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Never mind that the book's title is stiffer than the Secret Service's public persona — dour-faced agents wearing pressed suits, dark sunglasses and earphones, scouring crowds for potential threats.
But what fuels this high-energy read isn't Kessler's investigation of the Secret Service's training, procedures and strategies — from guaranteeing the safety of the president's food to analyzing daily threats. Some of it would border on tabloid sensationalism if it hadn't come directly from current and retired agents (most identified by name, to Kessler's credit). Anecdotes of hard-to-handle members of the first families abound here as well, including Jenna and Barbara Bush's bar-hopping, Hillary Clinton's angry clashes with low-level White House employees, and Nancy Reagan's cold, controlling habits. He did when researching such government-insider books as The Terrorist Watch and The CIA at War.
Guidelines: You share in the USA TODAY community, so please keep your comments smart and civil. Secret Service agents Photojournalist Jacquelyn Martin's images "inside the bubble" show provide a behind the scenes look at U.S.
Secret Service agents Secret Service agents dot the tarmac as President Barack Obama (back right), salutes as he exits the Marine One helicopter to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland en route to Delaware where he is expected to visit the site of the damaged I-495 bridge in Wilmington to speak about transportation and infrastructure, July 17, 2014.The agency celebrated its 150th birthday this past July. Secret Service agents With the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, Secret Service Agents guard the Marine One helicopter where President Barack Obama will leave Crissy Field Landing Zone in San Francisco, to attend a fundraising event in Los Altos Hills, California, during his three-day West Coast trip to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, July 23, 2014.AP staff photographer Jacquelyn Martin is one of the photographers who cover the White House regularly and is also part of the traveling press corps.
Secret Service agents A Secret Service Agent is seen through tinted and patterned glass as he stands in front of the door to a room where President Barack Obama was meeting with leading CEOs to discuss ways to promote the economy and create jobs during his last two years in office, at the Business Roundtable Headquarters in Washington, December 3, 2014. Secret Service agents Secret Service agents keep on the lookout for trouble as President Barack Obama takes an impromptu walk down 15th Street in Denver after having dinner at Wazee Supper Club, July 8, 2014. Secret Service agents Secret Service agents watch the perimeter near an irrigation system as President Barack Obama tours a farm in Los Banos, California, where drought has been effecting the area, February 14, 2014.They go where the president and the first family go.
Secret Service agents U.S. Secret Service agents Secret Service agents swirl around President Barack Obama as he waves goodbye after speaking at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 37th Annual Awards Gala at the Walter E. Secret Service agents A Secret Service agents works by the motorcade as President Barack Obama has dinner with winners of a DSCC "Dinner With President Obama" contest at Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab, in Washington, October 1, 2014. Secret Service agents President Barack Obama, left, greets people as he is watched by a Secret Service Agent, at right, inside the Charcoal Pit in Wilmington, Delaware before speaking about transportation and infrastructure, July 17, 2014.
Secret Service agents As lights flare in the background, President Barack Obama, center, with Secret Service Agents on both sides, greets the crowd after speaking at the League of Conservation Voters Capitol Dinner at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, June 25, 2014.
Secret Service agents Police and Secret Service agents control the crowd as President Barack Obama takes an impromptu walk down 15th Street in Denver after having dinner at Wazee Supper Club, July 8, 2014.
An obstacle course, among other rigorous tests, proves that an agent in training can meet the physical demands of the job.
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They haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory lately, but the guys in suits surrounding the President of the United States are still ready to take a bullet to protect the leader of the free world. National Geographic doesn’t spill all the secrets, but what they let us in on is still pretty cool. The United States Secret Service can’t afford to underestimate the enemy in their mandate to protect the man, protect the symbol and protect the office of the President of the United States.
Within the Washington HQ is the National Threat Assessment Team, Intelligence Division, Counterfeit Research Unit, Electronic Crime Branch, and Tracking Center.
The Secret Service got into the protection business in 1901, following the assassination of President William McKinley. When President Truman was staying across the street from the White House at Blair House in November of 1950, two Puerto Rican nationals attacked, killing one service agent. Letters are loaded into the Forensic Information System for Handwriting (FISH), then analyzed for fingerprints and eventually immersed in a chemical bath to expose the sender’s DNA. The agents whisked away the president in Air Force One, which is practically a flying bunker. To make sure agents are capable of responding on instinct to any scenario, they train at a hidden site in Beltsville, Md., that features bombing, sniping, and other threat contingencies. Agents have to prove proficiency with their weapons, usually a .357 SIG Sauer Magnum, every month. When agents catch a counterfeiting ring, the service re-creates the bust in a training environment in order to pass on tactics and techniques to the new guys. Dirty money funds serious threats such as illegal arms trading, drug trafficking, and terrorism. The Counterfeit Research Unit used to only see 100 cases a year; by 2013 they have over 600.
