Tuesday, February 16, 2010
In the President's Secret Service
Publisher's Sumamry. 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.
Review. Living and working in the DC metro area I have seen my share of presidential motorcades, so my interest was piqued in Ronald Kessler’s In the President’s Secret Service. By interviewing current and former Secret Service agents, Kessler penetrates the wall of mystery surrounding the agency.
The Secret Service was originally created in 1865 to address the issue of widespread counterfeiting. It was not until 1902 that the Service officially assumed responsibility for presidential protection. Although the Secret Service is a dual role agency (presidential protection and financial crimes), Kessler’s book is primarily concerned with the Service’s protection role.
In the President’s Service does a good job of piercing the veil of secrecy of the various White House occupants. For instance, according to the agents, Lyndon Johnson was often drunk; Nixon rarely interacted with his wife; Ford was decent, but cheap; and Amy Carter was a terror. Although many of the presidential tidbits have been printed before reading it from the agents’ perspective elevates the stories’ credibility.
As one unnamed former agent confessed, “you just shake your head when you think of all the things you’ve heard and seen and the faith that people have in these celebrity-type people. They are probably worse than most average individuals . . . . Americans have such an idealized notion of the presidency and the virtues that go with it, honesty and so forth. In most cases, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. . . .”
Kessler also details the Secret Service’s mismanagement of its employees. Turnover is relatively high due to the Service’s lack of consideration of family issues (such as mandatory relocations) and its seriously strained budget which necessitates overtime shifts In short, the Service “fosters conditions that lead . . . experienced agents to resign [and] compromises” presidential security.
In the President’s Secret Service is a fascinating exposé of the Secret Service.
Review based on personal copy.