Obama at Risk? Secret Service Disputes Own Tech Worries

Documents say IT woes threaten USSS mission; a spokesman says otherwise.

May 21, 2009, 11:25 AM

May 21, 2009— -- The technology the U.S. Secret Service depends on to protect the president and carry out other vital missions is woefully out of date, and could put the life of President Obama or other White House protectees at risk, the service said in a new document.But that's not the case at all, according to a Secret Service spokesman.

First, the document – a 2010 budget request: Without upgrades costing an estimated $33 million, it says, the Secret Service faces the threat of a "near-term mission failure."

In particular, the document claims, Secret Service communications systems aren't compatible with the White House's own, leaving a "dangerous gap" that, (it states in dire but carefully-worded bureaucratese) could ultimately "prevent the attainment of the performance target of 100 percent protection."

Moreover, the request – delivered to Congress earlier this month -- says Secret Service servers, networking technology and software are in "a degraded state" and are "adversely impacting critical operational missions." The service's IT systems "cannot sustain the tempo of current operations," it claims. Without the millions in upgrades, the Secret Service could be unable to communicate during a crisis, or hacked by foreign intruders.

"USSS' protective and investigative missions will be functionally unable to respond to the increasing volume of threats without additional investment," the service says in its budget request.

Now, the spokesman.

"Despite the challenges we are currently facing with an aging IT infrastructure, this will not interfere with our ability to carry out our protective and investigative missions at this time," Secret Service spokesman Darren Blackford told ABC News, reading from a prepared statement. "We are currently working with the Department of Homeland Security to resolve our deficiencies."

Asked about the apparent discrepancies between his statement and the more alarmist language in the Secret Service budget request, Blackford demurred. "I'm just going to leave it at that statement," he said, "that it's our opinion it's not affecting our protective or investigative missions at this time."

"The Government Is Broken"

Scott Lilly, a former congressional appropriations aide, said the situation looked to him like evidence that "the government is more broken, generally, than has been appreciated."

The Secret Service may have technology problems, Lilly allowed -- but if they were so dire, it would be unusual for the service to detail them in an unclassified document.

"In my experience with the Secret Service," said Lilly, now at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, "if they had problems like that they tended to communicate it verbally, rather than make a big deal in a public document about it. I don't know why they'd do that."

Lilly noted that before such requests go to Congress, they're vetted and approved by aides reporting to the head of the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, and the head of Obama's Office of Management and Budget. "It's gone all the way up the chain."

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