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article imageOp-Ed: Washington Post reporter's book tells of the Secret Service Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Jun 29, 2016 in Lifestyle
Potomac - With so much focus on the presidential election lately, this reporter stumbled across a book entitled "In The President's Secret Service - a Behind-The-Scenes view..." by investigative reporter Ronald Kessler.
Naturally, anything that is "revealed" or "seldom talked about" always pulls people in. But I was curious; what about confidentiality? If Kessler's sources are reliable and authentic wouldn't there be a backlash? "Yes," there was he admitted.
A former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reporter, Kessler's book about the Secret Service that serves the White House was published in 2009. Reaching out from his home in Maryland, Kessler was gracious in responding to my media inquiry. "The former (Secret Service) agents association has lambasted me, both because of the behind the scenes information disclosed, because I exposed Secret Service laxness and corner-cutting long before it became obvious publicly," he said. "Until I exposed the fact that agents had hired prostitutes in Colombia, it was understood that agents don't talk about what they see behind the scenes. But there was no non-disclosure agreement, noted Kessler. After the prostitution scandal, the agency required current agents to sign such agreements."
Despite criticism, Kessler insists what he writes about is no tabloid gossip, "Most of it is all on record." Yet, interestingly, when Kessler's book made its debut back in 2009, James Bamford, an intelligence expert, wrote a critique for the Washington Post. Bamford considered it a "milking of agents for the juiciest gossip...and mixed it with a rambling list of their complaints."
Kessler's style of writing presents a very "matter of fact" approach. Even when talking about confidential matters. He doesn't get stuck upon the personal aspects. Kessler goes further into various details about the Secret Service, its history and structure. In presenting a much larger picture, the book is an easy read. Of course, curiosity will make pages turn faster. I skipped thru the larger-picture aspects of Kessler's details, such as screening measures, assessing a crowed, etc. just to read what a former president did or did not do when the press was not around. Or as in the situation with former presidents JFK and LBJ, what they did when wives were not present.
Some of that whether seen as so or not; much of that "gossip" aspect has been spotlighted before in the media. But there is something more credible when it comes from a source from the inside. When I questioned where Kessler got his info and if it is reliable, he responded. "I am careful to obtain information only from sources with first hand knowledge of the people and events they describe. If the information is sensitive, or what they reveal is very sensitive or damaging, I make sure to obtain additional corroboration. And, he said, I to try obtain a comment from the individual involved before using it."
That would not be easy when delving into the highly confidential world of the Secret Service. They are entrusted with the lives of presidents and their families while in the White House. Yet, with more than 20 books to his credit, Kessler has managed to make topics like the Secret Service, the CIA and the FBI his area of investigative expertise.
I asked him; what draws you into it? What is the attraction? He replied."I like a challenge, and I like to reveal secrets about important subjects. The Secret Service, FBI, and CIA, which I often write about, meet all those criteria." His most recent book, "The First Family Detail" delves even further, unflinchingly.
Part of understanding the larger picture is to uncover and examine the small things. Many things Kessler uncovers regarding the Secret Service, the FBI, the CIA overlap. No matter how small the little bits of info he reveals is interesting as well as humorous. For example, a president and each member of his family are given a code name. When former First Lady Hilary Clinton was in the White House the code name was 'Evergreen.' Now more than 20 years later she is a presidential candidate. If elected she will be the first ever to be both First Lady and a U.S. President. Some of the recounting can seem small. For example Kessler quoted agents who noted which president and his family were the easiest to work with and 'respected the Service' and which ones didn't. Most of the tension and disposition with a president and his family usually focused on how much security the President and his family were able to tolerate.
Kessler notes that this intense security detail is part of the job and anyone connected to the President, especially a spouse and family must accept this as "being in the White House." Yet. just those little details gives an insight into what a president is and was like and what type of leadership pressure he or his family was under.
Apart from the "backstage activities" of what goes on behind the scenes, Kessler expressed how concerned he was that agents usually don't stay long with the service. Mismanagement of staff, especially with regards to request for transfers are often ignored. The work of a secret service agent is very demanding and for an agent to have their own family close by is most important as a Secret Service agent's work is always stressful.
Kessler cited several instances where agents asked to be transferred to another location or station. But they were denied. They only asked for a transfer so to be where a wife or husband was so that they could have family time. Most of these types of requests and considerations are ignored if not flat out denied. And, the amount of bureaucracy involved in putting in any type of request certainly discourages an agent. This is why according to Kessler, many Secret Service agents will leave and then go into private security detail, or do consultant work. Kessler was surprised to learn that even with agents leaving after a brief term of service, the camaraderie among agents is admirable. They often will help each other.
Kessler noted that for all the advancements in technology, psychological and sociological knowledge — social awareness, consciousness raising, etc. the Secret Service is still very much a "good-old boys" operation. As he also told C-Span TV, "The management culture (of the Secret Service) punishes agents who question anything." Those who are able to secure connections to the top get what they need or want, while others despite their loyalty and dedicated service are ignored. This punitive and short-sightedness of the management makes the Secret Service more vulnerable to corruption.
But not to be discouraged even with its short-sightedness, the Secret Service has made improvements over the years. Minorities have made strides within the service. Since 1971 the Secret Service has included women. Since women began serving in the Secret Service over 40 years ago, more than 360 women now serve on detail. Yet in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the amount of Secret Service agents and staff has increased to over 3,000. With that, the annual budget for the U.S. Secret Service has been over $1.6 billion (back in 2013 according to a Forbes magazine report.).
Which leads into another issue Kessler speaks of in the book, agency authority, cooperation and autonomy. The risks to security have only increased over the years. Kessler pointed out that had the White House staff let the Secret Service screen an monitor everyone, (including ones considered to be 'O.K.' assassination attempts and even 'close calls' in breaching security would have been avoided if not eliminated. Kessler shows just how much the Secret Service must do to protect the President and The White House. Even when potential threats turn out to be a hoax, everything must be not be left to chance. Being able to actively discern a real dangerous 'psycho' from a hapless 'pet psycho' who is simply overstepping boundaries is that very fine line that has to be watched always.
The balance is to keep strict protocols in place so as to not 'over-react.' But to be able to respond swiftly when danger is near is a matter of life and death; and national security. Most of the dilemma in protecting the President and The White House itself is who can and who cannot come in. The safe distance between the President while in Office and the public has to be maintained. When the President, family members or anyone on staff ignore the protocol, danger occurs.
The deadly assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan back in the 1980's could have been averted. Protocols were not strictly followed.This is something Kessler said was not revealed to the media. Management within the Secret Service is as he puts it, "a cover-up culture" and one (as he said before) that tends to "cut corners." Usually this happens because of compromises. Because of these traits combined with short-sightedness and special interests getting a sway, the Secret Service has had its share of poorly appointed leadership positions and faulty decission-making. Clearly, the Secret Service needs to update its management skills.
But, as a security force dedicated to national security, Kessler admires the fact that the Secret Service attracts many outstanding men and women willing to "take a bullet for The President." To learn more about investigative journalist and author Ronald Kessler visit his website.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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