Within Arm's Length: A Secret Service Agent's Definitive Inside Account of Protecting the President

Within Arm's Length: A Secret Service Agent's Definitive Inside Account of Protecting the President

by Dan Emmett


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Within Arm's Length: A Secret Service Agent's Definitive Inside Account of Protecting the President by Dan Emmett

A rare inside look at the Secret Service from an agent who provided protection worldwide for President George H. W. Bush, President William Clinton, and President George W. Bush

Dan Emmett was just eight years old when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The events surrounding the President's death shaped the course of young Emmett's life as he set a goal of working in the White House as a US Secret Service agent-one of a special group of people willing to trade their lives for that of the President, if necessary.

Within Arm's Length is a revealing and compelling inside look at the Secret Service and the elite Presidential Protective Division (PPD). With stories from some of the author's more high-profile assignments in his twenty-one years of service, where he provided arm's length protection worldwide for the presidency of George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush, both as a member of the PPD and the Counter Assault Team, Dan Emmett describes the professional, physical and emotional challenges faced by Secret Service agents. Included are never before discussed topics such as the complicated relationship between presidents, first ladies and their agents, the inner workings of Secret Service protective operations as well as the seldom-mentioned challenges of the complex Secret Service cultural issues faced by an agent's family. Within Arm's Length also shares firsthand details about conducting presidential advances, dealing with the media, driving the President in a bullet-proof limousine, running alongside him through the streets of Washington, and flying with him on Air Force One.

Within Arm's Length is the essential book on the United States Secret Service. This revealing and compelling inside look at the Presidential Protective Division, along with spellbinding stories from the author's career, gives the reader an unprecedented look in to the life and career of an agent in America's most elite law enforcement agency.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250070272
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/17/2015
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 555,466
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Dan Emmett served on the United States Secret Service's elite Counter Assault Team before being selected for the Presidential Protective Division. After twenty-one years as an agent, Dan retired from the Secret Service and joined the CIA. Today, he is an adjunct professor as well as a security consultant for both private industry and the U.S. government.

Kevin Foley has over thirty years' experience in radio and television broadcasting, commercial voice-overs, and audiobook narration. He has recorded over one hundred and fifty audiobooks.

Read an Excerpt

Within Arm's Length

A Secret Service Agent's Definitive Inside Account of Protecting the President

By Dan Emmett

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 Dan Emmett
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-4317-2


The Death of a President and the Birth of a Career

From May 16, 1983, until May 16, 2004, I served as a special agent in the United States Secret Service. There I was afforded both the honor and the tremendous responsibility of protecting three sitting presidents.

In the span of that career, I learned above all else that there is no such thing as a routine day in the Secret Service. Anything was possible, from the boredom of answering telephones in the office to flying on board Air Force One or perhaps going for a morning run with the president of the United States. On some days I was afforded the chance to do all of these things.

Through the years, many people have asked how and why I chose the Secret Service as a career. The answer is complex but lies in the inescapable fact that children are highly impressionable creatures. When I was only eight years old, the murder of President John F. Kennedy and the global changes it brought about created impressions that would transform my life forever.

Over the course of that fateful weekend in November 1963, an idealistic third grader named Dan Emmett made the decision that one of his career goals was to become a Secret Service agent, one of the men who protected the president of the United States. Two decades later that was precisely what I did. This is the story of that career, first imagined as a child. Through a great deal of hard work and a bit of good fortune, my dream flourished into reality.


Secret Service agents, like most men and women in armed law enforcement, tend to come from the middle class and upper middle class. My upbringing was very similar to that of thousands of others who chose the same career path I did, with the only differences being specific dates and the names of towns and relatives. If you wish to truly understand the mind-set of people in this profession and why they chose their respective career paths, you need to examine their formative years.

The third of three sons, I was born in 1955 at the end of the baby boom in the small town of Gainesville, Georgia, located about fifty miles northeast of Atlanta. My brothers and I were each born six years apart; no two of us were in college at the same time. That is how carefully my parents planned things. In their lives nothing happened by chance, and this is one of the most important lessons I learned from them. Always plan ahead and have both a backup plan and a backup to the backup. From the time I could understand language, I often heard Dad remind my brothers and me, "Prior planning prevents piss-poor performance." As with most things he said during the forty-four years I was privileged to be around him, I have found this to be sound advice.

