In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protectby Ronald Kessler
Because Secret Service agents are sworn to secrecy, the American public rarely knows what presidents, vice presidents, presidential candidates, and Cabinet officers and their families are really like. If they did, says a former Secret Service agent, "They would scream."
In the President's Secret Service Reveals
Threats against President Obama are up 400 percent
Because Secret Service agents are sworn to secrecy, the American public rarely knows what presidents, vice presidents, presidential candidates, and Cabinet officers and their families are really like. If they did, says a former Secret Service agent, "They would scream."
In the President's Secret Service Reveals
Threats against President Obama are up 400 percent compared with those against President George W. Bush.
Barack Obama met secretly with Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., during his presidential campaign.
Vice President Spiro Agnew, a champion of family values, had extra-marital affairs while in office.
George W. Bush's daughters, Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, gave their Secret Service details a hard time and would try to lose their agents.
Based on a psychic's vision that a sniper would assassinate President George H. W. Bush, the Secret Service changed his motorcade route.
To make the press think he came to work early, Jimmy Carter would walk into the Oval Office at 5 A.M., then nod off to sleep. He refused to allow the military aide with the nuclear football to stay near his home in Plains, Georgia, jeopardizing the nation's safety when he was staying there.
Lyndon Johnson gave dangerous instructions to his Secret Service agents and engaged in extensive philandering at the White House and at his ranch.
“[A] fascinating exposé . . . high-energy read . . . amusing, saucy, often disturbing anecdotes about the VIPs the Secret Service has protected and still protects.” —USA Today
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.
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In the President's Secret ServiceBehind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect
By Ronald Kessler
CrownCopyright © 2009 Ronald Kessler
All right reserved.
EVEN BEFORE HE took the oath of office, Abraham Lincoln was the object of plots to kidnap or kill him. Throughout the Civil War, he received threatening letters. Yet, like most presidents before and after him, Lincoln had little use for personal protection. He resisted the efforts of his friends, the police, and the military to safeguard him. Finally, late in the war, he agreed to allow four Washington police officers to act as his bodyguards.
On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth, a fanatical Confederate sympathizer, learned that Lincoln would be attending a play at Ford's Theatre that evening. The president's bodyguard on duty 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. As a result of Parker's negligence, Lincoln was as unprotected as any private citizen.
Just after ten P.M., Booth made his way to Lincoln's box, snuck in, and shot him in the back of the head. The president died the next morning.
Despite that lesson, protection of the president remained spotty at best. For a short time after the Civil War, the War Department assignedsoldiers to protect the White House and its grounds. On special occasions, Washington police officers helped maintain order and prevented crowds from assembling. But the permanent detail of four police officers that was assigned to guard the president during Lincoln's term was reduced to three. These officers protected only the White House and did not receive any special training.
Thus, President James A. Garfield was unguarded as he walked through a waiting room toward a train in the Baltimore and Potomac Railway station in Washington on the morning of July 2, 1881. Charles J. Guiteau emerged from the crowd and shot the president in the arm and then fatally in the back. Guiteau was said to be bitterly disappointed that Garfield had ignored his pleas to be appointed a consul in Europe.
Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, tried to find the bullet in the president's back with an induction-balance electrical device he had invented. While the device worked in tests, it failed to find the bullet. All other efforts failed as well. On September 19, 1881, Garfield died of his wounds.
While the assassination shocked the nation, no steps were taken to protect the next president, Chester A. Arthur. The resistance came down to the perennial question of how to reconcile the need to protect the country's leaders with their need to mingle with citizens and remain connected to the people.
In fact, after Garfield's assassination, the New York Tribune warned against improving security. The paper said that the country did not want the president to become "the slave of his office, the prisoner of forms and restrictions."
The tension between openness and protection went back to the design of the White House itself. As originally proposed by Pierre L'Enfant and approved in principle by George Washington, the White House was to be a "presidential palace." As envisioned, it would have been five times larger than the structure actually built. But Republican opposition, led by Thomas Jefferson, discredited the Federalist plan as unbefitting a democracy. The critics decried what was known as "royalism"--surrounding the president with courtiers and guards, the trappings of the English monarchy.
To resolve the impasse, Jefferson proposed to President Washington that the executive residence be constructed according to the best plan submitted in a national competition. Washington endorsed the idea and eventually accepted a design by architect James Hoban. Workers laid the cornerstone for the White House on October 13, 1792. When the building received a coat of whitewash in 1797, people began referring to it as the White House.
