Secret Service director personally involved in pope’s security

WASHINGTON — Joseph Clancy spent 27 years as a Secret Service officer before retiring in 2011 as a highly respected agent. But after returning last year as director of an agency embarrassed by recent scandals and lapses in judgment, he’s taken a hands-on approach to numerous important issues, including the upcoming visit of Pope Francis.

The pope’s visit has been designated by the Department of Homeland Security as a National Special Security Event.

“So Secret Service will take the lead role in that,” Clancy told WTOP in recent interview.

“We’ve traveled to Rome. I’ve traveled personally, as well as the two detail leaders for that visit, to get a firsthand look at how the security for the Vatican works around this pope,” said Clancy.

The pontiff arrives at Joint Base Andrews Sept. 22, and departs from Philadelphia for Rome Sept. 27.

Clancy said the preparation for the trip has been a team effort. He gave no details about the makeup of the team except to say, “We’ve met with Vatican security both over there and here in this country.”

As far as the Washington leg of the visit, Clancy said, “We’re working very closely here in Washington with Chief Lanier and the Metropolitan Police Department.”

Making sure that no lapses occur during the pope’s five-day visit is paramount for the Secret Service, because it takes place during a busy time.

On Sept. 15, the 70th-anniversary session of the United Nation’s General Assembly (UNGA) gets underway in New York. About 140 heads of state and dignitaries and their spouses are expected to begin arriving. The Secret Service plays a significant role in their protection as well.

As it prepares for the events, internal issues have received substantial attention.

The agency has been working to repair its image after succession of mistakes that started in 2009, when two aspiring reality TV personalities sneaked into a White House state dinner. A questionable investigation into a shooting near the White House in 2011 followed. In 2012, the agency was rocked by a prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia.

An embarrassing public drunkenness episode took place in the Netherlands during a presidential visit in March 2014. Six months later, on Sept. 16, an armed private contractor with an arrest record was allowed on an elevator with President Barack Obama.

Clancy made it clear, after rejoining the agency, lapses in judgment would no longer be tolerated.

“I’m trying to get out to as many field offices as I can. I’ve been to six or seven and I’ve been to every detail, so they know what my expectations are,” Clancy said.

He outlined to WTOP parts of his plan for restoring the image of the agency, which features increased staffing.

“It will allow us to get more personnel out to training. That’s really critical. We’ve seen that some of our errors in the past have been because we haven’t trained to the level that we want to train.”

The agency has 6,500 employees, but Clancy said, “One of the things we’re diligently looking at is increasing our staffing. We are on schedule to have 10 classes of agents this year; approximately 216 new agents and more than 200 uniformed division officers will be hired this year.”

The additional officers will play important roles the coming months, because in addition to the pope’s visit and the 70th anniversary of the UNGA, 2016 is an election year in the U.S., and presidential candidates will be allocated Secret Service protection.

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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