Secret Service Admits to Erasing Surveillance Tapes After 72 Hours

AP Photo
The Associated Press

The Secret Service, already under fire because two of its agents bumped into a White House barricade on March 4 after they had been out drinking, revealed to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that it is customary for the agency to erase surveillance tapes of the White House 36 hours after they have been taken.

One Secret Service official said that tapes are overwritten rather than destroyed or erased.

The revelation came after Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy, speaking of the March 4 incident, showed Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, two surveillance tapes of that night, but allowed that the reason the views of the incident were limited was that other tapes had been erased. Congress wants to ascertain whether the agents on March 4 were legally intoxicated.

Chaffetz, stunned, told CBS News, “I don’t think anyone in that room could believe it. That’s just a stunning revelation that 72 hours after they make a tape, they destroy it? That doesn’t make any sense to us. If it’s regular policy to destroy them after 72 hours, why did they have two of the tapes, and where are the rest of the tapes? And so far the Secret Service has not been able to answer the question.”

He added, “At this hour we are calling on the Secret Service to provide those tapes so we can see a more full and complete picture.”

Clancy explained that the reason tapes are overwritten was the agency’s concern that extended archives of surveillance video could violate the privacy of others, as a “database” could be composed of such tapes. Addressing the issue that it was five days before he heard about the March 4 incident, Clancy said the delay was “unacceptable” and “puzzles me, but it’s not going to happen again.”

On March 4, the supervisor on duty allegedly allowed the two agents, Mark Connolly and George Ogilvie, to leave work without making them take a breathalyzer test, although Uniformed Division officers wanted the tests taken. The agents had attended a retirement party, then driven through an active crime scene, a violation of Secret Service policy, which prompted the investigation.