Given the competing aims of openness and security, it's not surprising that the Secret Service stumbled into protecting the president as an afterthought. The agency began operating as a division of the Department of the Treasury on July 5, 1865, to track down and arrest counterfeiters. At the time, an estimated one third of the nation's currency was counterfeit. States issued their own currency printed by sixteen hundred state banks. Nobody knew what their money was supposed to look like.
Ironically, Abraham Lincoln's last official act was to sign into law the legislation creating the agency. Its first chief was William P. Wood, a veteran of the Mexican-American War, a friend of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and the superintendent of the Old Capitol Prison.
One of the Secret Service's first targets, William E. Brockway, was doing such a good job creating bogus thousand-dollar treasury bonds that the treasury itself redeemed seventy-five of them. Chief Wood personally tracked Brockway to New York, where he was living under a pseudonym. Known as the King of Counterfeiters, he was convicted and sent to jail.
By 1867, the Secret Service had brought counterfeiting largely under control and had won acclaim in the press.
"The professional criminal never willingly falls in the way of the Secret Service," the Philadelphia Telegram declared. "The chase is as relentless as death, and only death or capture ends it."
With the agency's success, Congress gave the Secret Service broader authority to investigate other crimes, including fraud against the government. In 1894, the Secret Service was investigating a plot to assassinate President Grover Cleveland by a group of "western gamblers, anarchists, or cranks" in Colorado. Exceeding its mandate, the agency detailed two men who had been conducting the investigation to protect Cleveland from the suspects. For a time, the two agents rode in a buggy behind his carriage. But after political opponents criticized him for it, Cleveland told the agents he did not want their help.
As the number of threatening letters addressed to the president increased, Cleveland's wife persuaded him to increase protection at the White House. The number of police assigned there rose from three to twenty-seven. In 1894, the Secret Service began to supplement that protection by providing agents on an informal basis, including when the president traveled.
It did not help the next president, William McKinley. Unlike Lincoln and Garfield, McKinley was being guarded when Leon F. Czolgosz shot him on September 6, 1901. McKinley was at a reception that day in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Long lines of citizens passed between two rows of policemen and soldiers to shake his hand. Two Secret Service agents were within three feet of him when the twenty-eight-year-old self-styled anarchist joined the line and shot the president twice with a pistol concealed in a handkerchief. Bullets slammed into McKinley's chest and stomach. Eight days later, he died of blood poisoning.
Still, it was not until the next year--1902--that the Secret Service officially assumed responsibility for protecting the president. Even then it lacked statutory authority to do so. While Congress began allocating funds expressly for the purpose in 1906, it did so only annually, as part of the Sundry Civil Expenses Act.
As protective measures increased, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Senator Henry Cabot Lodge that he considered the Secret Service to be a "very small but very necessary thorn in the flesh. Of course," he wrote, "they would not be the least use in preventing any assault upon my life. I do not believe there is any danger of such an assault, and if there were, as Lincoln said, 'Though it would be safer for a president to live in a cage, it would interfere with his business.'"
Unsuccessful assassination attempts were made on President Andrew Jackson on January 30, 1835; President Theodore Roosevelt on October 14, 1912; and Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 15, 1933, before he had been sworn in. Even though Congress kept considering bills to make it a federal crime to assassinate the president, the legislative branch took no action. Members of the public continued to be free to roam the White House during daylight hours. In fact, back when the White House was first opened, a deranged man wandered in and threatened to kill President John Adams. Never calling for help, Adams invited the man into his office and calmed him down.
Finally, at the Secret Service's insistence, public access to the White House grounds was ended for the first time during World War II. To be let in, visitors had to report to gates around the perimeter. By then, Congress had formally established the White House Police in 1922 to guard the complex and secure the grounds. In 1930, the White House Police became part of the Secret Service. That unit within the Secret Service is now called the Secret Service's Uniformed Division. As its name implies, the division consists of officers in uniform.
In contrast to the Uniformed Division, Secret Service agents wear suits. They are responsible for the security of the first family and the vice president and his family, as opposed to the security of their surroundings. They also are responsible for protecting former presidents, presidential candidates, and visiting heads of state, and for security at special events of national significance such as presidential inaugurations, the Olympics, and presidential nominating conventions.
By the end of World War II, the number of Secret Service agents assigned to protect the president had been increased to thirty-seven. The stepped-up security paid off. At two-twenty P.M. on November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican nationalists tried to force their way into Blair House to kill President Harry S. Truman. The would-be assassins, Oscar Collazo, thirty-six, and Griselio Torresola, twenty-five, hoped to draw attention to the cause of separating the island from the United States.