After Kennedy’s assassination, the service completely overhauled its training methods, increased its numbers, and created a new threat-tracking system.
Since 1 in 4 presidents has been attacked — and 1 in 10 have been killed — agents keep a tight bubble, even hiding in the bushes on the White House lawn. Each of the 14,000 seats, more than 100 entrances, and all the air ducts and catwalks in LSU’s stadium were meticulously inspected. The USSS and local law enforcement meet regularly to discuss plans, so that execution in any situation becomes second nature to everyone involved.


All the plants and seat pads were sniffed by Belgian Malinois, which have extremely sensitive noses. Before the president arrives, the Baton Rouge airport is shut down, and snipers take their positions.
After the speech, the president shook hands with people — who the agents vetted before his arrival. The Service also started protecting presidential candidates after Robert Kennedy was killed during his bid for the White House in 1968.
Candidates want to seem accessible, but the Service finds ways, like this armored banner, to discreetly guard them.
The agents monitor crowds for strange behavior during unplanned campaign stops, which often become chaotic and loud. After two such close calls, the Service tightened their bubble of protection even more, although John Hinckley Jr. After a gunman fired an assault weapon outside the White House during Clinton’s presidency, agents asked the president to stop jogging on the National Mall. Presidents get very little privacy, and their detail is privy to most of their personal information. Privacy versus protection will always be a delicate balance for the USSS, but their mission is preventing attacks against the most powerful individual on earth. Secret Service has put President Obama's life at greater risk may be the most attention-grabbing disclosure emerging from Ron Kessler's latest book.
Inside the covers, Kessler's lively narrative is loaded with details of how the federal agents, authorized to protect the president and other national leaders, get the job done — and sometimes don't. Instead what turns these pages are the amusing, saucy, often disturbing anecdotes about the VIPs the Secret Service has protected and still protects. Of course, you'd expect the salacious stories of John Kennedy's libido, but the less-told tales of an often-drunken and philandering Lyndon Johnson caught with his pants down are shocking.
Bush and an agent searching for hidden cookies in the middle of the night, Miss Lillian Carter delivering a six-pack to the Secret Service boys (dutifully refused), and Ronald Reagan mailing checks for thousands of dollars to needy strangers. A respected journalist and former Washington Post reporter, Kessler somehow instills trust even in wary civil servants and federal bureaucrats. He has done it again by persuading the Secret Service to cooperate, making this an insightful and entertaining story.
In high pressure and dangerous jobs, agents serve long hours away from their families and homes. Secret Service agents from the Counter Sniper Division work on top of the West Wing of the White House, as seen from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, December 11, 2014.
Abraham Lincoln created the United States Secret Service (USSS) to deal with the influx of counterfeit money after the Civil War — a move ironically made just hours before he was assassinated on April 14,1865. In a secret room, a joint operations team watches every entrance to the White House, along with the First Family and vice president. Voice analysts listen to all phoned-in threats for accents, speech impediments, or other nuances that could identify a potential enemy. So investigators focus on whether those making threats are capable of carrying them out through travel or obtaining weapons. Bush spoke at LSU during the 2004 presidential election campaign, weeks of planning went into mitigating risks — and he wasn’t even leaving the States.
But there's a lot more in this fascinating exposé, which penetrates that federal agency's longstanding mission and tradition of sworn secrecy. Family-values champion Spiro Agnew had his hotel-room peccadilloes, it seems, and nice Jimmy Carter his animosities.
Though in the spotlight for recent scandals, the agency has had a long, storied history of service working in the shadows anonymously, tasked with protecting America's presidents and their immediate families.Secret Service agents ride in the Osprey taking the traveling press back to Air Force One after attending President Obama's speech by the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday," a landmark event of the civil rights movement, Saturday, March 7, 2015. Kennedy's assassination in 1968, Congress authorized the Secret Service to protect major presidential and vice presidential candidates. The agent in charge of Obama’s detail will subsequently radio every movement back to the security room and to Halfback. Then Senator Obama received protection earlier than any presidential candidate, nine months before voting in the Democratic primaries. He is an 11-year veteran of the CDC’s primary contract guard force, which must meet federal standards to provide security at high-profile government sites. This mini command center is wedged into a conference room about 200 feet from the debate hall. Though the reason wasn't detailed, many assumed it was because of the historic nature of his run for the White House and the prospect of becoming the first black president. Despite reports to the contrary, he has never been convicted of a felony, according to a federal law enforcement official familiar with the investigation. And apparently, when he was pulling his camera out to take a picture with the president, he just wanted to take a picture of the president.To the agents of the Presidential Protective Detail who jacked him up and questioned him, the guard, wearing a coat and slacks, was concealing a weapon he should not have been carrying, period. Maurizio Miglietta, a noted New York trauma surgeon, supervises a staff of doctors, nurses, and techs, all volunteering. The State Police lieutenant is back and asking for that exception, which the agent decides to grant. To the agent responsible for securing the site that day, however, the risks of not fully following guidelines for pre-screening contract security officers and making sure they don’t show up with their weapons at presidential events may have seemed negligible.


