Secret Service director calls for more funding for high-security events
The director of the Secret Service told lawmakers Thursday that the agency needs more money to fund coverage of high-profile functions that are designated as National Special Security Events (NSSEs) — there were five events that were specially designated and federally coordinated in the past year.
An NSSE-designated event prompts the federal government — led by the Secret Service in coordination with the FBI and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) — to work together to secure large venues that may be targeted by violent actors.
The current annual funding for these events is $45 million. Secret Service Director James Murray told lawmakers, “Candidly, it’s not enough. And we do need more to be able to do four or five of these a year.”
One function that was not designated an NSSE by the federal government was the January 6 certification of election results, targeted by a violent mob aiming to overturn the results of the election. In the agency’s first public hearing since the January 6 riot, Murray called the siege of the U.S. Capitol “abhorrent” and “an attack on democracy.”
“We in law enforcement and public safety can’t let it happen again,” Murray told the House Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee.
The director said he anticipates ongoing discussions about the potential need to pre-designate Congress’ election certification as an NSSE. “I do think there are opportunities for other events to be considered NSSEs,” the director added, noting designations are ultimately made by leaders at the Department of Homeland Security.
During Mr. Trump’s second impeachment trial, impeachment managers revealed insurrectionists storming the Capitol on January 6 came within 100 feet of then-Vice President Pence. As rioters poured into the Capitol building, Secret Service agents swiftly moved Pence from formal proceedings on the Senate floor to an unknown, secure location within the Capitol Complex.
A video the managers played during the trial showed Pence, his family, military aides and USSS agents hurrying down a flight of stairs.
The director confirmed that the Secret Service conducted an “after-action review” of January 6. The agency also reviewed its role in peaceful protests in Lafayette Park last June after agents deployed pepper spray and smoke bombs to forcibly disperse crowds just before then-President Trump walked to St. John’s Church, near the White House.
Murray predicted the public would “soon” be able to view the White House from Pennsylvania Avenue, after the agency closed off the entire street, last June. The construction of new anti-scaling fencing around the White House is well underway, with fencing already completed on the north side of the White House.
“The new fence is a game changer for us,” Murray said, adding that the agency might set up an additional checkpoint to screen individuals approaching the White House fencing.
But he also said the agency would need more funding so that a replica of White House facilities can be built at the Secret Service Training Facility.
The current set-up, Murray said, is akin to holding basketball practices on a grass field instead of a gym with baskets. “The one thing we don’t have is anything that replicates our permanent protective facilities, such as the White House.”
During the hearing, lawmakers probed him on Mr. Trump’s drive around Walter Reed Medical Center last October, when he was being treated for his COVID-19 infection. The director revealed the two agents who drove the commander-in-chief wore full medical protective gear.
Murray said the ride-a-long — widely criticized at the time as a publicity stunt that could have endangered the lives of agents — “was extensively discussed” with medical professionals beforehand.
“The two individuals in the vehicle were fully outfitted in PPE,” the director said, though he conceded plans to accommodate the president’s wishes were made hastily.
“Granted, I don’t think our agents had a whole lot of time to do it, but in order to determine whether or not it was achievable, they had to have conversations with the medical staff in the White House medical unit.”