While neither of my parents progressed in formal education beyond the high school level, both were determined that my two brothers and I would all graduate from college. They made sacrifices characteristic of their generation, and we all did.

My father and mother were born in 1919 and 1920, respectively, and were products of the Great Depression. Both had grown up in families with little money, but through hard work and good financial planning, they accomplished amazing things together in their fifty-nine years of marriage. That partnership ended only after Dad passed away in 1999, with Mother following him in 2013.

My father was a very serious, self-made man who never really had a childhood. The son of a cotton mill worker who was also a Baptist minister, Dad was forced to drop out of high school at the age of sixteen in order to help support his family of two brothers and four sisters by working in the mill.

Partial to dark suits with white shirts and dark, thin ties, he greatly resembled former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, complete with wire-rimmed glasses and swept-back dark hair. A World War II veteran of the Pacific theater of operations, he was extremely patriotic and was an active member of both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Dad loved God first, his family second, and baseball third, although the order could vary at times depending on what teams were in the World Series.

After marrying my mother in 1940, Dad discovered, largely as the result of her promptings, that he possessed a talent for business, and he escaped his dead-end career as a millworker by becoming a furniture salesman. In 1950, Dad started his own furniture business, appropriately named Emmett Furniture Company, which he owned for over sixteen years prior to moving on to other successful business ventures.

My mother was the quintessential mom of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Always perfectly attired, she vacuumed and cleaned our immaculate home while dressed somewhat like June Cleaver. In spite of her hectic schedule, she always had dinner on the table each evening promptly at six o'clock when my father arrived home from work.

As a child, I spent a lot of time at Dad's furniture store — "the store," as we referred to it. Most days during the school year, Dad dispatched one of his two deliverymen, Robert or Reeves, to pick me up from school and transport me to the store, where I would do homework, play in the large area of the rug department, or watch the newest Philco black-and-white TVs until it was time to go home. I remember one of the best parts of being at the store was the drink machine, which, for a dime, provided to me by Dad from the cash drawer, would produce the coldest Cokes and 7Ups in the world in wonderful glass bottles.

The old building that housed Emmett Furniture was built in the 1920s and smelled of new furniture and fresh floor wax. There were always a lot of interesting people coming and going, including policemen, local politicians, businessmen, and just about anyone you could think of. Dad was a friend of Congressman Phil Landrum from our Ninth Congressional District, and one day as I sat watching cartoons, he appeared. This was during the early 1960s. Unlike today, constituents generally held congressmen in high esteem, and I recall feeling very special as this important man sat and talked with me for a few minutes.

Other days one of Dad's deliverymen would drop me off after school at the public library, where my mother worked part-time. There I would do homework and immerse myself in books about World War II or anything else I could find related to the military or guns. Considered cute at the time, I was fussed over by Mom's coworkers, who loved to give me dinner-spoiling treats and seemed to delight in patting me on my blond crew-cut head.

I attended Enota Elementary School within the Gainesville, Georgia, city school system. The quality education found within this system has over the years produced two astronauts and many doctors, lawyers, and engineers, as well as a couple of Secret Service agents. It was a time in America when, due to lack of government interference, many public schools provided a quality education found only today in private schools. Corporal punishment was still alive and well within the public schools, and disciplinary transgressions were met with a ruler impacting the palm of the hand or the principal's pledge paddle across the backside.

Each day we diligently studied reading, writing, arithmetic, and American history as it actually occurred, with no one lecturing, for example, that Pearl Harbor was the fault of the United States. The Supreme Court had yet to order religion removed from public schools, so we recited the Lord's Prayer during morning devotional, along with Bible verses and the Pledge of Allegiance. No one refused to join in any of these activities, and there were no complaints from any parent about the curriculum of hard academics, God, and patriotism.

At recess, we cultivated healthy competitive spirit by playing a variety of violent and sometimes injury-causing games, including tackle football with no pads and dodge ball, now banned in many schools. While almost everyone received a bloody nose and got scraped up from time to time, not everyone received trophies for every sporting activity. Those who lost in dodge ball or other sports did not seem to suffer permanent physical injury from the bloody noses or a lack of self-esteem.

