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US lawmakers criticize Secret Service head over new scandal

The head of the US Secret Service has testified before a congressional panel. The president's personal protectors have been plagued by security gaffes this year, including a recent drunk driving incident.

US lawmakers from the House Appropriations Committee grilled Secret Service chief John Clancy on Tuesday over breaches of security, which had not only threatened the safety of the president, but had also tarnished the reputation of the agency.

He faced sharp criticism from the House Appropriations Committee over breaches of security and scandals involving Secret Service employees, who are directly in charge of

protecting the American president and his family

.

Among the issues behind the recent problems were drinking to cope with stress, Clancy testified.

The latest incident involved two senior agents reportedly crashing their service car into a White House barrier on March 4 after a night of drinking. The agents were not detained, nor were they given breathalyzer tests. The story was only revealed last week.

While being questioned by US lawmakers, Clancy said that the car appeared to "nudge" a large construction barrier as the agents drove through secure area, and that he has "seen nothing to indicate this incident as described occurred."

However, the Secret Service director also expressed frustration for not being informed of the incident immediately.

"I should have been informed", he said. "We're following up on that, and there will be accountability."

Clancy, who was only confirmed as director last month, received news of the incident five days later, via an anonymous email.

Alcohol to cope with stress

Clancy was put in charge of Secret Service on an interim basis late last year, after a

series of security breaches

including a man climbing over the White House fence and entering the building via main entrance while wielding a knife. The intruder made it deep into the mansion before being restrained.

Another embarrassment for the agency was a 2012 scandal when more then a dozen agents were caught soliciting prostitutes in Colombia, as well as several incidents of agents being accused of drunk behavior during presidential trips.

Clancy acknowledged that some agents and officers have used alcohol to help deal with the job's stresses, but insisted that it was a small group.

"We've got to find a way to help some of these people that are going toward alcohol as a coping mechanism," he said.

'Breakdown' of discipline

Members of Congress expressed displeasure over the latest White House incident, pressing Clancy on the issue of firing the two agents.

"You can't run an agency like this, for God's sakes," Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers said.

"This is a breakdown, to put it mildly, of discipline within the ranks of your agency and that's a cancer that can consume you."

Clancy said the investigation has been referred to the Homeland Security Department, and that the agents will work desk jobs outside the White House until the probe is completed.

"I don't have the ability to just fire people at will," he said.

Clancy also requested $8 million dollars (roughly 7.5 million euros) to build a life-size replica of the White House for training agents. According to him, the current training facility in Maryland is not to scale, and has "no structures, vehicle gates, lighting, or other aides to enhance the training simulations."

dj/kms (AFP, dpa, AP)

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