USA Politics

Secret Service laptop stolen: Can the agency shake its scandals?

Congress made recommendations for the Secret Service in 2015. But a theft in Brooklyn echoes earlier incidents.

A member of the Secret Service Uniform Division watches as Marine One, carrying President Trump and his family, departs from the South Lawn of the White House, March 3.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
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A Secret Service laptop with details about floor plans and evacuation protocol for Trump Tower was stolen from a car parked in the driveway of an agent’s Brooklyn home on Thursday.

In interviews with several news outlets, New York City law enforcement officials described the theft as a possible compromise of national security, given that sensitive information on the laptop could not be accessed remotely. A Secret Service press release said that agency laptops have “multiple layers of security including full disk encryption” and were not permitted to contain classified information – though it could be used to access a server which does, according to the New York Daily News.

A backpack and other goods were also stolen from the car, including an access keycard, an agency radio, and lapel pins with Secret Service insignia that gave the agent, Marie Argentieri, access to security details that protected President Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Pope Francis, according to CNN. The backpack has since been recovered.

The incident echoes another from 2015, when an agent’s gun, badge, radio, and flash drive were swiped from the back seat of his car in downtown Washington, D.C. That theft generated scant attention compared to major Secret Service scandals of years prior, but the Brooklyn theft may raise questions about whether the agency has adapted in the ways recommended by Congress in a report from that year.

The report, produced by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, noted that some agents involved in the 2012 scandal in Cartagena, Colombia – in which servicemen were found to have hired prostitutes – left sensitive documents and equipment unsecured in their hotel rooms, wrote The Christian Science Monitor’s Peter Grier then:

Underlying the agency’s troubles is a workforce that has had to do much more with much less, according to the congressional report. Since 2011, the Secret Service budget has been cut sharply. The agency’s leadership has done a bad job of managing shortfalls created by fewer dollars, says the study. Employee morale has fallen, leading experienced agents to walk out the door.

“Many agency personnel who spoke to the Committee are desperate for new outside leadership willing to undertake dramatic reforms at the agency,” the report concludes.

The study’s recommendations include paring back Secret Service responsibilities to focus on its core duty of protection of the president and other top officials, and sufficient funds to restore staffing to required levels.

The theft in Brooklyn came less than a week after an intruder scaled the White House fence and remained on the grounds for more than 15 minutes, despite tripping several sensors. The Secret Service says it is investigating.

"The men and women of the Secret Service are extremely disappointed and angry in how the events of March 10 transpired,” the agency said in a statement.

Two agents are also being investigated for allegedly taking selfies with Mr. Trump’s 8-year-old grandson as he slept in a car bound from a Trump family estate in Westchester, N.Y. to Manhattan, reported Mother Jones this week.