The job requires a mind for logistics, flexibility, and risk control.Site agents and shift agents have the hardest jobs in the Secret Service. The site agent’s main job is to make sure that the shift agents—those who surrounded and accompany the president—can do their jobs without being distracted, surprised, or unduly worried.There is a healthy tension between shift agents and site agents. Site agents, many of them former and future shift agents, know that everything changes at the last minute.In 2012, as I walked out of an 85,000-seat venue where agents were preparing for a presidential visit, I ran into an assistant shift leader on the PPD. His job,” she said, pointing at the agency veteran who had spent more two months working on this one assignment, “is to put it all together.”Later that year, with a handler from the Secret Service making sure I behaved myself, I shadowed site agents overseeing presidential debates.
At that moment, a New York State Police lieutenant who stands 6 feet 6 inches tall marches up to the agents at the command post.
A close look at how they put those events together shows why even the tiniest details matter, and why small mistakes or cut corners can lead to potential catastrophes.On October 3, I found myself in Denver, Colorado, where my escort was Bobby O’Donnell, a PPD veteran and well-regarded detail leader for visiting world leaders. O’Donnell was the site agent who supervised the sites and the site agents responsible for securing all four official campaign debates.
Mario Cuomo’s motorcade intends to arrive at the site just 15 minutes before the debate begins, but his advance guy on the outer perimeter and a Secret Service agent are having an argument. By that point, Obama will be on site, and the site will be “frozen”—a “POTUS freeze,” meaning that no one comes in, not even the governor. Several times, his detail leader radios the Romney follow-up car, asking if the Romney motorcade can be positioned in the covered vehicle tent to allow for a quick departure. Like many agents of his generation, he had shaved his head, giving him a fierce, don’t-fuck-with-me look, which didn’t disappear much when he smiled.
When I met him, on the eve of the first debate, he was dressed in a natty gray suit and was the picture of serenity.
Minutes tick by.Romney’s detail leader asks the agent in Romney’s motorcade: “Where do things stand?
His question to them was always: “Do you have everything you need?”O’Donnell was built like a block. There’s nothing we can do,” the site agent replies, rather firmly.But the agents will see what they can do. But like agents I’ve known whose jobs require them to work with other agencies and municipalities, he wore his Secret Service mien lightly and his community advocate persona on his sleeve.
They know that they will have to let the governor in and that they will make an accommodation, because they usually do, especially for VVIPs who think they can flout their guidelines.
He goes down to the secure motorcade staging area, looking for a solution.After getting assurances that Obama, who is now (or so everyone is informed on the radio) holding an impromptu post-debate meet-and-greet in his holding room, isn’t going to leave for a while, he orders that Romney’s motorcade be staged in a hurry. The detail leader has decided to telephone the security room and disclose that Obama has departed.
The network camera positions were inside the secure zone, so the sweep had to be finished at least an hour before those cameras had to be hot.But the debate staff had told O’Donnell earlier in the day that they wouldn’t be finished setting up until 10, leaving only six hours for what would be a complicated, methodical, inch-by-inch examination of a huge complex. O’Donnell gave that news two thumbs up and let the TSD know it could begin its sweep at 7.The Magness Arena at the University of Denver was ideal as a debate site in many ways. It was large enough for two campaigns and retinues, a few thousand guests, and several thousand members of the media. His frustration is evident in the voices of his agents as they check on the status of the president.
It was accessible: The arena is less than 100 yards from Denver’s major intra-state highway, I-25. But when agents from the Denver Field Office began to draw up the security plan for the site, they worried that the highway was a little too close. Anytime 50 million people tune into a television broadcast of something secured by the Secret Service, perimeters are going to be expanded and extra measures taken, even if the event itself isn’t terribly complicated to execute. A month or so before the debate, members of the Service’s Technical Security Division inspected the building’s foundation and construction, and found it to be less sturdy than it seemed. The package is secure.***The security breach in Atlanta might be indicative of a larger failing of the Secret Service, of complacency, of a corner cut too many times without consequences. They worried about the arena’s ability to withstand the force generated by a truck bomb 100 yards away. That was the distance from the arena to the interstate, which, in theory, could remain open during the debate. So the Service notified the Colorado State Police that it would probably want to close a portion of the highway for the time the candidates would be onsite.That created a political problem for the city of Denver and for the governor. Denver residents had memories of the mass traffic chaos of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and once again, a major road would be closed during the middle of rush hour on a weekday. Eventually, the Service provided Denver’s mayor with a classified briefing about its concerns.
The city relented, but the mayor asked the Secret Service to formally request the closure in a letter that could be made public.



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