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Two months after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), lawmakers have embraced some tangible security changes. But law enforcement officials in both chambers are still combating Member complacency.
In the House, a majority of offices have registered a staffer as their law enforcement coordinator, signaling that in general, they have become more vigilant of security at district events.
The most recent security-related move in the Senate was the hiring of the former No. 3 man in the Secret Service to oversee dignitary protection, intelligence operations and interaction with local and state law enforcement.
Michael Stenger has been hired as assistant Sergeant-at-Arms for intelligence and protective services, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said Monday. The position is a new one, created to increase the agency’s focus on dignitary protection, and Stenger is the first former Secret Service agent to join Gainer’s staff.
The 36-year agency veteran retired in February as the assistant director of the Secret Service Office of Investigations. Before that, he held positions running the agency’s Office of Congressional Affairs and the Washington, D.C., field office.
“I got what we could call a two-fer out of this: He understands Congress and he knows the Secret Service and threat assessment inside out,” Gainer said.
In his first two weeks on the job, Stenger has met with Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse and Assistant Chief Dan Nichols about six times, Gainer said. He also has a good relationship with House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood, another Secret Service veteran, and has met with House-side security personnel.
Gainer, chairman of the Capitol Police Board, said the long-term security goal is to be more strategic in how to defend against threats, and the Capitol Police have detailed more people to the threat assessment section. But the strategy is still in flux, he added.
“I believe we’re all still in the monitoring phase to see what the long-term effect of this could be to see how many more people we could need or how your reprioritize your people,” he said.
Among the duties that will be in Stenger’s bailiwick but for which a plan of action is still in the works is monitoring social media, Gainer said.
After the Giffords shooting, press reports mused that accused shooter Jared Loughner left evidence of his depravity in odd YouTube videos. Gainer said he would like to explore a way to pre-emptively connect those dots.
“I’d like to know more about what extremists, hateful people, are yakking about. We’re looking at how to do that so it’s cost-effective and doesn’t violate anybody’s rights,” he said.