Presidential History

The Biggest Secret Service Failure of All Time

Obama's crew has nothing on the team that got drunk before JFK's assassination.

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Congressman Pete King, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, calls the scandal involving prostitutes in Colombia "the worst moment in the history of the Secret Service."

He's wrong about that. The worst moment in the history of the Secret Service was November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. It was the first and only time since the Secret Service was put fully in charge of protecting the president in 1902 that a president was assassinated.

Not that there aren't certainly unfortunate similarities between the current situation and the events of 1963. William Manchester, in his 1967 book about the Kennedy assassination, The Death of the President, reports that nine agents of the White House Secret Service detail were out after midnight on November 22, starting with "beer and mixed drinks." One agent was out until 5 a.m. Manchester wrote, "Fellow drinkers during those early morning hours included four agents who were to ride in the president's follow-up care in Dallas, and whose alertness was vital to his safety."

Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent in charge of Jacqueline Kennedy, writes in his well-timed new book that in the early morning of November 22, "the clock read almost 1:00 a.m., which meant by my body clock it was almost 2 a.m. East Coast time….We all walked over to the Press Club only to find the food was all gone. They had some peanuts, so I had a scotch and soda and some nuts."

One of the ousted Secret Service supervisors in the current scandal reportedly posted a picture of himself guarding Sarah Palin and declaring that he was "checking her out." Mr. Hill writes of Jacqueline Kennedy, "I always thought she looked so beautiful in her riding clothes—natural, no makeup, and after an exhilarating ride, her face was flushed from the exercise."

The blame for Kennedy's assassinations belongs not to the bodyguards but to the assassin. But it is worth remembering, too, that the Secret Service is an unusual creature. It was long part of the Treasury department, not the Justice or Defense departments, and it was originally created to combat counterfeit currency. To this day the service's mission, in addition to protecting the president, is to "safeguard the nation's financial infrastructure and payment systems to preserve the integrity of the economy." When the federal government, in 2007, raided the Indiana office of Bernard von NotHaus, a manufacturer of copper and gold coins bearing the likeness of Ron Paul, it was the Secret Service that did the raiding.

It's not clear whether lack of a presidential assassination in the years since 1963 is the result of luck, the excellence of the Service, or the ineptitude of would-be assassins. Whatever the reason, we should be thankful—political violence is an attack not only on politicians but on democracy itself. In Kennedy's case, by the time the public found out about the early-morning carousing, it was too late.

The quote is attributed to Casey Stengel that it wasn't sex that hurt his baseball players, it was staying up all night looking for it. For the Secret Service, the stakes are even higher than they were for the Mets or the Yankees. If the agents can't go to bed at a reasonable hour the night before work, Congress may want to think about redistributing the responsibility for presidential protection to a different agency. The last thing we want is some present-day Secret Service agent, 50 years from now, cashing in with a book deal after years of battling what Mr. Hill calls "guilt, a feeling of failure, and a sense of responsibility for not being able to prevent the assassination."

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of Samuel Adams: A Life.

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51 responses to “The Biggest Secret Service Failure of All Time

  1. Whatever the reason, we should be thankful – political violence is an attack not only on politicians but on democracy itself.

    Democracy gave us Jim Crow laws and internment of the descendants of Japanese immigrants. Why the fuck should we be upset by an attack on yet another system of might makes right?

    Yes, every time a psychopath gets offed, the surviving psychopaths engage in an orgy of propaganda and violence to expand their power. Thus killing presidents is kind of counterproductive.

    Frankly, though, just as I, despite my opposition to the death penalty, said “meh” to Ted Bundy’s execution, I honestly wouldn’t give tinker’s cuss if someone guns down a sitting or former president. They chose the thug life after all.

    1. All new Jacks to the game must know: a) He’s going to get rich. b) He’s going to jail. c) He’s going to die.

    1. It’s been said before, but bears repeating: you are a truly disgusting creature.

    2. I don’t understand that each and every time we mention the Japanese internment (including in Canada) the Italians are NEVER mentioned. Though not as organized and as in great numbers, the number of Italians places in camps and put under strich curfew was substantial.

      Families and business were destroyed.

      It’s worth noting that it was FDR and McKenzie (from the Liberal party) who ordered the internments.

      Can’t blame this one on Bush, eh?

      1. “placed” and “strict.” And that’s William Lyon MacKenzie King PM of Canada.

        I just proofread.

        Oi.

  2. “The worst moment in the history of the Secret Service was November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was shot and killed.”

    To quote the immortal Pat Paulsen, himself a presidential candidate:

    Picky, picky, picky.

  3. As far as scandals go, this one is pretty minor, and will ultimately be inconsequential to most of us. No major political figure is questioning the Secret Service as a whole, and those in power have been really good about focusing the investigation on just a few miscreants. Only a major disaster (like Kennedy’s assassination) will bring real change to the Secret Service.

    http://govforliberty.blogspot.com

    1. Only a major disaster (like Kennedy’s assassination) will bring real change to the Secret Service.

      Why is everyone on Kennedy’s case? Yes, she can get a little annoying sometimes, but overall, I find her witty and entertaining.

  4. “It’s not clear whether lack of a presidential assassination in the years since 1963 is the result of luck, the excellence of the Service, or the ineptitude of would-be assassins.”

    I would go with the excellence of the Service with regard to the SS members who kept Reagan alive after Mark Chapman shot him.

