Had the recent White House fence-jumper made his dash a few minutes earlier, he would have found the building teeming with dark-suited Secret Service agents and a counterassault team trained to repel surprise attacks on the president, says the New York Times. When President Obama left the White House for Camp David Sept. 19, responsibility for protecting the White House fell to a lesser known branch of the Secret Service, the Uniformed Division, whose officers have traditionally been younger, less experienced and paid less.
Little attention has been given to a structural issue that has divided the agency and defined its culture since 1930, when Congress folded what was then the White House Police Force into the Secret Service. “There's a disparity between agents and officers,” said Manuel Ovalle, who spent decades in the Uniformed Division and served as its ombudsman. It was always clear where the officers stood in the hierarchy. “It is an agent-run organization.” That disparity, along with the questions it raises about morale and training, is an issue the Secret Service is investigating in response to the intense criticism it has received over security breaches. Some 3,200 agents protect the president, his family and other high-ranking officials. A much smaller number of about 1,300 uniformed officers stand posts at the White House and at the vice president's residence, and provide police services for foreign embassies.