Political correctness and a phobia of anything gun-related had yet to seize the country, and I recall one very interesting show-and-tell day in the sixth grade. One of my classmates brought to school a fully automatic .30-caliber M2 carbine provided to him by his father, a police captain. The captain had procured the weapon from the armory of the Gainesville Police Department for his son's show-and-tell. The school was not put on lockdown, and everyone, including the teacher, enjoyed the presentation on the history and functioning of the weapon. At the end of the day many pedestrians and people in vehicles watched unconcerned as my eleven-year-old friend walked across the school grounds with his carbine slung over his shoulder on his way home.

In addition to the challenging academic curriculum, we also trained for the likelihood of nuclear war.

During the early 1960s, especially after the Cuban missile crisis, everyone, including the school systems of America, was concerned about a seemingly inevitable thermonuclear war with Russia. Unlike many schools in the early 1960s, my grammar school did not practice the insane act of "duck and cover," which had students hiding from thermonuclear destruction under their desks. Desks provided no more cover from a nuclear explosion than they would a falling light fixture. Instead we practiced evacuation drills.

The idea was that if we were all to be vaporized, maybe some of us could at least make it home and die with our families or in our own homes and yards. Traveling the great circle route, it would take an ICBM about twenty minutes to travel from the Soviet Union to its designated detonation area over the United States. That at least gave us some time. Better to be on the move and die rather than huddled like rats under a desk. I vividly recall that on at least one occasion, upon the given signal, all students formed up into groups and walked home. It was a useless exercise but a lot more exciting than duck and cover, and we got most of the day off from school.

Guns played a large role in my upbringing, and I always seemed to have an affinity for understanding their function as well as a natural talent for using them. My father advised me very early in life to "never point a gun at anything you do not intend to shoot." Later the marines would modify that lesson to "never point a weapon at anything you do not intend to kill or destroy." At the age of eight, with my Daisy BB gun in hand, I roamed our neighborhood with other gunslingers for hours on end. We tested our skills by pushing our Daisys' maximum effective range to their utmost limits. It was not unusual to see a group of boys walking down the street in our neighborhood with their BB guns, and on some days we sported actual firearms, usually .22 rifles. Other than the bird population being thinned a bit, no damage was done as a result of our possessing these weapons, and no one shot out an eye. It was during this time that I learned about adjusting sights for windage and elevation, as well as the basic fundamentals of shooting. By the time I entered the Marine Corps some years later, I was already self-trained to the point that firing expertly with the M16 rifle and M1911 pistol came easily.

Many of my relatives were military veterans from World War II or Korea. Dad's World War II service had included helping to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese. Like many World War II veterans, he spoke little of his military exploits, but when he did, I listened, completely fascinated. Uncle Olan had been an army tank platoon commander who was captured by Rommel's forces in North Africa, and he spent the remainder of the war confined to a POW camp in Eastern Germany. The Germans were brutal hosts, and he nearly froze and starved to death on several occasions, emerging from captivity a broken man. He received a medical discharge. Uncles Fletcher and Bud had served in the European theater of operations and barely survived the experience. As far as the new generation, one of my cousins had just received his commission in the air force and would one day fly missions over Hanoi in an F-4E Phantom. His brother became a naval officer on board a nuclear attack submarine while another cousin was living in Germany, married to an army infantry officer.

Due to the constant exposure of being around military veterans, combined with a sense of adventure and patriotism that seemed built-in at birth, I always felt it was my duty, my destiny, in fact, to serve America, as had my father, cousins, and uncles. It was simply assumed by most of my relatives that, when my time came, I, too, would contribute. At the time, my future contribution was naturally assumed to be military service, and one day that would come to pass — I became a Marine Corps officer. But my contribution also turned out to include a great deal more.


On Friday, November 22, 1963, I had just emerged from school looking very Opie Taylor–like after another brutal week of third grade. I was walking down the sidewalk when someone said that President Kennedy had been shot and was dead. I was puzzled but discounted it as a hoax, as such a thing could not possibly happen.

On that day, Robert, one of Dad's deliverymen, was designated to pick me up from school and deliver me to the store for another afternoon of homework and playtime. I approached the green pickup truck with "Emmett Furniture" on the side and climbed up into the cab, laboring under the weight of my books, which I carried in an official military haversack. Inside the truck, I found Robert wearing, as usual, his aviator sunglasses and smoking his usual Phillies cheroot.

