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In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect [Hardcover]

Ronald Kessler
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 4 2009
Never before has a journalist penetrated the wall of secrecy that surrounds the U.S. Secret Service, that elite corps of agents who pledge to take a bullet to protect the president and his family. After conducting exclusive interviews with more than one hundred current and former Secret Service agents, bestselling author and award-winning reporter Ronald Kessler reveals their secrets for the first time.

Secret Service agents, acting as human surveillance cameras, observe everything that goes on behind the scenes in the president’s inner circle. Kessler reveals what they have seen, providing startling, previously untold stories about the presidents, from John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as about their families, Cabinet officers, and White House aides.

Kessler portrays the dangers that agents face and how they carry out their missions–from how they are trained to how they spot and assess potential threats. With fly-on-the-wall perspective, he captures the drama and tension that characterize agents’ lives.

In this headline-grabbing book, Kessler discloses assassination attempts that have never before been revealed. He shares inside accounts of past assaults that have put the Secret Service to the test, including a heroic gun battle that took down the would-be assassins of Harry S. Truman, the devastating day that John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas, and the swift actions that saved Ronald Reagan after he was shot.

While Secret Service agents are brave and dedicated, Kessler exposes how Secret Service management in recent years has betrayed its mission by cutting corners, risking the assassination of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and their families. Given the lax standards, “It’s a miracle we have not had a successful assassination,” a current agent says.

Since an assassination jeopardizes democracy itself, few agencies are as important as the Secret Service–nor is any other subject as tantalizing as the inner sanctum of the White House. Only tight-lipped Secret Service agents know the real story, and Ronald Kessler is the only journalist to have won their trust.

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From USA TODAY, Reviewed By Don Oldenburg, Special for USA TODAY

The recent news report that corner-cutting at the U.S. Secret Service has put President Obama's life at greater risk may be the most attention-grabbing disclosure emerging from Ron Kessler's latest book. But there's a lot more in this fascinating exposé, which penetrates that federal agency's longstanding mission and tradition of sworn secrecy.

Never mind that the book's title is stiffer than the Secret Service's public persona — dour-faced agents wearing pressed suits, dark sunglasses and earphones, scouring crowds for potential threats. Inside the covers, Kessler's lively narrative is loaded with details of how the federal agents, authorized to protect the president and other national leaders, get the job done — and sometimes don't.

But what fuels this high-energy read isn't Kessler's investigation of the Secret Service's training, procedures and strategies — from guaranteeing the safety of the president's food to analyzing daily threats. Instead what turns these pages are the amusing, saucy, often disturbing anecdotes about the VIPs the Secret Service has protected and still protects. The secrets, in other words.

Some of it would border on tabloid sensationalism if it hadn't come directly from current and retired agents (most identified by name, to Kessler's credit). Of course, you'd expect the salacious stories of John Kennedy's libido, but the less-told tales of an often-drunken and philandering Lyndon Johnson caught with his pants down are shocking. Family-values champion Spiro Agnew had his hotel-room peccadilloes, it seems, and nice Jimmy Carter his animosities. Richard Nixon's peculiarities? Beyond excess.

Anecdotes of hard-to-handle members of the first families abound here as well, including Jenna and Barbara Bush's bar-hopping, Hillary Clinton's angry clashes with low-level White House employees, and Nancy Reagan's cold, controlling habits.
Balancing the sordid tales are the kinder stories of presidential humanity — like George H.W. Bush and an agent searching for hidden cookies in the middle of the night, Miss Lillian Carter delivering a six-pack to the Secret Service boys (dutifully refused), and Ronald Reagan mailing checks for thousands of dollars to needy strangers.

So why the all the blabbing from zip-lipped agents? A respected journalist and former Washington Post reporter, Kessler somehow instills trust even in wary civil servants and federal bureaucrats.

He did when researching such government-insider books as The Terrorist Watch and The CIA at War. He has done it again by persuading the Secret Service to cooperate, making this an insightful and entertaining story.

Copyright 2009, USA TODAY. All Rights Reserved.

About the Author

RONALD KESSLER is the New York Times bestselling author of The Terrorist Watch, The Bureau, Inside the White House, and The CIA at War. A former reporter for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, he has won sixteen journalism awards. Kessler lives in Potomac, Maryland, with his wife, Pamela.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By James Gallen TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
"In The President's Secret Service" is history, gossip and public affairs commentary that is informative, entertaining and disturbing. It covers the tales of the Secret Service from the Truman Administration to the present.

