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The Secret Service: The Hidden History of an Enigmatic Agency

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"Pulling the veil off a highly visible yet tight-lipped federal agency, scholar of governmental secrecy and political violence Philip H. Melanson has created the first definitive portrait of the Secret Service. From its 1865 inception as the nation's police against counterfeiting to the official assignment of protecting the president to the post 9/11 challenges of protecting the targets of terrorists, Melanson and co-author Peter E. Stevens present the agency's history and examine its role in the headlines of our times." "Through rigorous ...
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2002 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. BRIGHT SHINY, BRAND NEW Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. 352 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade.

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Overview

"Pulling the veil off a highly visible yet tight-lipped federal agency, scholar of governmental secrecy and political violence Philip H. Melanson has created the first definitive portrait of the Secret Service. From its 1865 inception as the nation's police against counterfeiting to the official assignment of protecting the president to the post 9/11 challenges of protecting the targets of terrorists, Melanson and co-author Peter E. Stevens present the agency's history and examine its role in the headlines of our times." "Through rigorous research and interviews with former White House staffers, retired agents, and the first female agent on the presidential detail, Melanson reveals new details about the assassination of JFK and the shooting of President Reagan, along with threats against other presidents; presidential demands on agents and agency funds (by JFK, LBJ, Nixon, the Bushes, and Clinton); alcoholism, divorce, and burnout among agents; the continuing failure to develop a profile of assassins that would facilitate effective prevention; and how the gender gap within the Service has been institutionalized." "Examining the image of a highly professional and apolitical organization, the book reveals the pervasive, often detrimental influence that politics exerts on the Service, typified by Kenneth Starr's efforts to use agents' testimony against President Clinton, and earlier, lesser known episodes." Melanson also assesses the profound new challenges confronting the Secret Service as Congress considers whether to move the agency out of the Treasury Department and place it in the nascent Department of Homeland Security. The authors also analyze how the agency will respond to threats that are escalating in technological sophistication - nerve gas, dirty bombs, biological agents, and shoulder-held missiles. Now, with this provocative study, one federal agency still veiled in secrecy is exposed for all Americans to see.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This comprehensive, sometimes critical and often dry history explains how the Secret Service grew out of the Treasury Department in 1865, with the original mission of protecting American currency against counterfeiters. Melanson, an expert on political violence and government secrecy, and Stevens (The Voyage of the Catalpa) show how, late in the century, the Service gradually (and initially without congressional authorization) expanded its mission into presidential protection. Opponents of the expansion thought assigning a guard to the president would give him the trappings of monarchy, making him less accessible to the people. The most compelling chapter examines the failure that continues to haunt the agency: the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy. The authors analyze what went wrong in Dallas: Kennedy's limo driver reacted too slowly to the first bullet, failing to take evasive driving action so as to avoid the second, fatal shot. Moreover, according to the authors, Kennedy's death was a failure of intelligence-sharing between the Secret Service and the FBI. Following the assassination, the authors argue, the agency "began a pattern of lies about its fatal missteps in Dallas." All aspects of the agency's work are covered extensively: recruiting, training, intelligence gathering, the often-tense relationship between the agency and the people it tries to protect. President Johnson, in particular, rebelled against Secret Service restrictions, once literally pissing on an agent. This is a worthwhile book for assassination buffs and those with an interest in the inner workings of government. (Nov.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A researcher of major US assassinations and consultant on political violence thoroughly traces the history of the Secret Service and its seemingly incongruous dual missions. Particularly since the Kennedy assassination, the Secret Service has been fixed in the public eye for what it didn't do that day-protect the country's Chief Executive. But the agency was originally formed under the Treasury Department solely to combat the rampant counterfeiting that, by the end of the Civil War, had flooded the country with bogus currency. Some 30 years later, in 1894, a request direct from Mrs. Grover Cleveland, who had heard rumors of a plot against her husband, resulted in three agents being posted to the Cleveland summer home (illegally, since Congress was never advised). For the next half-century, the "protectee" segment of the Secret Service mission gradually evolved from ad hoc to official (under the Truman administration). In mining the relationship between the agency and presidential families it has served, Melanson provides some fascinating insights. Exasperated by Eleanor Roosevelt's disdain for personal protection, for example, agents offered to provide her with her own gun and train her to use it if she would constantly carry it, in return for which they would leave her alone. She agreed, then put the gun in a dresser drawer; the agency, in turn, tracked her clandestinely everywhere she went. There are others: Kennedy's fatalism, Nixon's fixations-he spent more on "improving security" (including landscaping) at San Clemente than the original property cost him-and Clinton's charging into an adoring crowd with agents desperately hanging on by his belt. Now, however, with terroristtechnology ratcheting up the threats against a growing list of protectees, the Secret Service's "mission impossible" often burns out its best and bravest. Somewhat plodding, but with gems along the path.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786710843
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/2002
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Philp H. Melanson, Ph. D., an expert on political violence and governmental secrecy, has done original research into the JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King assassinations, prompting appearances on CBS Evening News, BBC, History Channel, Discovery Channel, and C-SPAN. He has served as a consultant to the (JFK) Assassinations-Records Review Board, and is coordinator of the RFK Assassination Archives at the University of Massachussetts Dartmouth. His last book was SECRECY WARS: NATIONAL SECURITY, PRIVACY, AND THE PUBLIC'S RIGHT TO KNOW. He lives in Marion, Massachussetts.

