Opinion: White House Surveillance System Erase Gate?

Basic principles of proven security best practices are being missed, jeopardizing the leader of the free world.

Without question, the Secret Service is one of the most elite law enforcement organizations in the world. However, recent news that this premier law enforcement agency only has a practice of preserving surveillance video for no more than three days, and then it is recorded over, is simply remarkable.

Professionals in the alarm and security industry recognize that careful selection of the type of equipment being specified; performing a vulnerability assessment and needs analysis of the premises, quantifying the resolution and quality of the surveillance video; the amount of cameras being implemented; the lighting conditions; and the locations of where the cameras are ultimately situated, is just part of the most important function of this security system. All this because it is mission-critical to be able to historically look back at incidents so this crucial evidence-gathering tool can be used to aid in identifying suspects and in investigations, whether they are based on civil and/or criminal conduct.

RELATED: The Secret Service Could Learn From Alarm and Security Professionals

This includes, but is not limited to identification of atypical and suspicious behavior and conduct and/or persons who are suspected of committing civil and/or criminal acts. With this in mind, the protected premises, being the White House, is the most high-risk target in the entire world. So who was the brainchild that made the decision for only three days of recording time? Am I to truly believe that the person in charge of the security responsibility for this CCTV video surveillance system at the White House did not know that three days would be a significant security risk to all persons within the Secret Service charged with the task of protecting the most powerful man in the world? It just does not add up for me. Furthermore, it has been reported that not only was the surveillance recording good for just three days of footage, but that it was the agencies practice to record over surveillance video every three days.

Using the word practice, shifts my attention and focus onto the duties of an alarm and/or security provider who designs a system such as this, and at the same time has to technically justify the methodologies that he/she used to meet the standards of care; such as the respective equipment manufacturers specifications, applicable UL standards, best practices and nationally recognized industry standards and practices. From my perspective, this security system was a dangerous misapplication of technology, and for that it is just not defensible.

Against the foregoing backdrop, all persons charged with the duty and task to properly select, design, configure, program, install, and maintain CCTV video surveillance systems need to know what foreseeably will be needed, as part of the core fundamentals and purpose of this security system application and countermeasure. To the extent humanly possible, I am sure that three days was never scientifically and/or technically quantified, as being the proper application in this super high-risk venue. In other words, to just come up with three days for this surveillance system that essentially writes over itself and all data, every three days; demonstrates in my opinion a person who does not have the requisite skillset to ensure that the proper application for this security system was ever seriously taken in consideration.

By way of further example, if the incident occurs close to the end of the three-day cycle the officer will obviously not have three days to upload this data, which based on the highest risk in the private sector, would likely be considered gross negligence.

Similarly, in more than 40 years in the industry, I do not recall ever offering any client a CCTV video surveillance system solution with only three days for preservation of their recorded surveillance data. It just defies security science, and all of the security tenants most professionals in the alarm and security industry follow and take very seriously; since so much is at stake.

So what went wrong? In my opinion, everything, and since this flawed methodology was found to be incorporated into this system, there are likely more problems in other layers of security at the White House that need to be technically targeted and eliminated as well.

Stated differently, the action plan and refocus needs to start now, and then it needs to address each and every aspect, and I mean everything, for both the physical and electronic security systems at the White House. Once everything is stress tested, changes in newer and more advanced technology also needs to be constantly considered and updated, so that we have real security in play.

Subject matter experts (SME) should be considered to adjunct the technical services division of the Secret Service and help make every detail count. Quite frankly, in the alarm and security industry there is a huge pool of talent to choose from.

It is also my understanding Secret Service Director Clancy stated that they are bringing in the security system’s manufacturer and government experts to try to recover the lost footage. Respectfully, all of the aforementioned would be completely unnecessary had the proper due diligence been done from the get-go, and that should have overwhelmingly open and obvious to the responsible parties for this scope of work. Could it really be that no one at all from the security system’s manufacturer, to government experts, to the Secret Service ever realized that this was a system which was doomed for failure? I truly hope not, but from the information I have been able to attain thus far, I do not feel comfortable at all, as one or more of the entities involved in this process simply authorized, and then let this system be selected, designed, programmed and installed as it was found to be.

Finally, April is the International Security Conference (ISC) show in Las Vegas. It is a must-see for everyone in the alarm and security industry, and with all due respect, that includes you in the Secret Service as well. If you want tickets, please call me and I will get them to you within three days.

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About the Author


Jeffrey D. Zwirn, CPP, CFPS, CFE, FACFEI, CHS-IV, SET, CCI, FASI&T, MBAT, writes Security Sales & Integration’s “Security Science” column. He is also president of IDS Research and Development, an alarm and security consultation, expert witness and training authority providing nationwide services on all issues related to alarm and security matters. He can be reached at (201) 287-0900.

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