Pierson, in her position for just 18 months, faced mounting calls
from lawmakers to step down in the fallout from a September 19
incident in which an Iraq war veteran with a knife scaled the White
House fence, sprinted across the lawn and got deep inside the
mansion before an off-duty agent stopped him.
Pierson had told a congressional committee on Tuesday she took "full
responsibility" for gaps in presidential security. On Wednesday, she
offered her resignation in a meeting with Homeland Security
Secretary Jeh Johnson, who accepted it.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama believed Pierson's
resignation was in the best interest of the agency, and that "recent
and accumulating" reports of security lapses led the president to
conclude new leadership was required at the Secret Service.
The development came a day after the disclosure that in a violation
of protocol, an armed private security contractor with a criminal
record rode on an elevator with Obama in Atlanta earlier this month
and took pictures and video of the president on his phone.
The lapses, along with a 2011 incident in which seven gunshots were
fired at the White House, had raised concerns across Washington that
Obama was not as protected as he should be in an age of global
While all presidents have faced death threats, Obama, as the first
African-American president, is believed to have received more than
In response to calls from lawmakers for an independent probe into
the Sept. 19 fence-jumping incident, the Homeland Security
Department will establish a panel of independent experts to
investigate what happened and report back by Dec. 15.
The group will recommend changes to how the Secret Service operates,
particularly how to improve security of the White House compound.
Earnest said the panel will be asked to submit recommendations on
who might become the next permanent Secret Service director,
including individuals from outside the agency.
Joseph Clancy, the former head of Obama's protective detail until he
retired in 2011, was named acting director in the meantime, the
return of a familiar face for the president in a time of turmoil.
Clancy was summoned back to the White House on short notice from a
job as director of corporate security at Comcast.
The Secret Service has already taken some steps to bolster security.
It has established a barricade several feet away from the White
House fence to deter further fence-jumping, and is contemplating a
host of options for further measures.
But it faces a difficult balancing act, providing the necessary
security while still allowing access to close-up views of the iconic
white mansion, a symbol of democracy around the world.
[to top of second column]
When she was appointed the first female director of the Secret
Service, Pierson was given the mission of cleaning up the agency's
culture after a 2012 presidential trip to Colombia in which up to a
dozen agents were found to have hired prostitutes.
An episode last
March did not help the reputation of the 30-year Secret Service
veteran. Three agents responsible for protecting Obama in Amsterdam
were sent home and put on administration leave after what was
described as a night of drinking.
Representative Darrell Issa, who led a 3-1/2-hour grilling of
Pierson before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
on Tuesday, said he was doubtful one resignation would produce the
kind of change needed.
"Problems at the Secret Service pre-date Ms. Pierson's tenure as
director, and her resignation certainly does not resolve them," he
Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz, who chairs a national
security oversight subcommittee, questioned Pierson during Tuesday's
hearing on the number of times she had briefed Obama on incidents
this year where his safety had been compromised.
She replied that there was only one such briefing – after the fence
jumper incident. She made no mention of the Atlanta incident.
The omission prompted Chaffetz to call for her ouster, and he was
later followed by others, including Democratic Senator Charles
Schumer and Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the
"Director Pierson’s resignation is a matter of national security and
I am pleased she is stepping down. The position should be filled
immediately by new leadership from outside the Secret Service for a
fresh start," Chaffetz said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by David Lawder; Editing by John Whitesides
and Tom Brown)
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