The two men picked up a couple of German pistols and took a train from New York to Washington. According to American Gunfight by Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge, Jr., they took a cab to the White House. It turned out that the White House was being renovated, and their target was not staying there. The building was in such poor condition that Margaret Truman's piano had begun to break through the second floor. From the cab driver, Collazo and Torresola learned that during the renovation, Truman--code-named Supervise--was staying at Blair House across the street. They decided to shoot their way in.
Getting out on Pennsylvania Avenue, Torresola walked toward the west side of Blair House, while Collazo approached from the east. They planned to arrive at the mansion simultaneously with guns blazing, take down the security, and then find the president. As marksmen, Torresola was by far the better shot; Collazo was engaged in on-the-job training. But for the two men, fate would have its own plans.
Secret Service Agent Floyd Boring and White House Police Officer Joseph Davidson were manning the east security booth. In the west security booth was White House Police Officer Leslie Coffelt. White House Police Officer Donald Birdzell was standing on the front steps under the mansion's canopy, his back to the street, when Collazo came up behind him.
Unfamiliar with the automatic pistol he carried, Collazo tried to fire. The gun clicked, but nothing happened. Birdzell turned at the sound, to see the gunman struggling. Then the pistol cracked. A round tore into Birdzell's right knee.
Leaving the east security booth, Agent Boring and Officer Davidson drew their pistols and opened fire on Collazo. Hearing the shots, Secret Service Agent Stewart Stout, who was inside Blair House, retrieved a Thompson submachine gun from a gun cabinet. He had been standing post in a hallway, guarding the stairs and elevator leading to the second floor, where Truman was napping in his underwear. Bess Truman--code-named Sunnyside--as usual was out of town. She hated Washington.
Standing in front of the west security booth, Torresola whipped out his Luger and pumped rounds into Officer Coffelt's abdomen. Coffelt slumped to the floor. Torresola came around from the guardhouse and encountered another target--White House Police Officer Joseph Downs, who was in civilian clothes. Torresola hit him three times--in the hip, the shoulder, and the left side of his neck.
Then Torresola jumped a hedge and headed toward the entrance where wounded officer Birdzell was aiming his third or fourth shot at Collazo. Spotting Torresola, Birdzell squeezed off a round at him and missed. Torresola fired back, and the shot tore into the officer's other knee.
In a last heroic act, Coffelt leaped to his feet and propped himself against his security booth. He pointed his revolver at Torresola's head and fired. The bullet ripped through Torresola's ear. The would-be assassin pitched forward, dead on the street.
The other officers and agents blasted away at Collazo. He finally crumpled up as a shot slammed into his chest. Meanwhile, Secret Service Agent Vincent Mroz fired at him from a second-floor window.
The biggest gunfight in Secret Service history was over in forty seconds. A total of twenty-seven shots had been fired.
Having killed Torresola, officer Coffelt died in surgery less than four hours later. He earned a place on the Secret Service's honor roll of personnel killed in the line of duty. Collazo and two White House policemen recovered from their wounds. Truman was unharmed. If the assassins had made it inside, Stout and other agents would have mowed them down.
Looking back, agent Floyd Boring recalled, "It was a beautiful day, about eighty degrees outside." He remembered teasing Coffelt. "I was kidding him about getting a new set of glasses. I wanted to find out if he had gotten the glasses to look at the girls."
When the shooting stopped, Boring went up to see Truman. As Boring recalled it, Truman said, "What the hell is going on down there?"
The next morning, "Truman wanted to go for a walk," says Charles "Chuck" Taylor, an agent on his detail. "We said we thought it was not a good idea. The group might still be in the area."
The following year, Congress finally passed legislation to permanently authorize the Secret Service to protect the president, his immediate family, the president-elect, and the vice president if he requested it.
"Well, it is wonderful to know that the work of protecting me has at last become legal," Truman joked as he signed the bill on July 16, 1951.
But it would remain up to the president how much protection he would receive. By their very nature, presidents want more exposure, while Secret Service agents want more security. As President Kennedy's aide Kenneth O'Donnell said, "The president's views of his responsibilities as president of the United States were that he meet the people, that he go out to their homes and see them, and allow them to see him, and discuss, if possible, the views of the world as he sees it, the problems of the country as he sees them."
Yet there was a fine line between those worthwhile goals and recklessness.
