President Obama’s security breached 3 times in Atlanta CDC visit, new investigation finds

President Barack Obama during a visit to Atlanta's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September (AJC file/Hyosub Shin)

President Barack Obama during a visit to Atlanta’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2014 (AJC file/Hyosub Shin)

WASHINGTON — A presidential visit to Atlanta for a briefing on the Ebola crisis last year turned into a black eye for the Secret Service when it was later revealed that an armed contractor with a criminal record was in an elevator with President Barack Obama.

The incident was the final straw in the resignation of Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, following a string of lapses. Congressional investigators have now dug up new details on the incident — among other Secret Service problems — in a report released today.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found that the elevator incident at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention amounted to three breaches of Obama’s security that went well beyond a single elevator operator:

“The Committee’s investigation found a string of failures that resulted in three breaches in President Obama’s security: first, by allowing unvetted armed guards in close proximity to the President; second, by allowing the President onto an elevator with an unpinned but armed individual with an arrest history, including an arrest for reckless conduct with a gun in an incident that involved shooting at a vehicle with a three-year-old child in the back seat; and third, by allowing that unpinned guard to follow the President into a departure tent. The failures were both on the part of the Presidential Protective Division (PPD), which travels with the President, as well as USSS personnel in the Atlanta Field Office.”

The committee goes on to say that the blame fell directly with the Secret Service, not the CDC:

“Despite initially blaming CDC, USSS eventually found that PPD and Atlanta Field Office site agents shouldered most of the responsibility for the breach as a result of these lapses. CDC gave USSS notice that CDC security personnel would be armed, arguably increasing the need for USSS to conduct background checks on those individuals. A USSS security questionnaire completed by CDC prior to the President’s visit specifically asked if on-site security personnel were armed. CDC answered affirmatively and returned the questionnaire to USSS on September 12, 2014, four days before the President’s visit.”

The security contractor, Kenneth Tate, was fired. He later told the AJC he had worked as an armed contractor for a while at the CDC, protected some big names and the charges against him were dropped in the old arrests that had raised alarm bells. Congressional investigators said one of the arrests was for reckless conduct with a weapon, describing the incident as Tate intervening in a dispute and firing a gun at a fleeing vehicle with a 3-year-old in the back seat. Charges were dropped after the fleeing suspect died.

Tate was the fall guy, but the committee points to wider problems — including “inconsistent” testimony from new Director Joseph Clancy, who told the committee that Tate was the only armed contractor inside the perimeter. CDC told Secret Service that all its security contractors were armed, while the Secret Service told Congress that unarmed CDC contractors were inside the perimeter.

The icing on the cake: Pierson did not tell Obama about the security breach until two weeks later, when the Washington Post got hold of it.


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