The Secret Service sees their protectees behind the scenes. This perspective permits them to understand the people behind the public personae. Their insights, when they choose to reveal them, permit the public to gain a deeper understanding of those who govern them and why some things happened the way they did.

The gossip is the most entertaining part of the book. This is where we hear about the Service's favorites, the ones they like and the ones they do not, the unfaithful and the peculiar. The reader learns more about JFK's infidelities, but LBJ's are portrayed as more common than I thought and I had never heard of Spiro Agnew having that problem. The protectee the agents liked the most? Laura Bush, with George W. and his parents close behind, although their daughters created problems when they tried to lose their protectors. The least liked were the Carters, who rarely acknowledged the Agents, wanted them to carry their luggage while Jimmy carried an empty hanging bag for the cameras. Hillary Clinton was not far behind in their distain. Other categories: The weirdest- Richard Nixon; The crudest- Lyndon Johnson; The cheapest- Gerald Ford; Those who treated the agents with respect- The Fords and Ronald Reagan, although Nancy could be overly protective; The most clueless- David Eisenhower.

The other portion of the book deals with how the Service does its job: its training, its staffing, duties and its equipment.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars Sept. 4 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As described.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars In the Presdents Secret Service Oct. 17 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I liked the book, thought there could be some bias, but overall
pretty good book.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars In the President's secret service Nov. 26 2012
By Gail
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I actually haven't read it yet, but I think it will be interesting. I JUST received this item,. as I was told there was a delay because of the East Coast storms. But it got here!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  811 reviews
430 of 483 people found the following review helpful
By Rick Shaq Goldstein - Published on
Today the Secret Service is in charge of protecting the President... the Vice-President... former President's... world leaders... big events... and even the Pope. Things have come a long way since April 14, 1865 when President Lincoln's bodyguard on duty outside the president's box at Ford's Theatre "was Patrolman John F. Parker of the Washington police. Instead of remaining on guard outside the President's box, Parker wandered off to watch the play, then went to a nearby saloon for a drink". And of course John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln that night. Author Ronald Kessler then leads the reader not only through the growth... both in size... and responsibility... of the United States Secret Service... but he also brings to light... almost limitless Presidential peccadilloes... character traits... and faults... that are almost beyond an average citizens imagination. The revelations in this book go way... way... past the JFK-Marilyn Monroe sexual liaisons... which is almost accepted common knowledge by multiple generations. We're talking about JFK bedding multiple women at the same time... with the security of a Secret Service team with Jackie... giving alerts to JFK if she was on the way back... while he was in the pool with two buxom women wearing nothing but wet T-shirts. We're talking about Lyndon Johnson having multiple sex partners... and even being caught in the act on the couch by Lady Bird Johnson... thus leading an irate LBJ to request a red warning light in his office and other areas that could be activated by agents to alert him when Lady Bird was on the way. LBJ would even have women on his ranch while Lady Bird was home... and simply get up at night and go into a different room for sex.

What makes this book so astounding is that ninety-per-cent of the quotes regarding these transgressions... are attributed directly to *NAMED-AGENTS*! With the "secrecy" of the Secret Service... the reader would think... the agents would have been sworn to a life of "OMERTA"... the code of silence. But I guess times have changed both for the Mafia... and the Secret Service. The agents... through the author... pull no punches in any area you could think of. They openly state that LBJ "was uncouth, nasty, and often drunk." They say President Ford was the cheapest guy they ever saw... they say Nixon was the "strangest modern president, Jimmy Carter was known as the least likeable. IF THE TRUE MEASURE OF A MAN IS HOW HE TREATS THE LITTLE PEOPLE, CARTER FLUNKED THE TEST." One agent said "the Carters were the biggest liars in the world"... especially when it came to booze. Agents "considered Nixon's son-in-law David Eisenhower, grandson of former President Dwight Eisenhower the most clueless person they had ever protected." What I've listed here is a miniscule tip of the iceberg of presidential depravity that engulfs the reader's senses like a flash flood annihilating an ant hill.