Normally reserved in a confident way, today Robert's demeanor was different. He was obviously disturbed about something. "What's wrong, Robert?" I asked. With some degree of difficulty, he answered, "President Kennedy has been assassinated." I was not familiar with the word assassinated and asked for further explanation, which he provided. So it was true: President Kennedy was dead. Not only had the world just changed, but without my realizing it, so, too, had my future.

Robert drove the 1962 Ford pickup to the store, a five-minute trip. We rode in silence, listening to the news on WDUN-AM radio. Upon arriving, I joined many of Dad's customers gathered around the three or four televisions in the TV department and watched Walter Cronkite go over what details were known about the assassination, which had occurred in Dallas, Texas.

Oblivious of my presence, Dad's customers talked about possible Russian or Cuban involvement. They probably did not think such a young boy could comprehend any of it. The mention of Russians concerned me, as I remembered the year before, when America and the world came to the brink of nuclear annihilation during the Cuban missile crisis, prompting our school evacuation drills. If the Russians had killed our president, there would certainly be war, according to those gathered around the television sets.

Over the weekend I watched live TV as Kennedy's coffin arrived at Andrews Air Force Base (AAFB) in Maryland. It was a place I would come to know intimately twenty-seven years later. I recall seeing the president's blood still on the First Lady's legs and dress. I also recall with great clarity Lyndon B. Johnson's first address to the nation and how I did not like him, as he was completely different from John F. Kennedy, whom I liked a great deal.

Later, on Sunday, November 24, my family and I watched as the accused presidential assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was gunned down in Dallas police headquarters, also on live television. Having yet to learn about the concepts of due process and guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, I remember feeling that justice had been done now that the man everyone seemed to believe had killed the president was also dead.

Up until that point in the weekend, I — along with everyone else in America — was in shock over the assassination, attempting to grasp the fact that John Kennedy was no longer the president of the United States. Since I had no memory of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, it seemed Kennedy had been president my entire life. Now he was gone. As depressing as the entire situation was, a moment was about to occur that would ultimately change my life forever.

Somewhere during the confusing and emotional events of that weekend, I viewed a photo made moments after the fatal shot to Kennedy's head. The photo depicted Secret Service agent Clint Hill on the back of the presidential limousine attempting to protect Mrs. Kennedy and the president by shielding them with his own body. I asked my father who the man was and why he was on the president's car. My father explained that the man was a Secret Service agent and that he was trying to protect the president by blocking the assassin's bullets. He explained that it was his job to take the bullet meant for the president. I remember not quite comprehending the concept that a man's job was to place himself in front of a bullet meant for the president. While I knew nothing much about anything at the age of eight, I knew enough to know that being a Secret Service agent sounded incredibly important and dangerous.


Excerpted from Within Arm's Length by Dan Emmett. Copyright © 2014 Dan Emmett. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Death of a President and Birth of a Career
Chapter 2: College, the Marine Corps, and Ronald Reagan
Chapter 3: Never Give Up Unless You Are Dead.
Chapter 4: The Charlotte Field Office
Chapter 5: Special Agent Training
Chapter 6: Back to Charlotte
Chapter 7: The New York Field Office
Chapter 8: The Counter Assault Team (CAT)
Chapter 9: The Agent Who Loved Me … Eventually
Chapter 10: Human Shields and Operant Conditioning
Chapter 11: The Boldness of the Presidency
Chapter 12: The Presidential Protective Division (PPD)
Chapter 13: Shaping The Next Generation
Chapter 14: Retirement and the CIA
About the Author
Appendix 1: A Brief History of the Secret Service
Appendix 2: Glossary of Terms

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Within Arm's Length: A Secret Service Agent's Definitive Inside Account of Protecting the President 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Manirul More than 1 year ago
Great Writing....!... Wonderful...! LOVE it...!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Easy read and interesting
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shamaalthedog More than 1 year ago
You might expect a book like this to be sort of dry, but Dan Emmett engages you from the start. While I did learn quite a bit about the secret service, it's Dan's stories that really make this book something that should not be a secret. It's not a book that you want to put down!
efm More than 1 year ago
True story of one man's career and events he was involved in. Easy Read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an interesting career this author has had!