Secret Service Video Surveillance Scandal

By John Honovich, Published Mar 27, 2015, 12:00am EDT

The US Secret Service has taken a beating over the last few years.

Hookers, public drunkenness and now, the newest Secret Service scandal, is their video surveillance recordings, or lack thereof.

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Comments (27)

I have to come to the Secret Service defense. Most of the issues that have surfaced are caused by a near-constant flip in senior leadership and decline of the culture and esprit de corps caused by that tumult. When setting video storage at 3 days, that's very likely designed to get rid of embarrassments of minor nature.

The agents I have worked with in the past, and there have been many, were top flight professionals. The flux in mid-level and senior leadership has to be addressed and a rebuilding of the culture of professionalism undertaken along with adequate funding to support that efffort. The negative incidents of unprofessional behavior and lapses in threat response get tremendous exposure on social media but overall the successes in defeating threats and avoiding exposures outnumber the negatives 1000 to 1 every single day, it just doesn't make for public interest.

When the culture returns to one of extreme pride and public recognition of their efforts then there won't be a need to delete video unless a "threat incident" occurred. Jus' sayin!

I think it is more indicative of the lack of accountability for Federal employees in general. I do agree that you are probably correct that the majority of Secret Service (including uniformed division, forgery division, etc.) do a fine job. However, they are still a Federal agency and when people figure out the worst that can happen to you is being suspended indefinitely with pay….. Well, then it takes the best of the best to not screw around.

Clearly no pure technical reason this needs to be so. But given the clumsy IT practices in federal projects it might not surprise me. Hypothetically, maybe there was a massive upgrade of cameras in quantity and resolution, with no provisions to upgrade storage, and a pre-existing requirement that retention be continuous and at high resolution..

Or maybe the "lowest bidder" saw a loophole in a missing retention requirement and happily installed a system without enough storage.

Or as Jack points out, maybe the short duration was intentional yet somehow justified policy-wise via some logic only a bureaucrat could really appreciate.

I should shut up, as you never know what well known manufacturer might be involved.. (disclaimer: I have no knowledge of any of the vendors or systems involved).

The three day thing was probably put in place by order of a President. Instead of saying "I don't want you to save footage for this, this or this camera because it will catch me doing X" he issues an overall three day policy. OR this was policy forty years ago when saving three days of film was pretty good and no one has questioned it since.

It is the Federal Government after all.

Cut them some slack!

It's not their fault that the Fed's file servers are full from all the captured Phone records, Google searches and Facebook images that they have stored for years...

I was waiting for you to bring that joke....

It is a little ironic that the US government stores massive amounts of data but the Secret Service only holds 3 days of surveillance video.

Your texts and snaps are much more interesting, John, than dull old video of the white house grounds and need to be kept for years just in case. There's surely no truth to the stories about the NSA (No Such Agency) doing anything so suspicious as intercepting communications.

We were part of a city surveillance project that recieved money partially from a specific event involving many political candidates including the president. The Secret Service was heavily involved. Every bit of video from the days before, during, and after the event are archived for a minimum of 15 years and trust me it's a lot of data.

...we obviously highly doubt it was tapes

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings agrees

“It’s extremely concerning to me,” he said. “Even without this incident, this is film we should have kept, film I would have liked to see. ”

Well, if you retain too many days, all that film won't fit through Senator Ted "Techno" Stephens's "Series of Tubes". :-)

Having massive storage isn't a solution for secret service / police. Arab sheikhs (who do care about public security) are using intelligent PSIM software which is able to optimize surveillance and recordings automatically, protect footage and ensure that all events are recorded. Obviously if they still use VHS tape recorders they a need an army of trained (smart) technicians to maintain their system properly. So I believe that it's definitely not storage problem but technology availability problem in US particularly.

"technology availability problem in US particularly."

That is an incredibly ignorant comment.

Can you elaborate on that? What surveillance technology is not available in the US?

That is an incredibly ignorant comment.

Wow! That's an offensive respond :)

What surveillance technology is not available in the US?

In fact I didn't mention any surveillance technology. I'm talking about security management solutions which are not widely used in West Europe and US due to relatively low crime levels. Middle East is the most unrest place now so they use specially designed solutions to prevent (not just play footage) crimes/attacks/terrorism etc.

Please do not missunderstand me, I'm not saying that US secret services can't afford these systems. Obviously they didn't need much such sophisticated solutions. So at the moment the situation is that they will have much more advanced intelligent PSIM in an unknowen oil field in Iraq than in the White House in Washington.

Just checked a random 'safe city project' in US

The most impressive thing there is - 'Restaurant owners donate to the project' lol.

You obviously know very little about what security technology is 'available' or used in the US.

That your evidence is based on googling a 'safe city' project of Redding CA, a 90,000 person city shows how poorly you understand what is being used in US critical infrastructure and how simplistic your analytic skills are.

I am happy to engage in discussion with someone who has questions or brings some relevant knowledge to the area you are opining. Unfortunately, you have neither.

Thanks John. This is your website.

Yury, don't say dumb things and then respond passively aggressively.

