In the President's Secret Service

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 8/3/2010
  • Publisher: Crown Forum

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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. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. xi
Supervisep. 1
Lancerp. 10
Volunteerp. 15
Threatsp. 22
Searchlightp. 30
Darop. 40
Passkeyp. 49
Crownp. 56
Jackalp. 64
Deaconp. 70
Stagecoachp. 80
Rawhidep. 87
Rainbowp. 94
Hogan's Alleyp. 100
"I Forgot to Duck"p. 106
The Big Showp. 118
Timberwolfp. 129
A Psychic's Visionp. 139
Eaglep. 145
Cutting Cornersp. 151
POTUSp. 162
Shutting Down Magnetometersp. 171
Trailblazerp. 180
Living on Borrowed Timep. 188
Turquoise and Twinklep. 195
Anglerp. 205
Renegadep. 216
Grenadep. 229
Padding Statisticsp. 236
Dereliction of Dutyp. 244
Afterword to the Paperback Editionp. 251
Epiloguep. 263
Secret Service Datesp. 267
Acknowledgementsp. 273
Indexp. 275
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.




EVEN BEFORE HE took the oath of office, Abraham Lincoln was the object of plots to kidnap or kill him. Throughout the Civil War, he received threatening letters. Yet, like most presidents before and after him, Lincoln had little use for personal protection. He resisted the efforts of his friends, the police, and the military to safeguard him. Finally, late in the war, he agreed to allow four Washington police officers to act as his bodyguards.

On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, a fanatical Confederate sympathizer, learned that Lincoln would be attending a play at Ford's Theatre that evening. The president's bodyguard on duty was Patrolman John F. Parker of the Washington police. Instead of remaining on guard outside the president's box, Parker wandered off to watch the play, then went to a nearby saloon for a drink. As a result of Parker's negligence, Lincoln was as unprotected as any private citizen.

Just after ten P.M., Booth made his way to Lincoln's box, snuck in, and shot him in the back of the head. The president died the next morning.

Despite that lesson, protection of the president remained spotty at best. For a short time after the Civil War, the War Department assigned soldiers to protect the White House and its grounds. On special occasions, Washington police officers helped maintain order and prevented crowds from assembling. But the permanent detail of four police officers that was assigned to guard the president during Lincoln's term was reduced to three. These officers protected only the White House and did not receive any special training.

Thus, President James A. Garfield was unguarded as he walked through a waiting room toward a train in the Baltimore and Potomac Railway station in Washington on the morning of July 2, 1881. Charles J. Guiteau emerged from the crowd and shot the president in the arm and then fatally in the back. Guiteau was said to be bitterly disappointed that Garfield had ignored his pleas to be appointed a consul in Europe.

Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, tried to find the bullet in the president's back with an induction-balance electrical device he had invented. While the device worked in tests, it failed to find the bullet. All other efforts failed as well. On September 19, 1881, Garfield died of his wounds.

While the assassination shocked the nation, no steps were taken to protect the next president, Chester A. Arthur. The resistance came down to the perennial question of how to reconcile the need to protect the country's leaders with their need to mingle with citizens and remain connected to the people.

In fact, after Garfield's assassination, the New York Tribune warned against improving security. The paper said that the country did not want the president to become "the slave of his office, the prisoner of forms and restrictions."

The tension between openness and protection went back to the design of the White House itself. As originally proposed by Pierre L'Enfant and approved in principle by George Washington, the White House was to be a "presidential palace." As envisioned, it would have been five times larger than the structure actually built. But Republican opposition, led by Thomas Jefferson, discredited the Federalist plan as unbefitting a democracy. The critics decried what was known as "royalism"--surrounding the president with courtiers and guards, the trappings of the English monarchy.

To resolve the impasse, Jefferson proposed to President Washington that the executive residence be constructed according to the best plan submitted in a national competition. Washington endorsed the idea and eventually accepted a design by architect James Hoban. Workers laid the cornerstone for the White House on October 13, 1792. When the building received a coat of whitewash in 1797, people began referring to it as the White House.

Given the compe

Excerpted from In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect by Ronald Kessler
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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