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2004

    Typos aside, this is a great book

    If you can ignore the typos, this is one of the most fascinating books I've read in a while. Very readable, which means a lot with non-fiction. I really enjoyed the book and learned a lot. Every angle is covered and very few questions are left unanswered. Very well researched.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2004

    Good information with horrible editing!!!

    Melanson and Stevens do a great job of peeling back the thick bureaucratic layers that lie atop all our federal agencies; they expose without partiality the mistakes that exposed (though did not cause) the greatest tragedy of this country: KENNEDY'S DEATH... However they also sing the great men and women's praises... BUT GAWD!!! the typos are embarassing and should be ignored if possible when reading this book...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2003

    Very Informative, but...

    The typos got extremely annoying. I kept a running list and sent it to the publisher. It was almost 4 pages long! Very poor editing and proofreading, but otherwise, very interesting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2003

    Not good

    In addition to the typos and repetitive sections, the author also has what appears to be a disdain for an agency created to help protect innocent people. From what I've read and seen, the agents of the Secret Service are characterized by selflessness and bravery, rare qualities. I don't think anyone, especially this author, should make light of that.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2002

    An interesting and timely analysis of a lesser known but vital federal agency

    From its creation by Abraham Lincoln as an anti-counterfeiting agency on the day he was assassinated to the impact on the Secret Service of the Sep't. 11 terrorist attacks, this comprehensive historical analysis will be of interest to both scholars and lay readers. Prof. Melanson traces the agency's almost accidental accretion of its protective function and details the strains the dual missions of protecting the currency and protecting political figures imposes on the Secret Service. Of particular interest is the discussion of the agency's greatest failure, the assassination of President Kennedy, and its subsequent efforts both to cover up and learn from its weaknesses. This analysis is particularly pertinent to the ongoing conversation about the performance of our intelligence agencies prior to and after the events of 9/11. The demands on the Secret Service have grown exponentially in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Not only has the number of political figures being given Secret Service protection exploded, but the agency has also been assigned to provide security for the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics. As a result agency resources have been strained to the breaking point. It is in that context that Prof. Melanson offers some well-reasoned recommendations for restructuring the agency so that it will be better able to meet these new demands. In short, this is a timely, readable, and comprehensive book that will be of interest to a wide audience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 30, 2002

    Fair Book, But Too Many Typos and Repetitive Information

    Overall, this book was fair. I had been anxiously awaiting its release, but sadly, I was disappointed with the book when it finally arrived. It is obvious that no one proofread it, as there are multiple typos, run-on sentences, punctuation errors, etc. throughout the entire text--things that should never get past an editor and were highly annoying. Also, because there were 2 authors, it seemed as if they took turns writing alternate chapters but never checked with each other to see if certain information had been covered already. There is little or no organization to the way the information is presented, and at times, the book just seems to go on and on and dances around without ever getting to the point. The book gave me little new knowledge that I didn't already have. Definitely wait until it comes out in trade paperback; save your money.

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