AT SEVEN AGENTS per shift, John F. Kennedy's Secret Service detail consisted of about twenty-four agents, including supervisors. Before being hired, they were taken to a range for target practice with a pistol and handed a manual. There was no other initial training.
Excerpted from In the President's Secret Service by Ronald Kessler Copyright © 2009 by Ronald Kessler. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet 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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Secret Service agents have always facinated me -- their strength, training, "stone faced looks" into the crowds, etc... This book takes you inside their training compound and state of mind. I found their thoughts and rememberances of former presidents and first ladies absolutely facinating! Every American knows these agents have an extremely trying job, but I never knew how trying until reading this book. My hope is the management level of the Secret Service takes the time to read this book and make the neccessary corrections to keep our agents and all protectees safe. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in learning about one of the greatest agencies in America!
An interesting and fun read. I liked it all, well written, informative with various information about the President's, their wives/families, Secret Service and what they have to do and go through to protect our Presidents. I felt it was worth every penny I paid for it. I would definitely buy it for a gift. I like people and love to know about them and this book gave me that chance.
"in the presidents secret service" is a one of its kind bestseller writtion by ronald kesseler. the writer has interviwed many active duty and former secrect service agents there is humor as well as alot of history in here. I found this book very hard to put down cause I never knew all of the fasinating and secret details that this elite group of men and women go to to protect our elected officials and for the first time there are some intresting stories about many of our political officials and their familys this book has something for everyone and with my intrest in politics and history I found this book a real first class read. great gift idea for friend or family member
Living and working in the DC metro area I have seen my share of presidential motorcades, so my interest was piqued in Ronald Kessler's In the President's Secret Service. By interviewing current and former Secret Service agents, Kessler penetrates the wall of mystery surrounding the agency. The Secret Service was originally created in 1865 to address the issue of widespread counterfeiting. It was not until 1902 that the Service officially assumed responsibility for presidential protection. Although the Secret Service is a dual role agency (presidential protection and financial crimes), Kessler's book is primarily concerned with the Service's protection role. In the President's Service does a good job of piercing the veil of secrecy of the various White House occupants. For instance, according to the agents, Lyndon Johnson was often drunk; Nixon rarely interacted with his wife; Ford was decent, but cheap; and Amy Carter was a terror. Although many of the presidential tidbits have been printed before reading it from the agents' perspective elevates the stories' credibility. As one unnamed former agent confessed, "you just shake your head when you think of all the things you've heard and seen and the faith that people have in these celebrity-type people. They are probably worse than most average individuals . . . . Americans have such an idealized notion of the presidency and the virtues that go with it, honesty and so forth. In most cases, that's the furthest thing from the truth. . . ." Kessler also details the Secret Service's mismanagement of its employees. Turnover is relatively high due to the Service's lack of consideration of family issues (such as mandatory relocations) and its seriously strained budget which necessitates overtime shifts In short, the Service "fosters conditions that lead . . . experienced agents to resign [and] compromises" presidential security. In the President's Secret Service is a fascinating exposé of the Secret Service.
This book was a very disappointing read. I purchased it expecting the entire book to be a behind-the-scenes looks of stories about the Service's protectees and instead we get a few stories that are used to then go into great detail on why the Service needs more money,more training and more modernization. This would have been better as a script for testimony in a hearing on Capital Hill during budget hearings.
This was an interesting read about the Secret Service and the past Presidents and their wives. If you think the Secret Service is a nothing job, this will change your mind. Our son is Special Agent and he can not tell us about his protection details so I learned a good deal from this book. The information, other than the protection details is everything he has told me.
An interesting read that I sit on the fence about, even after sitting and waiting to write the review for a bit. I absolutely loved the behind the scenes stories of life with a president. All the little tid bits that don't come into the news. As I am related to someone in the service (his photo is in the book), I was aware that there were many threats that never hit the news, but never the personal stories and personalities of each president. How crazy that they were complete demons behind the scenes? I was appalled to learn that some of the past president's children would evade their protection and complain. I know that their parents put them in that place, BUT if a child of the president was ever in danger it would be a reflection on the United States. As well, to hear that some presidents of the past did not treat their detail as human beings, absolutely rude. This book could be read by both males and females. I found it especially interesting after reading some books by presidents and presidential candidates recently and living so close to the capital.
confirms rumors in some cases, new information in others.
This book takes you behind the scene of so many accidents or near accidents of our Presidents, past and present. I think everyone would enjoy reading this book. It's very well written.
