On October 20, 1962, a new musical opened on Broadway: Irving Berlin’s “Mr. President.”
The show ran a respectful 265 performances. And among those who got around to seeing it was the then-President: John F. Kennedy.
Among its tunes was one called “The Secret Service Makes Me Nervous.” In this, the President’s fictional daughter laments how the intrusiveness of the Secret Service often puts a damper on her romantic life.
Watching among the audience, President Kennedy may well have felt the same way.
But there are good reasons why those now being protected by this agency should feel nervous–about their own safety.
On August 29, a gun belonging to a Secret Service agent traveling with Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was mistakenly left in the restroom of the candidate’s charter plane.
And, on September 3, an unknown man stole a Secret Service rental truck carrying equipment related to Vice President Joe Biden’s Labor Day visit to Detroit.
In the first incident, the weapon was found by a CBS News/National Journal reporter, who alerted a flight attendant about the gun.
A Secret Service agent who was on board the plane retrieved the gun from the restroom.
In the second incident, the U-Haul truck stolen outside the Westin Book Cadillac hotel was found the next day in a parking lot about three miles away.
Apparently, the Secret Service doesn’t play favorites where its protectees are concerned. Your safety can be jeopardized whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.
What’s going on here?
If you’ve read In the President’s Secret Service, your answer is likely to be: “More of the same.”
The 2009 book, by investigative reporter Ronald Kessler, warned that the agency was risking the safety of many of its protectees, including President Obama.
The book praised the courage and integrity of Secret Service agents as a whole. But it slammed SS management for such practices as:
• Shutting off magnetometers to screen crowds for Presidential candidates and even for Presidents Bush and Obama. It was at one such event in Tiblisi, Georgia, that a man threw a grenade at Bush—which failed to explode.
• Secret Service agents are still being trained to expect an attempt by a lone gunman—rather than a professional squad of terrorist assassins.
• The Service’s Counter Assault Teams (CATs) have generally been cut back from five or six agents to two, rendering them useless if a real attack occurred.
• Salaries paid to SS agents have not kept pace with reality. Veteran SS men and women are now being offered up to four times their salary for moving to the private sector, and many are leaving the agency for that reason.
• Another reason for the high attrition rate is that while Congress has greatly expanded the duties of this agency, its top management has not asked for corresponding increases in funding and agents.
• A third reason why many agents are leaving is the widespread knowledge that it takes “juice” or connections with top management to advance one’s career.
• SS agents are being trained with weapons that are outdated (such as the MP5) compared to those used by other law enforcement agencies and the potential assassins they face (such as the M4).
• The agency refuses to ask for help from other agencies to meet its manpower needs. Thus, a visiting head of state at the U.N. General Assembly will generally be assigned only three agents as protection.
• The agency tells agents to grade themselves on their physical training test forms.
• Congressional members who visit the agency’s Rowley Training Center in Laurel, Maryland, are treated to rehearsed scenarios of how the agency would deal with attacks. If agents were allowed to perform these exercises without rehearsals, Congress members would see they can and do make mistakes like anyone else.
Kessler closes his book with the warning: “Without these changes, an assassination of Barack Obama or a future president is likely.
“If that happens, a new Warren Commission will be appointed to study the tragedy. It will find that the Secret Service was shockingly derelict in its duty to the American people and to its own elite corps of brave and dedicated agents.”
If the agency is to be judged by its recent performance in the cases of Romney and Biden, the day of that tragedy may not be far away.