Never before has a journalist penetrated the wall of secrecy that surrounds the U.S. Secret Service, that elite corps of agents who pledge to take a bullet to protect the president and his family. After conducting exclusive interviews with more than one hundred current and former Secret Service agents, bestselling author and award-winning reporter Ronald Kessler reveals their secrets for the first time.
Secret Service agents, acting as human surveillance cameras, observe everything that goes on behind the scenes in the president’s inner circle. Kessler reveals what they have seen, providing startling, previously untold stories about the presidents, from John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as about their families, Cabinet officers, and White House aides.
Kessler portrays the dangers that agents face and how they carry out their missions–from how they are trained to how they spot and assess potential threats. With fly-on-the-wall perspective, he captures the drama and tension that characterize agents’ lives.
In this headline-grabbing book, Kessler discloses assassination attempts that have never before been revealed. He shares inside accounts of past assaults that have put the Secret Service to the test, including a heroic gun battle that took down the would-be assassins of Harry S. Truman, the devastating day that John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, and the swift actions that saved Ronald Reagan after he was shot.
While Secret Service agents are brave and dedicated, Kessler exposes how Secret Service management in recent years has betrayed its mission by cutting corners, risking the assassination of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and their families. Given the lax standards, “It’s a miracle we have not had a successful assassination,” a current agent says.
Since an assassination jeopardizes democracy itself, few agencies are as important as the Secret Service–nor is any other subject as tantalizing as the inner sanctum of the White House. Only tight-lipped Secret Service agents know the real story, and Ronald Kessler is the only journalist to have won their trust.
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Ronald Kessler on the Updated Paperback Edition of In the President’s Secret Service
Secret Service agents are like human surveillance cameras: They see everything that goes on behind the scenes involving the president, first lady, vice president, and their families. At the same time, they are a bulwark of democracy. If a president is assassinated, it nullifies democracy.
In a new chapter to the paperback edition of In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect, I reveal that threats against President Obama have become so disturbing that a secret Presidential Threat Task Force has been created within the FBI to gather, track, and evaluate assassination threats that might be related to domestic or international terrorism.
The task force operates within the FBI’s National Security Branch. It consists of twenty representatives from pertinent agencies, including agents from the FBI and Secret Service and operatives from the CIA, the NSA, and the Defense Department, as well as analysts.
The hardcover edition reported that threats against Obama rose by as much as 400 percent compared with when President Bush was in office. While threats fluctuate, the level continues to be high enough to call for the threat task force.
At the same time, the Secret Service, which let party crashers into the White House in November, has been spinelessly acceding to requests of the Obama administration officials for Secret Service protection in instances where there are no threats against them. No one outside of the government has heard of most of these officials, but they have one thing in common: They enjoy being chauffeured free of charge by the Secret Service.
This expansion in protection has occurred at the same time that the Secret Service has cut corners because of understaffing and with a management culture that is complacent about potential risks, thus jeopardizing the president’s safety.
Those Secret Service deficiencies led to Michaele and Tareq Salahi’s intrusion at the White House state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The breach occurred because of a deliberate, conscious decision by uniformed officers to ignore the fact that the Salahis and Carlos Allen, a third intruder, were not on the guest list. Those decisions are an expected consequence of the agency’s practice of cutting corners.
The corner-cutting also include: not passing crowds through magnetometers or shutting down the devices early at presidential events; cutting back on the size of counter-assault teams and bowing to demands of staff that the teams remain at a great distance from protectees; not keeping up to date with the latest, most powerful firearms used by the FBI and the military; not allowing agents time for regular firearms requalification or physical training, which the Secret Service covers up by asking agents to fill out their own test scores.
Undoubtedly, the uniformed officers who decided to wave the Salahis into the state dinner were aware of the corner-cutting and were overwhelmed by the workload. In part because the Secret Service refuses to demand funds for adequate staffing, the attrition rate is as high as 12 percent a year within the Uniformed Division alone.
On top of this, the agency bows to political pressure. When agents refused to drive friends of Dick Cheney’s daughter Mary to restaurants, she got her detail leader removed. The fact that Secret Service management does not back personnel when they are just doing their jobs had to contribute to the uniformed officers’ reluctance to turn away guests at the state dinner and thus potentially face repercussions.
In recounting what protectees are like behind the scenes, the book describes as well how difficult Jenna and Barbara Bush were with their agents and how Vice President Joe Biden ignores Secret Service advice about his protection. To make the press think he came to work early, Jimmy Carter would walk into the Oval Office at 5 a.m., then nod off to sleep. Lyndon Johnson would order Secret Service agents to drive on crowded sidewalks so he could make an appointment on time. Johnson would urinate in front of the press corps, which included women reporters. He had a “stable” of women with whom he had sex at the White House and at his ranch. In addition, Vice President Spiro Agnew, a champion of family values, had extramarital affairs while in office.
Despite the breaches and corner-cutting, President Obama has said he has complete confidence in the Secret Service, indicating that he sees no need for a change in management. Given the clear warning signs, that is just as reckless as Abraham Lincoln’s and John F. Kennedy’s disregard for security.
Lincoln resisted efforts of his friends, the police, and the military to safeguard him. Finally, late in the Civil War, he agreed to allow four Washington police officers to act as his bodyguards, but on the night of his assassination, only one D.C. patrolman, John F. Parker, was guarding him.
Instead of remaining on guard outside the president’s box at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, Parker went to a nearby saloon for a drink. As a result of Parker’s negligence, just after 10 p.m., John Wilkes Booth made his way to Lincoln’s box, sneaked in, and shot him in the back of the head. The president died the next morning.
Kennedy told Secret Service agents he did not want them to ride on the small running boards at the rear of his limousine in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
“If agents had been allowed on the rear running boards, they would have pushed the president down and jumped on him to protect him before the fatal shot,” Charles “Chuck” Taylor, who was an agent on the Kennedy detail, tells me.
In the case of Obama, in the view of many current Secret Service agents interviewed for In the President’s Secret Service, the result of the Secret Service’s corner-cutting could be a security breach with deadly consequences.
While Secret Service agents are brave and dedicated, the agency’s management needs to be replaced. On the night of Obama’s state dinner, it was a pretty blonde. Tomorrow, it could be an assassin.About the Author:
RONALD KESSLER is the New York Times bestselling author of The Terrorist Watch, The Bureau, Inside the White House, and The CIA at War. A former reporter for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, he has won sixteen journalism awards. Kessler lives in Potomac, Maryland, with his wife, Pamela.
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