The Secret Service's Public Screwups Just Cost Its Director Her Job

The director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, abruptly resigned Wednesday after revelations of a series of frightening security breaches in the protective bubble that is meant to safeguard President Barack Obama and his family prompted widespread calls for her ouster.

For an administration that often refuses to abandon top officials in the early days of a scandal, Pierson's firing happened at lightning speed.

"Today Julia Pierson, the Director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it," Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a statement. "I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the Nation."

Pierson had come under mounting criticism in the days since Omar Gonzalez, an Iraq war veteran with a history of criminal behavior, hopped the White House fence and penetrated deep inside the building on Sept. 19. The Secret Service first downplayed the incident, but then had to admit that Gonzalez had more than 800 rounds of ammo in his car as well as hatchets and a machete, parked near the White House.

The agency long revered as one of the nation's most effective law enforcement institutions took another hit Tuesday when the Washington Examiner reported that the elite agents specifically assigned to protect Obama let an armed man ride an elevator with the president during an event in Atlanta at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In another mishap, the agency dismissed the firing of seven bullets into the White House in 2011 as backfire "from a nearby construction vehicle," according to the Washington Post, but the damage wasn't even discovered until an usher pointed out the bullet holes. First lady Michelle Obama was reportedly furious with the agency's bungled response. No witnesses were interviewed at the time of the shooting.

For days, the White House insisted that Pierson and the agency had the full support of the president, but in the last 24 hours, a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), called for her scalp. 

"The president is not well served.... I think this lady has to go," Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, told radio host Roland Martin.

"If Mr. Cummings thinks she should go, I subscribe to his recommendation," Pelosi said.

Taking her place in the interim is Joseph Clancy, the former special agent in charge of the presidential protective division of the Secret Service.

In his statement, Johnson handed responsibility for the ongoing inquiry into the fence-jumping incident to Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and said the review should be completed by Nov. 1.

He also announced the formation of a panel of independent experts to look into the Sept. 19 incident and broader issues facing the agency. Pierson was the first female director of the Secret Service. She was tapped by President Obama in March 2013 after a wave of prostitution scandals rocked the agency.

The 4 key points of Barack Obama's counterterrorism speech

In advance of Barack Obama's counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University in Washington Thursday, senior White House officials briefed reporters on the meat and potatoes of the president's address. If you don't have the time to watch the entire speech (you can livestream it here), this is your perfect Cliff Notes guide:

On closing Guantanamo: All those Democratic lawmakers writing letters to the president will be pleased: He's taking their advice. The president will reiterate his call to close the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and take up a number of steps to accelerate this process that were recommended this week. Those include: Designating a location in the United States to conduct military commissions to try Guantanamo detainees, lifting his self-imposed moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, and appointing a State Department and Pentagon envoy to personally oversee the transfer of detainees to other countries. "He will reiterate his call for the closure of Gitmo" and emphasize its "cost to our reputation," said a White House official.

On court oversight of armed drone strikes: The president will not wholly endorse the establishment of new powers for federal courts to oversee drone strikes, but he will tell the public he supports a dialogue about how to constrain the executive branch's ability in this area. Officials specifically mentioned an authority patterned after the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA), which oversees surveillance of suspected foreign spies. "He will indicate that he is open to working with Congress to review those options," said one White House official.

On codifying drone policies: The president is expected to discuss a new policy guidance he signed limiting the use of lethal drone strikes to targets who pose a "continuing, imminent threat to Americans" and cannot otherwise be captured. A drone strike will require "near-certainty" that civilians will not be killed, and the president will convey his preference that the U.S. military carry out drone strikes as opposed to the CIA. When asked how this policy differed from earlier policies, a senior official dodged, saying the administration was simply codifying best practices for drone strikes that have evolved over the years.

The end of the war on terrorism: Finally, the president will say that the so-called War on Terror "will come to an end at one point," after the administration's "focused effort" against al Qaeda and its affiliates is won. A White House official added that the president rejects the notion of a "global war on terror," noting that terrorism is a tactic that can never be completely rid from the world.

Amb. Anne Patterson refuses to take bait on Muslim Brotherhood

Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Egypt and reported shoo-in for assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, sat down with the Egyptian English-language news site Ahram Online recently for a wide-ranging discussion on the topics du jour in post-Mubarak Egypt.

During the chat, journalist Sarah El-Rashidi brought up a number of developments in Egypt that have angered Western observers and fueled disappointment in President Mohamed Morsy, from the controversial IMF loan intended to keep the country's sinking economy afloat to the seeming rise in incidents of sectarian violence and sexual harassment under the new regime.

But Patterson, ever the diplomat, largely didn't bite. Her careful comments indicate just how carefully the Obama administration has sought to balance between strengthening ties with the Islamist government and criticizing its increasingly authoritarian behavior, even as liberal Egyptians increasingly complain that the United States is treating the Muslim Brotherhood-led government with kid gloves and Egypt-watchers in Washington accuse the administration of losing focus after Mubarak's ouster.