    1. Couldn’t you equally say they were incompetent for letting Chapman get a shot off in the first place?

      I’m very hesitant to describe any government agency as having “excellence”.

      1. That crossed my mind, but I was thinking more about the agent that shielded him with his body as he threw him in the car and the other agent who told them to turn around and go to the hospital as opposed to the Whitehouse, because he recognized the seriousness of the wound.

        1. I thought they had no idea he had been hit until after an examination at the hospital?

          1. You’re thinking about Buckwheat.

            1. I’m always thinking about Buckwheat.

              1. This just in! Buckwheat has been shot!

                “Oh, I’ve been shot!”

          2. Not quite. He coughed up a little bit of blood and complained of some minor chest pains and the SS decided to take him immediately to the public ER, instead of waiting to seek medical attention at at a more secure location.

            Saved his life.

            1. This. The blood was pretty dark, which tipped off the agent to the severity of the injury.

        2. I saw some stuff in the Marines, but what Tim McCarthy did to protect Reagan was the fastest bravest thing I’ve ever seen. As soon as he heard shots, he stood in font of the President, spread himself out and became a bullet sponge (without any body armor).

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFN2A7CCRkk

    2. I’m trying to figure out whether this is a joke or not. Chapman assassinated John Lennon. It was John Hinckley, Jr. who attemoted to assassinate Reagan.

      1. That should be “attempted” not “attemoted.” Curse the lack of an edit function!

        1. Good point. I questioned it but then glossed over it instead of looking it up to confirm. Well, that’s what I get for being sloppy.

          1. Me too, which is why moron is my sobriquet.

  5. James West and Artemus Gordon would have protected JFK.

    1. That’s a pinnacle that can never be achieved again.

      Assuming, of course, you’re referring to the TV version.

    2. I loved that show when I was a kid.

      1. Ditto. Great fun. I find it interesting that three favorite series of my youth from around the same period have been raped and pillaged by “reboots”: Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, and The Wild, Wild West.

        1. Rat Patrol remains unsullied.

        2. You’ve got a lot of people who want to keep going back to the fucking 1960s.

  6. I just don’t know why anyone is the least but surprised about the current Secret Service scandal. I woudl have been surprised if they didn’t use their down time for a bit of boozing and whoring.

    1. Yeah, people whose job it is to act as a human shield for the most powerful person on the planet have active libidos. what a shock.

      What actually shocks me is that people in such high physical condition and in a profession such as theirs has to pay for it. I mean, seriously? What’s up with that?

  7. Contains a word that is too long?? Damn, I was just cutting and pasting from the article.

    FIX IT!!!!

  8. Anyway, I was going to say it was probably his procurement team and his protection detail, so no biggie.

    1. Correction..”not his protection detail”.

      1. Wouldn’t his procuremnet team know enough to provide protection?

  9. Yes, the Secret Service goes after counterfeiters and protects the president, but let’s not forget the important job of providing agents to Warehouse 13.

  10. The article says the Sec. Serv’s mission includes: “safeguard the nation’s financial infrastructure and payment systems to preserve the integrity of the economy.”

    They must be too tired out from protecting the Pres to get to this part of their job.

  11. Notice Presidents don’t ride around in convertibles any more? I think Presidential security is overkill at this point, but Kennedy’s assignation wasn’t preventable by bodyguards.

    1. but Kennedy’s assignation wasn’t preventable by bodyguards.

      Which assignation? :-p

      1. The one I assigned responsibility to my spell-checker. Only later I found out my spell-checker was banging Colombian whores and making me look bad.

        1. Are you sure it wasn’t banking Columbine whorls?

        2. Either way, you look bad.

        3. I might also point out that spell checker won’t find a problem with words unless they’re… you know….MIS-FFFING-SPELLED! Which “assignation” was not. It just wasn’t the word you wanted. However, I always thought that the SS boys HELPED JFK with his assignations, especially with busty blonde actresses.

  12. you can count it as the biggest failure of the history in secret services.

  13. Clint Hill wasn’t the problem. Google “George Hickey.”

  14. My vote for the biggest Secret Service Failure of all time (I would prefer the word atrocity) goes to the e-gold case. Jackbooted thugs from the Secret Service raided the company, confiscating files, computers and assets, and charging the leaders with popular mushy federal crimes such as money laundering. E-gold was a world-wide payment system with accounts backed 100% by physical precious metals. The real crime? Creating an alternative currency with backing other than the (lol) full faith and credit of the US government.
    The end result: Officials of the company were forced to plead guilty to these “crimes” to avoid imprisonment, millions in assets were forfeited, and innocent account holders are still waiting, six years later, to receive payment in fiat currency for what remains of their gold-backed accounts after deducting the enormous costs of this endless outrage. It’s Bernard von Nothaus on steroids.

  15. What a sad attempt to attack the Secret Service. As if there is anyone to blame for the assassination aside from the gunman himself. This current idea of perfect protection from anything, whether at an airport or on the highway or in school or for a president is a stupid one. Protecting the President 100% means he lives in a bunker underground and is never seen except via video. I can’t imagine a President would want to live in such a bubble, and I wouldn’t have respect for such a person.

  16. We all walked over to the Press Club only to find the food was all gone. http://www.riemeninnl.com/riem-bally-c-5.html They had some peanuts, so I had a scotch and soda and some nuts.

  17. Yankees. If the agents can’t go to bed at a reasonable hour the night before work, Congress may

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