Remarks of Mark V. Rosenker
Vice Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board
Graduating class of Special Agents of the United States Secret Service
James J. Rowley Training Center
December 17, 2003
It is both an honor and great pleasure to be here with you today. I heartily congratulate each and every one of you as you complete this rigorous program and embark on a fascinating career that is critical to the safety and security of the United States.
The nearly 6 months of intense agent instruction you have just successfully completed enables you to now qualify as a member of one of the most elite and prestigious law enforcement agencies in our nation. Remember as you take your oath of office, receive your badge, credential and weapon, you are entering a career that continues a great tradition of professionalism, trust and confidence. You may be thinking how does this guy know anything about the Secret Service?
Well actually, I am quite familiar with your important mission. Before serving on this White House staff, I also, over the past 30 years, assisted with White House and campaign advance operations for 5 other Republican presidents and presidential candidates going back as far as President Nixon. In this capacity I worked closely with many of the impressive men and women of the United States Secret Service. For more than three decades I have known, respected and admired the selfless efforts of the dedicated professionals that make up this great agency.
Now professionalism and dedication isn't just found in the Secret Service. My agency, for example, the NTSB, enjoys a great reputation and mission as well. The same high level of competence and commitment to duty is alive and well at the Safety Board and I would like to tell you a little about us this morning. You never know, in this post 9/11 era, when we might be working together as partners in solving an investigation. While we are not quite as well known as the Secret Service, we are generally the first federal agency on scene when a major transportation accident occurs. The NTSB was created in 1967, only about 102 years after the creation of the Secret Service. Our Congressional charter dictates that we investigate every civil aviation accident within the U.S., as well as all other major accidents and incidents in four other modes of transportation - marine, railroad, highway and pipeline.
The Safety Board is a unique federal agency in that it does not have regulatory authority. Our primary mission is to investigate transportation accidents, determine probable cause and issue safety recommendations aimed at preventing future accidents. We also have federal subpoena authority in order to "encourage," if you will, witnesses to come forth and provide us key information during an investigation.
Additionally, the Board serves as the "court of appeals" for any airman, mechanic, or mariner who have their license taken by the FAA or the U.S. Coast Guard. Now, as I said earlier the NTSB is the primary investigative authority in a major transportation accident unless it is determined that it was not an accident and the cause is linked to criminal or terrorist activity. The Safety Board then formally relinquishes its authority at the scene to the Federal Bureau of Investigation - for example we were among the first on the scene of the World Trade Center and Pentagon crashes. However, because of our unique qualifications and resources we may be requested to supplement the criminal investigation. I tell you this for a couple of reasons: first, you may come across our personnel during the course of your career; and second, we are a resource you may wish to utilize in the future. We stand willing and able to help.
Since its inception in 1967, the NTSB has investigated more than 114,000 aviation accidents and over 10,000 surface transportation accidents. In doing so the NTSB has earned its reputation as the world's premier accident investigation agency.
Many safety features that are now common place in airplanes, automobiles, trains, pipelines and marine vessels had their genesis as NTSB recommendations.
Clearly this must be a very large agency. Well we are not. At 450 employees we are about the size of two of your largest field offices put together. The vast majority of our staff are technical investigators located at our headquarters in Washington. We have 10 regional offices throughout the U.S. to better deal with accidents that occur in more remote parts of the country.
As noted earlier, I served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Military Office. Now, many of you may not know, at this point, what exactly it is that the White House Military Office does. Simply stated, WHMO oversees all of the military assets that support the President, Vice President and senior staff. Functions such as the White House Communications Agency (WHCA), all of the Presidential Aircraft, fixed wing and helicopters, Camp David, the White House Medical Unit, White House Transportation, White House food service security, Explosive Ordinance Teams (EOD), and any other military asset the President or the Secret Service may request to support the mission. As you can imagine it was an exciting and historic two years.
I was with President Bush in Florida and on Air Force I when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked. As Director of WHMO, I worked closely with the Secret Service agents on board coordinating an array of military assets to guarantee the safety of the President and his ability to act as Commander-in-Chief.
We had just suffered the worst attack on U.S. soil since the bombing of Pearl Harbor and as it turns out, the death toll was actually higher on 9/11. There was conflicting information about the number of aircraft involved, the types of attacks, the number of targets and the whereabouts of several commercial aircraft in the air-traffic control system. We received information that there had been attacks at the U.S. Capitol, Camp David and the Department of State. While these reports were later shown to be false, these types of reports are not uncommon during times of incredible turmoil - this is a good example of "the fog of war." These are the times that demand clear heads and brave hearts, attributes that were clearly displayed by the members of the Secret Service on that day and in the following years since the attack. The Service did exactly what they were trained to do - and they did it well. Most Americans just assume that the Agents of the Secret Service are going to perform beyond the call of duty whenever such a situation arises. In the long and storied history of this agency this is not the exception, but rather the rule when events thrust the Service into the limelight of history.
On July 5th, 1865, about three months after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, with the nation still grieving and in turmoil, President Andrew Johnson signed the order creating the Secret Service - ironically not for the protection of the President. Their original and sole purpose at the time was to serve as the U.S. Treasury's watchdogs on illegitimate currency. Between one third and one half of the paper currency in circulation at that time was counterfeit. Within ten years of its establishment, the Service had sharply curtailed counterfeiting and stabilized the currency of the United States.
In 1901, President William McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, New York. He was the third President killed in 36 years and the American public demanded action - Congress once again turned to the Secret Service. And so in 1902, Theodore Roosevelt became the first President to be protected under the enacted legislation. Of course Congress didn't specifically give the Secret Service money to protect the President until 4 years later - so it's always nice to know that Congress hasn't changed much in 100 years.
Prior to our entering World War I, the year being 1915, President Woodrow Wilson gave the order to the Secretary of the Treasury to have the Secret Service investigate espionage in the United States.
In 1951, an attempt on President Harry Truman's life sparked Congress to permanently authorize protection of the President, his immediate family, the President-elect, and the Vice President.
As a result of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, Congress authorized the protection of major Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates.
Recently, the Patriot Act, passed in 2001, increased the Service's role in investigating fraud and related crimes in connection with computers. It authorized the Director to set up electronic crime taskforces to investigate and protect our financial payment systems and combat transnational financial crimes, especially those directed by terrorists and other criminals.
Once again we are at a critical time in history. We are fighting a war unlike any war we have fought before. The enemy wears no uniform, it is faceless, and it can and will strike anywhere and at anytime. It is an enemy that hides in the shadows and takes pride in killing and maiming the unsuspecting. It prefers the easy targets, also known as "soft targets" - unsuspecting men, women and children doing the ordinary things in the pursuit of their every-day lives - but would consider senior officials, as well as buildings and symbols of the United States government among their top prizes.
Today, you are becoming full-fledged members of the world's most elite security and investigative organization. You are embarking on a career critical to the future of the United States. Some of you will be investigating criminal activity that has and would continue to funnel funds to the cowards that would try to destroy our way of life. Others will be protecting the President and Vice President of the United States, their families and other world leaders. This is an exciting endeavor that you all have begun, and I envy you. Throughout our nation's history, there have been very few who could say they were in a position to make such a contribution to the outcome of events affecting our nation's security. Today, you are in exactly that position.
You should be proud of your accomplishments in completing this challenging course of study. Your families are justly proud of your accomplishments as well. Today your country will be placing tremendous responsibility in your hands and from this day forward, you will be known as, and proud to be, Special Agents of the United States Secret Service. Congratulations and good luck!