncovered by Narco News, to the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service and its 1,300 or so officers.
The racial disharmony within the ranks of the special agents has received some media attention in the past, including by Narco News, given a group of black agents have a long-running federal class-action lawsuit pending against the agency.
But the troubles within the Uniformed Division have not surfaced publicly — until now, with the recent filing of a federal discrimination lawsuit by Lester Blount, an African American uniformed Secret Service officer. Blount served from 2003 to 2012 in the White House K-9 detachment — working with a dog named “Chico,” who was trained to detect explosives.
Blount filed several EEO complaints against the Secret Service alleging racial discrimination between 2005 and 2011. In his still-pending federal-court pleadings, Blount claims those EEO complaints prompted his supervisors to retaliate against him further, ultimately resulting in him being placed on administrative leave and later demoted to a lower-paying, less-prestigious position within the Secret Service. The continuing pattern of discrimination and retaliation led Blount to file a lawsuit in late May in U.S. District Court against the DHS — the parent agency of the Secret Service.
Narco News also recently obtained a letter related to Blount’s case that was sent to the secretary of the DHS by U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Mississippi, former chairman and current ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security. That letter offers even more insight into the culture of racial dysfunction existing within the Secret Service Uniformed Division.
Fogg, a former chief deputy U.S. Marshal who won a major racial discrimination case against his agency in 1998, stresses that if the Secret Service is failing to hire and promote the best agents because of skin color, or is retaliating against and disciplining unfairly the black agents who have been hired, then that kind of activity is bound to have an impact on the president because it means the best people aren’t being put in the critical positions to assure his safety — as well as the security of his family.
“If the Secret Service has a problem with black people,” Fogg adds, “that could apply to the treatment of the president, because he is a black man.”
The racial acrimony in the Secret Service is underscored by the class-action lawsuit filed by African-American Secret Service agents. In pleadings in that case, which has been pending since 2000, a group of black special agents allege that racial discrimination is part of the “fabric of the agency and has spanned several decades.”
The Secret Service declines to comment on the agents’ case because, like Blount’s case, the litigation is still pending. But U.S. Rep. Thompson makes clear in the letter he sent to the secretary of the DHS that he is concerned the Secret Service’s treatment of Blount is “indicative of ongoing problems within this [Uniformed] Division.”
Thompson’s letter was written in 2010, but it has not been made public previously. The letter reveals that the Secret Service agents, along with state and local police officers, raided Blount’s Maryland home in 2008 and held his family at gunpoint as part of an alleged steroid investigation.
Blount was placed on administrative leave by the Secret Service following the raid, though he was never arrested and the entire investigation against him was soon dropped for lack of evidence. Still the Secret Service had failed to reinstate Blount as of 2010, when the congressman sent his letter to DHS. Thompson’s letter points out that the raid on Blount’s home in July 2008 was preceded by a December 2007 EEO complaint filed by Blount that raised new allegations of agency reprisal for his prior EEO complaints against his supervisors.
“The investigation into that … complaint uncovered evidence supporting Mr. Blount’s complaint and suggesting that EEO problems could extend through the Uniformed Division,” Thompson’s letter states. “… Not only is the alleged discrimination [in Blount’s case] currently ongoing, but there is also evidence that EEO [racial discrimination] issues extend beyond this individual’s case, and impact employees and managers across the Uniformed Division [of Secret Service].”
In the wake of Thompson’s letter, the Secret Service reinstated Blount. He is currently assigned to duty at the “Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. … at a considerable loss of income,” compared with his prior White House canine-unit position, Blount’s lawsuit states. Though he successfully worked as a Secret Service canine specialist for nine years, Blount alleges in his court pleadings that supervisors have continued to torpedo his efforts to move back to the canine unit.
Blount declined to comment for this story because his case is still pending.
Fogg, however, is blunt in his assessment of the threat posed to President Obama, and potentially his family, should the racial dysfunction within the Secret Service not be taken seriously.
“I’d say if the racial discrimination [in the various complaints] is as bad as alleged, and given the president is a black man, then his life is in more jeopardy,” Fogg said. “I do believe racism is part of the problem in the Secret Service.”
Narco News has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Secret Service seeking records kept by the agency on “pending or settled claims of discrimination filed by uniformed officers or special agents against the U.S. Secret Service” as well as records “pertaining to Secret Service Legal Division policies and actions related to African-American employee claims of racial discrimination.”