Interspersed with the White House decadence is a myriad of examples of assassination planning and attempts. Some thwarted in advance by the Secret Service... and some simply failing by pure luck. This book will have two extremely powerful... uncontrollable effects on potential readers. One... you literally will not be able to stop reading it... and two... you will have to talk to someone... to share this overflowing amount of formerly secret... deliriously... salacious... historical... scuttlebutt.
118 of 136 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honoring the agents and also a great gossipy read Aug. 5 2009
By Todd Bartholomew - Published on
"In the President's Secret Service" is something of a guilty pleasure for those interested in learning more about our nation's presidents and first families and those agents who protect them. Yet it also pays tribute to those agents who put their lives on the line every day for their charges, and also seeks to highlight deficiencies in the agency that desperately need to be addressed. Kessler interviewed a number of active and retired agents in order to describe the dangers the agents and their charges face from a myriad of threats and seeks to personalize the history of this agency that often serves in the shadows and in silence for very obvious reasons. In an age when citizens are critical of the government and it's agencies it is refreshing to read about these genuinely selfless individuals who are literally willing to take a bullet in their line of duty.

Secret Service agents are a favorite topic for fiction and for Hollywood, but their portrayal there is often stilted and two dimensional rather than the nuanced portrait Kessler reveals. Agents endure considerable abuse and difficulty with supreme diffidence and their demonstration of duty, honor, and valor that emerges is very much what you would find in the Armed Forces. Along the way Kessler gives readers a healthy amount of anecdotes about Presidents and their families and how they interacted with the agents assigned to protect them. These stories are by turns funny, interesting, and sometimes downright disturbing. Rather than being a distraction from the more serious messages of the book they help to provide levity when needed. Many of these stories give readers greater insight into the agents and their charges, particular how those protected react to having someone shadow their every move. "In the President's Secret Service" is also rather topical as it focuses primarily on the more recent history of the service and recent presidents, primarily from George H. W. Bush to President Obama, but it also does occasionally touch on earlier Administrations.

"In the President's Secret Service" is a lively page turner that will certainly inspire confidence in the agents, but Kessler also points out alarming deficiencies in how the agency presently operates and how cutbacks have potentially weakened the effectiveness of their protections. Kessler exposes these weaknesses in the hope of shaming the agency and the branches of government to rectify them. Considering the stakes involved and our ongoing "War on Terror" lets hope that this book is reaching the right people!
99 of 115 people found the following review helpful
By RSProds - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Four and a half INFORMATIVE Stars!! Loaded with historical data and trivia that is very informative and in some cases very personal, Ronald Kessler's book ultimately delivers an overview of the history of the Secret Service from early presidential administrations right up to the 21st Century status of the Secret Service that is somewhat troubling. Beyond that we get tidbits of confirming gossip on people such as JFK, LBJ, Spiro Agnew, and others that are extremely unflattering. There is more on recent and current presidents, families, and staff that will titillate those who want inside stories, however brief. There are some stories that are also 'laugh-out-loud' funny.

The author says early 'pre-Secret Service' attitudes toward presidential protection probably got 3 presidents shot before the era of heavy protection arrived. Heavy presidential protection was added almost as an "after thought" to crime-busting duties of the Secret Service following those 3 incidents. Then came the advent of expansions and refinements such as the White House Police. We even get a look into their secretive headquarters. The author covers a number of revelations such as: the "biggest gunfight in Secret Service history"; Nixon's unusual private life; more disturbing information on what happened before, during, and after the JFK assassination; the "Fiddle & Faddle" threesome mistresses; the midnight peacock; secret amphibious vehicles; LBJ's unbelievable antics; Carter's quirks, and so on, right up to the Obama administration which the author says is more of a challenge than the others for one particular somber reason. This is a rather brief, eye-opening, and unforgettable look at the Secret Service that, while not definitive, certainly extends the Secret Service body of literature. Highly Recommended. Four and a half RIVETING Stars!! (This review is based on a Kindle download ("text-to-speech" is disabled). Also available as an MP3 CD, Audio CD, and in Hardcover.)
121 of 144 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More "Gossipy" Than Scholarly, but Enjoyable Aug. 9 2009
By Shannon T. Nutt - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was hoping for a more scholarly examination of the Secret Service by Kessler, but this turns out to be more of a tabloid-kind of read. That's not to say it isn't fun to hear about some of the antics of former Presidents. A lot of the stories here have already been documented elsewhere, but there's stuff I haven't read before, either (particularly about Jimmy Carter - which I still find hard to believe).

The book is suprisingly short in length (I wonder if Kessler whipped this one together in a few months time), but if you can look past its shortcomings, I think most buyers will enjoy this title.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting Sept. 5 2009
By PJ SanDiego - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting and enjoyable read. I agree with others that the book's structure is a little uneven and I didn't really find the chapters having to do with budget cuts and training issues to be very entertaining. However, I thought that the behind-the-scenes scoop on what the presidents and their families were "really like" to be utterly fascinating. I agree with Kessler's point that the way a leader treats his staff is a direct reflection of his character.
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