Your presented evidence is:

Just checked a random 'safe city project' in US

The most impressive thing there is - 'Restaurant owners donate to the project' lol.

You really aren't embarrassed that that is your evidence about US technology?

If the White house officials and offices under this or any other administration can't produce emails amongst their own personnel (Like the IRS, State Department, etc) - nor keep track of classified conversations over unprotected email servers - then why should this organization be any different?

Perhaps we need to move the Secret Service from the Justice Department to the State Department. That way they could avail themselves of the now freshly deleted and inactive hard drive on Hillary's former mail server.

I think John read your posts differently than I did Yury Akhmetov. I'm born & raised in US and almost 30years in security industry but maybe I too am ignorant.

I agree with you that our overall security management, and yes, the technology we deploy, in the US especially within the government sector are lacking. I have no doubt that the White House is NOT still using VCR tapes but, it wouldn't surprise me if what they ARE using is 10+year old technology. Our design, procurement & security management processes in the US are fragmented. There is no standardization so we end up with a mish mash of various systems in different gov't agencies at all levels, none of which "talk" to each other, all of which fall under new management periodically which leads to changes in protocols (how long do we keep recordings). Some of these systems are very old (maybe even VCR in some cases) and no money is being allocated to its upkeep.

In the case of the Secret Service issue that started this chain, it would not be the first time an agency of our government tried to hide an embarrassement or release propoganda or half truths to the media designed to move attention off of a "hot" button issue. I don't believe much of what I hear/read anymore because of this now common occurance in the US. Now, we're probably going to spend millions of dollars to investigate & discover; who knew what when, in the "barricade incident" and that investigation will undoubtably uncover that the agency did in fact have more than 3 days of video storage (or at least the technology in place to allow for that, who knows how they programmed) and someone will be investigated for malfeance in the whole thing, someone might lose thier job and then nothing more will come of it. Ultimately it will become a political debate point as opposed to a call to action to improve our nations security and more importantly, clean up the mess in our governments processes. That's just how we roll here...

Meghan, there are lots and lots of very high-end security systems in the US. Even using Yuri's arbitrary selection of PSIM (he sells PSIM) as being the benchmark I can easily list many US examples. For example, US PSIM developer Proximex many US case studies and even UK PSIM developer CNL lists 5 out of their 13 case studies as being from the US. Then there's US PSIM developer Vidsys, who does not appear to have a case study page, but has numerous large scale US deployments.

I gotcha John and I don't disagree that there are some high end systems deployed. What I was pointing out is that in general what Yuri said is true of us especially at the government level. If you look at the case studies you cited most of them are deployed in private industry as opposed to government. The Washington DC thing with CNL is heartening but thats one city in a country of how many cities? And interesting that Washington DC apparently has this technology but Secret Service only has 3 days of storage capability? And the fragmentation, lack of standardization in the government sector IS a huge problem. Always has been and I don't see anything happening legislatively to change that so agencies like the VA (cited for Proximex) will continue to have the mish mash of systems that don't talk to each other. Again - for me, this country has a very long way to go before we can boast of having good security and in the meantime we continue to do silly things like confiscate ladies tweezers in TSA lines and yet allow a guy to land his little copter on the White House lawn and then try to "explain" it away with proganda to the media. Sometimes that works and the public just accepts it and other times it turns into the full blown, expensive investigations I pointed out. In any case, its all BS as far as I'm concerned and the sooner we as a people acknowledge that we're not the "greatest" country on the planet in some respects - the sooner we'll regain the right to that title in all respects.

Yuri said that "technology availability problem in US particularly" and his proof was googling the term 'safe city US' and finding a tiny city in the middle of nowhere. Why is that?

There's lots of impressive US government systems, almost none of which are listed on the Internet. For example, look at Genetec's case studies, they have a number of the biggest / most complex US government security systems and NONE of them are listed online.

I am not suggesting that every government agency has a space age system, but I am certainly disproving the claim about the technology not being available.

There's no argument that the technology is available, I just question whether it is being deployed in a coordinated, standardized manner within our government. I am aware of plenty of Genetec, Milestone, Exaq etc, high end sytsems in various government agencies but therein lies the problem. None of those talk to each other and the vast majority of agencies do NOT have those high end systems so you have this fragmentation. Again, you read Yuri's posts differently than I did. I think there may have been a language error/misunderstanding on his part in using the word "availability" in the first post but in the 2nd post he's clearly referring to the fact that available or not, we don't use it to the extent some other countrys do.

"available or not, we don't use it to the extent some other countrys do."

None of the 3 of us knows enough about the details of country usage to declare that.

I'll agree with that, all of us are speculating based on our personal & professional experiences so I guess we agree to disagree on that point. Thanks for providing the forum John.

I believe you have knowledge of the US market. I believe I have knowledge on the US market. I believe Yuri has knowledge on the Middle Eastern market.

I don't believe you or I have sufficient knowledge on the Middle East and it's obvious that Yuri has no knowledge of the US market.

Ergo it's infeasible for any of us to make a detailed comparison of the US and the Middle East.

I know they both have cameras, ergo, i am an expert in that exact statement.

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