On working with the Muslim Brotherhood

Ahram Online: How is the US government dealing with Egypt's new Islamist government?...

Anne Patterson: The fact is they ran in a legitimate election and won ... Of course it is challenging to be dealing with any new government. However, at the state institutional level, we are for instance still liaising with the same military and civil service personnel, and thus have retained the same long-established relations.

On human rights:

Ahram Online: According to US-based Human Rights Watch, rights violations have risen considerably since Mubarak's ouster. How is the US helping address the issue?

Anne Patterson: We try and speak out about Egypt's international treaties, such as the UN covenant on civil and political rights. We do not agree with claims that human rights violations are worse than ever under the new regime.

It cannot be ignored that freedom of expression has improved in a number of ways under the new regime, exemplified by the media and the freedom to talk openly and publicly chastise political figures. Look at the press, or any of the political talk shows on TV: Egyptians did not have such freedoms under Mubarak.

On the alleged rise in sexual assaults:

AP: In relation to the rise in sexual assault after the revolution, the minister of interior seems eager to address this problem and has agreed to instigate a training programme that will train police men and women how to investigate sexual assault cases. This programme will involve police officers travelling to the US for training and close alignment with female NGOs.  

It is important to take into consideration, however, that since the revolution, people are less scared and more willing to report sexual abuses; hence the rise in reporting. That does not necessarily imply that the actual figures have increased, but that perhaps reporting has risen as victims are more confident and prepared to report violations.

I bet there will be an explosion in the number of sexual assault cases reported in the near future. All things considered, clearly, substantial progress still needs to be made.

On the growing influence of hard-line Islamist political movements

AO: What is the US perception of the Salafist Nour Party and its policies?

AP: The Nour Party won 25 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections in 2012. As Americans, we try to collaborate with all legitimate parties.

The Obama administration has largely confined its criticism of Morsy's government to lower-level officials.

On Monday, for instance, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell expressed concern about "the growing trend of efforts to punish and deter political expression in Egypt," in wake of defamation charges against a pair of Egyptian journalists who spoke critically of President Morsy. "Numerous individuals, including journalists, bloggers, and activists have been detained, and some are being charged and put on trial for allegedly defaming government figures," Ventrell said.

One Washington Middle East hand tells The Cable that a White House official told him that even that statement required no small amount of internal wrangling. "You have no idea how much work it took to get the statement in there," the official said. "A lot of bureaucratic politicking."

The White House last week named a new senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, Prem Kumar, who replaced Steve Simon. Simon left the administration in January to head the Washington office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Kumar, who is well-regarded among insiders but little known elsewhere, has served at the White House since April 2009, following a stint at the State Department. At the NSC, he previously worked on a number of regional issues, including Egypt.

WikiLeaks cable captures Margaret Thatcher's meteoric rise in 1975

Before anyone in the United States knew who Margaret Thatcher was -- including the president -- it was the job of a U.S. diplomat to describe this new rising star in Britain's political scene. The year was 1975, Gerald Ford was president, and Thatcher had just successfully challenged former Prime Minister Edward Heath for the Conservative Party's leadership. In a newly digitized cable from WikiLeaks, a U.S. diplomat gives a colorful and breathless first impression of the Iron Lady before she became a giant of the 20th century. The document is dated Feb. 12, 1975, from the U.S. Embassy in London to the U.S. secretary of state:

Amusingly, the cable goes on discuss Thatcher's lack of a common touch, despite the fact that she came from modest means and always took pride in being a "grocer's daughter." Notice the reference to "Thatcher the Milk Snatcher."

Another cable continues on this note, describing her as "frightfully English":

Little did U.S. officials know that Thatcher would become one of the most transformational figures of the last 50 years. But hey, here's to first drafts.

Rand Paul name drops bloggers in old-school filibuster

In a rather media savvy statement against White House drone policies, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is ticking off a who's who of civil libertarian bloggers, in an old-fashioned filibuster on the Senate floor today. Bloggers mentioned so far include the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, FireDogLake's Kevin Gosztola and the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf, who've each written critically of "signature" drone strikes and their legal justification.

The theatrics, which you can watch on C-SPAN this very moment, are lighting up Twitter as journalists go about humble-bragging that they've just been mentioned on the Senate floor, which in turn bring's more attention to Paul's principled diatribe. While comparisons to Jimmy Stewart in the classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington are already circulating, another more current pop culture reference comes to mind in the West Wing's "Stackhouse Filibuster" episode, where a cantankerous congressman attempts to grind the Senate to a halt by reading extensively from a cookbook. But who needs to waste time with recipes of deep fried fantail shrimp when you've got pages and pages of blogs posts, which will set the Twittersphere on fire? Watch the speech in progress here