Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In the President's Secret Service - Ronald Kessler

When I read Nancy Clarke's memoir about her years running the White House flower shop at the end of last year, it sparked my interest once again in the behind-the-scenes of that great house.  Ronald Kessler's exposé certainly fills that appetite.  Kessler's book mixes the history of the Secret Service with old-fashioned White House gossip.

Kessler covers presidential protection from the beginning, long before Congress formally established the Secret Service.  For decades, only four men guarded the President; and then, not very carefully.  Lincoln's assassination fell during those years.  In fact, the man guarding the box at Ford's Theater that fateful night left to get a drink, leaving Lincoln to fate at the hands John Wilkes Booth.  Ironically, that same day, Lincoln had signed legislation creating the Secret Service.  However, at that time, the role of the Secret Service was to stop counterfeiters, not presidential protection.  Negligence in that area carried on for years yet until after the assassination of President McKinley.  A year after that, Congress formally requested the Secret Service begin protecting the Commander in Chief.

Kessler, though, would argue that the negligence did not end at that time. While he shows consistent support toward the agents of the Secret Service, he conversely maintains a critical tone toward Agency management. He reports circumstances in which security measures were decreased for convenience or political reasons. He also shares the stories of many agents who were denied transfers or had undesired transfers required of them even when circumstances seemed to deem those restrictions unnecessary.

In addition to the information presented on the Agency and agents themselves, Kessler includes stories about every president since the middle of the twentieth century.  While in some cases, these stories regale the Commander in Chiefs and their families for their appreciation and generosity toward the agents, most exhibit a side of the First Families which the public never sees.  Some stories are innocent, while other detail presidential affairs and familial conflict.  The chapters on the politicians have a very gossip-y feel to them, which seems somewhat out of place in a book about the Secret Service, especially considering the oath agents take to keep what they see and hear to themselves.

Kessler definitely presents an interesting read with a lot of information about the formation of the Secret Service and its history, though he digresses to the level of political tabloid often.  As I mentioned before, Kessler is highly complimentary toward the agents themselves.  However, I would have appreciated a less negative tone toward those in authority over the agents.

Pages: 285
Date Completed: January 30, 2013

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