The First Family Detail by Ronald Kessler
I spent better part of early this month reading how United States presidents, vice presidents, and presidential candidates perform on stage for public and forth estate.The source was a book where the author details how World superpower’s leaders are really like. What cooks behind the cameras remains secretive.Author is award-winning investigative reporter Ronald Kessler who unearths the wall of secrecy that surrounds the U.S. Secret Service, from revealing the story that Secret Service agents who were to protect President Obama hired prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia to how Secret Service allowed a third uninvited guest to crash a White House state dinner. A few blocks from the White House, on the busy corner of H and 9th streets, stands unnamed, nine story office building for those of us who’ve been to Unlce Sam’s capital. On a wall in the lobby, large silver letters spell out the words “Worthy of Trust and Confidence.” That is the motto of the Secret Service, and the anonymous tan-brick building is the agency’s headquarters. “The phrase,” once said former director Lewis C. Merletti, “is the absolute heart and soul of the United States Secret Service.And it must never be compromised.” Lest they forget, all agents have the motto emblazoned on their Identities. But in light of an odd decision by the former director, Mark Sullivan (On March 26 last year, President Barack Obama appointed Julia Pierson to replace Mark Sullivan as the 23rd Director of the Secret Service and she became the first female director of the agency), the motto should be changed to “Have You Heard This One?” During the Bush administration, hoping for some good, ego-enhancing publicity, Sullivan broke with his agency’s long-standing policy of absolute silence and allowed Ronald Kessler to get an earful. Kessler shares the insights of how former Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan diverted agents from protecting President Obama and his family at the White House and asked them instead to protect his assistant at her home and illegally retrieve confidential law enforcement records as a favor to her.
But in light of an odd decision by the former director, Mark Sullivan (On March 26 last year, President Barack Obama appointed Julia Pierson to replace Mark Sullivan as the 23rd Director of the Secret Service and she became the first female director of the agency), the motto should be changed to “Have You Heard This One?” During the Bush administration, hoping for some good, ego-enhancing publicity, Sullivan broke with his agency’s long-standing policy of absolute silence and allowed Ronald Kessler to get an earful. Kessler shares the insights of how former Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan diverted agents from protecting President Obama and his family at the White House and asked them instead to protect his assistant at her home and illegally retrieve confidential law enforcement records as a favor to her. Kessler diversified scope includes presidential candidates and former presidents after they leave the White House. In particular, he focuses on first ladies and their children and their relationships with the presidents. Ronald Kessler exposes in hair raising detail how from the current US Vice President Joe Biden’s recklessness, to accompanying Bill Clinton’s blond mistress at Chappaqua, to overhearing current First Lady Michelle Obama’s admonitions to US President, then witnessing President Nixon’s friends bring him a nude stripper, to seeing their own agency take risks that could result in an assassination.
Secret Service agents, Kessler says have a front row seat on their private lives and those of their wives and children. In chapter 15 titled “Corner Cutting,” that starts on page 131, Kessler describes the magnetometer screenings waiving, and goes on to cite a question and answer session with Nicholas Trotta, former head of the Secret Service Office of Protective Operations that is astonishing.He writes:When confronted with examples of corner cutting, Secret Service takes a dismissive, blasé attitude.Nicholas Trotta- talks about lessons learned from previous assassinations and assassination attempts. After the attempt on President Reagan’s life, “we expanded our use of the magnetometers.” Now, he says, “everyone goes through the magnetometer. ”Often, just seeing a magnetometer in use is a deterrent, Trotta notes. But what about instances when the Secret Service buckles under pressure from campaign personnel or White House staff to let people into events without being screened?“When we have a crowd of seventy thousand people, we may or may not need to put all those people through magnetometers,” Trotta says. “Because some of those people in certain areas might not have a line-of-sight threat that can harm the protectee.”
But what if an assassination occurred because someone was not screened? Trotta looks uncomfortable. Still, he plows on ahead, saying a lot of factors come into play.“The president can go to a sports area or stadium and may stay in a box,” Trotta says. “Let’s say if he’s on the third base side up in a box, the people on the first base side, center field, they might not be the threat. But the people around him may be the threat. So now we screen that area, and the critical part is to make sure there’s no handoff, so you have a dead space that is secure.” Kessler also cites an assassination attempt on retired President George W. Bush in 2005(whose brother Jeb has announced intention to vie for 2016 Republican Presidential ticket), in which a live grenade was thrown within one hundred feet of the president at an event in Tbilisi, Georgia. The man who threw it was never screened by magnetometer according to Kessler’s agents. However, history shows the most serious attacks against US Presidents came during presidential motorcades.President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 as his motorcade drove through Dallas.President Gerald Ford was shot in San Francisco in 1975 going to his limousine while President Ronald Reagan was shot in Washington D.C. walking from the Washington Hilton hotel to his waiting limo in 1981.When asked about Trotta’s responses to Kessler’s queries, Kessler says “Secret Service agents cannot believe he said what he did indeed say.”“I was in absolute shock regarding his comment about the magnetometers closing down and potential attackers being too far away to cause any problems,” says an agent on one of the two major protective details. Imagine, the agent says, if three or four suicide assassins came in with guns firing.“Saying not everyone in a seventy-thousand-person event is close enough to shoot the protectee is an amazing answer,” says another agent on one of the major protective details. “I’m embarrassed that an assistant director would give you that answer.”
Danny Defenbaugh, a former FBI agent who publicly criticized the Secret Service’s decision to stop magnetometer screening at an Obama campaign event in Dallas, notes that word can quickly spread that the agency engages in such lax practices.“The people who want to assassinate the president will watch and look for the Secret Service to close down the magnetometers before an event starts,” he says. Indeed the issues with magnetometers represent just one of the damning allegations from Kessler’s book with respect to the ability of the Secret Service to carry out its core mission. Kessler also argues that most of those problems manifest themselves as a result of a Secret Service that bows to political pressure from White House staff over security protocols, a poor Secret Service management culture that seeks to whitewash events and punish subordinate employees while promoting dithering managers, and a lack of sufficient funding, all of which result in an overworked and out of shape Secret Service with insufficient internal controls.Not included in Kessler list among most notable stories of the service are the Colombia Secret Service prostitution scandal who saw 11 agents sent home for hiring prostitutes when Obama was just about to visit, allegations that some Secret Service agents are in such bad physical condition due to a lack of frequent physical training tests, and that the Secret Service pads its arrest totals by counting local arrests in its annual numbers. As Kessler concludes his book:“We don’t have enough people or the equipment to do protection the way they advertise they do,” a veteran agent says. “And how we have not had an incident up to this point is truly amazing- a miracle.”