Bob Franken: Protection against the protectors

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, September 27, 2014 8:42pm
  • Opinion

How badly did the Secret Service foul things up when intruder Omar Gonzalez managed to get inside the White House through an unlocked front door? Where do we begin?

Do we start with the surveillance outside, which is supposed to stop anyone from jumping the fence, but frequently doesn’t? Or do we marvel at how he sprinted 70 yards past several levels of supposed protection, human and canine, and actually got inside? And why was the door unlocked to begin with? Or do we rewind to July, when Gonzalez initially came to the Secret Service’s attention and was interviewed by agents when he was arrested in Virginia with weapons in his car and a map that included the White House. That was just the first time. There were other incidents that placed him on the agency’s radar screen. And yet, for whatever reason, he managed to fly under the radar. The reason is plainly and simply that the Secret Service screwed up, big-time.

Let me insert right here that as someone who covered the White House for years as well as through many campaigns, I have a huge respect for the men and women who protect the families of the president and vice president. They are tough, dedicated and adept at maneuvering through the treacherous territory between doing whatever it takes and leaving as few bruised feelings as possible. As a TV reporter, I traded elbows with them daily, trying to get as close to the story as we could.

But elite though it is, the Secret Service is a law-enforcement agency, which means that its leaders are focused first and foremost on their mission. Everything else is secondary. So it was true to form when, after this latest embarrassment, the first thing they did was to float the idea that maybe those who come to see the White House, “The People’s House,” should have to view it from farther away. Maybe those who now walk outside its wrought-iron gates should be placed behind barriers, or be screened by security before they’re allowed onto the pedestrian area. Never mind that it would impinge on the openness that is supposed to be such an American expectation, and never mind that somebody shouldn’t have forgotten the front door, police agencies will take whatever they can to make doing their jobs easier.

It explains why local departments around the country are gobbling up all the armored war paraphernalia from the Pentagon for them to do their job. Or to overdo their job. It’s harder to operate on a street level, easier to use overwhelming brute force, and civil liberties be hanged.

While not law-enforcement entities exactly, the same mentality dominates the mindset of those who operate our intelligence agencies. So if, in the name of protecting the nation — the “homeland,” as they like to call it — from terrorist attack they master the technical ability to spy on each and every one of us, then sure, do it, sweep aside any consideration for the privacy that we naively had come to expect. Furthermore, anyone who exposes them should be arrested or, in the case of Ed Snowden, be forced to flee the country and hide out in Russia.

We like to set the United States apart from countries like Russia, whose systems run roughshod over the concept of freedom. But a big threat to our ideals are those who are supposed to protect us, but who have become tunnel-vision zealots and need to be reined in.

So to the Secret Service and the police forces and the intelligence agencies: Never lose sight of the fact that being a democracy is tough. It makes your work protecting it harder. But deal with it. Each time you successfully whittle away at our rights and freedoms, there’s a little bit less of our great country to protect.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

More in Opinion

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: All votes matter

In the beginning, only property-holding white men could vote.

Cristen San Roman. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Is management of Cook Inlet catered to special interest groups?

If these fish are so at risk, why is BOEM able to move forward with lease sale 258?

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Grateful for the hidden ‘good’

Gratitude: Noun The state of being grateful; thankfulness. The state or quality… Continue reading

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski. (Photo provided)
Point of View: What is Homer High School about?

What I consider Homer High’s strength is that we are a place for learning.

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell. (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Invent your future at UAA

At UAA we’re providing the tools to help students of all ages and skills chart a new course forward.

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Vaccination is the still best protection from COVID-19

The Alaska State Medical Association encourages you to protect yourselves and your community from preventable illness by getting recommended vaccines.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Alaska Voices: Restore our strong campaign donation limits

Without campaign spending limits, the ideal of one person, one vote is no longer really true.

The Final Redistricting Map approved for the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna area is seen on Nov. 9, 2021. (Map via
Alaska Voices: The Alaska Redistricting Board’s last-minute gerrymandering failed Alaska

Our Constitution outlines rules for a redistricting process designed to uphold public trust.

This photo shows the trans-Alaska pipeline and pump station north of Fairbanks. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
Alaska Voices: The permanent fund has been taking care of Alaskans for 45 years

It’s the largest sovereign wealth fund in the nation, the pride of Alaska and this month we celebrate its 45th anniversary.

Dr. Tom Hennessy, MD, MPH (Courtesy)
Voices of the Peninsula: Don’t take medical advice from politicians, athletes or social media

Evidence leads to consensus among medical doctors: Vaccines are the best way to prevent infection.

The Entrance to the University of Alaska Southeast. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The University of Alaska is the state’s most important resource

Together, let’s break the record for donor participation.