The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service
By Carol Leonnig
Anybody of a sure age can bear in mind when assassination was a tragic truth of American political life. Within the Sixties got here the slayings of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy; within the Seventies and ’80s, the near-fatal shootings of George Wallace and Ronald Reagan. And but, since Reagan’s shut brush with a deranged gunman in 1981, no American president has been caught within the cross hairs of an murderer. One would possibly assume that this owes one thing to the competence and professionalism of the Secret Service, the company we rely on to guard our leaders. Assume once more.
“Zero Fail,” a historical past of the company by the Washington Put up reporter Carol Leonnig, is a devastating catalog of jaw-dropping incompetence, ham-fisted mismanagement and frat-boy bacchanalia. The Secret Service’s custom of drunken debauchery goes again to at the very least November 1963, in Dallas, when some brokers apparently acquired so hammered in a gin joint simply hours earlier than the fateful motorcade that they might barely stroll, a lot much less leap to the president’s protection. Extra not too long ago, on a visit to Cartagena, Colombia, to organize for Barack Obama’s go to in 2012, 11 members of his Secret Service advance group had been shipped dwelling after an evening of boozing and cavorting with prostitutes.
And drunken escapades are the least of the company’s issues. Created in 1865 to chase counterfeiters, the Secret Service didn’t formally begin defending presidents till 1901, after William McKinley was gunned down in Buffalo. Immediately it guards present and former presidents, vice presidents and their households; main presidential candidates; visiting heads of state; diplomatic missions; and “main occasions” just like the Tremendous Bowl. But the company, like some generals, has been combating the final struggle. There have been enhancements in methods after John Kennedy’s assassination. However since then the Secret Service has been stretched skinny by its increasing constitution; hobbled by insufficient coaching and obsolescent weaponry; and suffering from distrust between the rank-and-file and management.
The company has additionally been abused by its overseers — the institutional equal of a battered youngster. Congress has starved it of essential funding. And a few presidents have thumbed their noses at their protectors. Kennedy defied his element to maintain up along with his round the clock extramarital adventures. Invoice Clinton additionally went rogue, ditching his brokers to go over the White Home wall with out warning. Donald Trump handled his protectors like a Praetorian Guard — politicizing their management and making outlandish calls for: Whereas recovering from Covid-19, he bundled brokers right into a limousine for a theatrical victory lap round Walter Reed Nationwide Navy Medical Middle, thereby inviting their an infection.
Again and again, in Leonnig’s telling, slightly than taking a bullet for the president, the Secret Service has dodged one. No place on earth is meant to be safer than “Crown,” because the White Home is code-named. And but, in September 2014, a 42-year-old man sporting Crocs and carrying a knife clambered over the fence, then lumbered throughout the North Garden and into the East Room earlier than he was tackled by an officer. Three years later, one other “jumper” strolled unchallenged as much as the japanese entrance. A multimillion-dollar system of sensors, canine patrols and human brokers had gone kaput.
I discovered myself wishing that “Zero Fail” included extra examples of Secret Service successes: threats found and plots disrupted. Nonetheless, Leonnig writes, “it’s for the Secret Service’s entrance line and its future that I write these arduous truths … as a result of they deserve higher.” True sufficient. This e book is a wake-up name, and a precious research of a critically vital company. The Secret Service wants ample assets, competent management and respect. It’s, in spite of everything, the skinny line between the president and catastrophe.