Very interesting book. It was a very intersesting look into how our nations leaders act while out of the public's view. I found that what goes on behind the senes and how the U. S. Secret Service have to adapt to a very wide range of personalities on top of the fact that their jobs are very hard and dangrous to start with. Before I purchased this book, I had read some of the reviews. I have to disagree on reviews on the issue : Fact or Fiction. In my opinion I feel that the Author and the interviews he had conducted with members of the Secret Service Agents were honest recollections and based on fact. The individuals that told their stories are the same individuals that had the responsability to protect the most powerful man in the world and had tov put their lifes on the line, to protect our nations top leaders, anyone with this kind of personal sacrifice and honor I believe would not when asked for the truth on what they wittnessed while on the job make up a lie. This book rings too true in my opinion, that it hits the nail on the head as to what really goes on in our nations goverment and how the Secret Service has to struggle and fight the political system for every little bit it can get.
I loved this book with all its inside details about the Secret Service detail as it relates to the President of the US. I could not get enough of this book and I was rather sad when it came to an end. Great Book. If I had 1 critical point it would be that Kessler got on his soapbox too many times about changes he would like to see made and his discontent with the organization. But overall, excellent book. <end>
This shed some new, bright lights on some of our Presidents - not just gossip but insider facts. Some of the truths I had long suspected. I was pleased to learn the Ford, Reagan, both Bush Sr. and Jr. were totally polite to and appreciative of their protectors and that Barbara and Laura Bush both are highly liked by their Secret Service agents. The bad habits and traits of certain presidents were, in some cases a total and disappointing surprise. Some, though, made me think, "That figures." I found the talk of the finances involved in running the White House and Secret Service rather dry. The turmoil within the Secret Service was a letdown since it can adversely impact the agents efficiencey. In all, I really took delight in the book and already have it out on loan, in keeping with my belief that all books should be shared and circulated.
A lot of redundancy in the writing. Many stories taken from news articles. Some stories were known not to be factual. Do not recommend purchase.
Ron Kessler is a savvy political journalist who gets the information needed to make an interesting read for those of us interested in the inner workings of the politics today. He managed to find people willing to talk and voice their opinions on national leaders and their activities, good and bad. Like a novel, but yet it is based on experience of his subjects in their views. I enjoy this author and will read his next book!
A fun read, I enjoyed the trivia and to see how others live.
While there have been many books written about the Secret Service, this particular one is from an author widely recognized as being very knowledgeable about the Service. In addition, based on the quotes throughout the book, the author seems to have had unparalleled access to many current and former Agents who have been willing to be amazingly open and honest about their experiences. This book does not read like a historical review, although the history of the Secret Service is explained. It does not read like a listing of the training curriculum for the Agents, although he discusses many aspects of their training. Instead, this volume is geared more toward being a review of what life is like for a typical Secret Service agent during his career in this elite law enforcement group. The vast majority of the book centers on the protective duties, with the anti-counterfeiting aspects of the job taking a distant back seat in the book. As a warning, this is not a puff piece designed to illustrate the glamour of government service next to famous leaders or to put the Secret Service on a pedestal as the ultimate security agency in the world. The author does not sugarcoat the negative attributes of the Secret Service and is brutally critical of the shortcomings he discovered. If you are looking for a sobering and frank discussion of the inner workings of a normally very secretive department, I would highly recommend this book.
This book is a recap of things already written. It is boring, inane, and not particularly well written. it is not exciting or enlightening. Don't waste your money.
I was somewhat surprised to learn about some of the inner workings of the Secret Service. Sounded like my former government agency, and unfortunately is not complimentary.
Very informative, fast paced and generally interesting read.
The book was very informative and also left teh reader very concerned about the incompetence of teh people running the government services and the saftey of the Leaders.
very interesting facts and insights to several of our presidents.
THis book was a great read. Very entertaining.
This book revealed lots of things about first families that only the Secret Service know! Some shocking stories that have not been told before.
This book is an interesting read. Kessler's writing style moves the reader along, chapter after chapter. What an eye-opener into the workings of the government! From its budget problems to the handling of cantankerous characters in the Oval Office, the Secret Service does not have an easy road. We loaned this book to a friend, who is an ex-Secret Service Agent; and he says that Kessler has captured the essence of the job and the bureaucracy.
Learn the inner operations and stresses of working for the Secret Service; Learn the real relationships between the Secret Service and the individuals they protect! Until this book is read, you will not really understand how their mission operates.