Skip to main content

The not so Secret Service

By Gen. (Ret.) James 'Spider' Marks for CNN
April 26, 2012 -- Updated 1900 GMT (0300 HKT)
  • The scandal involving prostitution in Colombia has embarrassed the Secret Service
  • Marks: We expect them to set the standard for discipline and leadership
  • "Secret Service is a great agency that failed at its core mission," says Marks

Editor's note: James "Spider" Marks is the former Commanding General of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center. As the senior intelligence officer for the 2003 liberation of Iraq, Marks was responsible for creating a complete understanding of Saddam Hussein's military capacity and his intentions.

(CNN) -- In the past two weeks, the U.S. Secret Service has had a number of agents either resign or get fired in disgrace for their actions in Colombia. The uniformed service members supporting the agents are being investigated under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, and the media frenzy remains insatiable.

Are we surprised? Isn't this story about grown men acting badly? Of course not, it's far more troubling.

This is about at least one disciplined and professional organization failing to lead or act consistent with the discipline required of their service, whether it is the secret service or the military.

Senators criticize military briefing on Colombia scandal

Cummings: Secret Service sex scandal sad
Lawmaker takes aim at Secret Service
Napolitano in Secret Service hot seat
Grassley questions Secret Service

We expect them to set the standard for discipline and leadership and they failed at both. The good news is we found out about these shenanigans before this incredibly bad behavior became an acceptable new, lower standard.

The problem, you see, is leadership has no variable speed, no levels of acceptance. There is but one standard. You either lead or you don't. Leadership is about getting people to do things they otherwise would not do when no one else is looking. Well, no surprise here that in our cyber world, when everything everyone does is subject to scrutiny, some one is always looking.

Agent posted Palin picture on Facebook page

It's naïve to assume otherwise.

The Secret Service and their military support team were idiots to assume that they could act badly and get away with it. As citizens and taxpayers, we'd expect good discipline from these folks without having to have some one check up on them. But sadly, they failed us and demonstrated that they need supervision. They need leadership.

Don't think that this band of agents and their military support was anything other than a gaggle of guys, acting more like punks that leaders.

My suggestion is that there was not one leader in the bunch. If there was a leader, he failed to show up for the most important mission he accepted...protecting our President.

Something did not go wrong; something is wrong.

My suggestion is that the Secret Service is a great agency that failed at its core lead and act like no one is looking.

However, for some inexplicable reason that challenges the agency's core, it defined leadership in an entirely unrecognizable way. These are not young "troops" acting out badly.

Did events in Colombia change everything or was something wrong long before events in Colombia?

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of General Marks.

Part of complete coverage on
Secret Service scandal
Amid allegations about agents taking prostitutes to their hotel rooms, is there a macho element in the service that poses a security threat?
April 20, 2012 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
The first woman to become deputy director of the U.S. Secret Service says the culture she knew was one of men and women dedicated to their mission.
April 16, 2012 -- Updated 2150 GMT (0550 HKT)
CNN's Dan Lothian takes us behind the scenes of the Secret Service prostitution scandal in Colombia.
Readers can't stop talking about the scandal involving secret service agents in Colombia, in part because it involves two favorite topics: Politics and sex.
April 17, 2012 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
In Hollywood movies, they're often portrayed as danger-dodging men with dark glasses, smoothly working behind the scenes to protect the president at any cost.
April 17, 2012 -- Updated 0140 GMT (0940 HKT)
Ronald Kessler, who helped break the Secret Service "prostitute" story, points blame at what he describes as the agency's "lax leadership."
April 16, 2012 -- Updated 1528 GMT (2328 HKT)
Author and former Secret Service agent Dan Emmett discusses the case involving agents accused of misconduct in Colombia.