IN THE PRESIDENT’S SECRET SERVICE (PART 1)
IN THE PRESIDENT’S SECRET SERVICE
Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect
Greg, and Rachel Kessler
ALL EYES IN THE crowd were on the new president and first lady as they smiled and waved and held hands, celebrating the moment. But the men and women who walked along Pennsylvania Avenue with them never looked at the couple, only into the crowd.
The temperature was twenty-eight degrees, but the Secret Service agents’ suit jackets were open, hands held free in front of the chest, just in case they had to reach for their SIG Sauer P229 pistols. On television as the motorcade proceeded, the world could sometimes catch a glimpse of a man’s silhouette on top of a building, a countersniper poised and watching. But that was just a hint of the massive security precautions that had been planned in secret for months.
The Secret Service scripted where Barack and Michelle Obama could step out of «the Beast,» as the presidential limousine is called. At those points, counterassault teams stood ready, armed with fully automatic Stoner SR-16 rifles and flash bang grenades for diversionary tactics.
If they spotted any hint of a threat, the grim-faced agents never betrayed it. It is the same when they see what goes on behind the scenes. Because Secret Service agents are sworn to secrecy, voters rarely know what their presidents, vice presidents, presidential candidates, and Cabinet officers are really like. If they did, says a former Secret Service agent, «They would scream.»
Pledged to take a bullet for the president, agents are at constant risk. Yet the Secret Service’s own practices magnify the dangers to its agents, the president, the vice president, and others they protect. These lapses could lead to an assassination.
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 assigned soldiers 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 Telegramdeclared. «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.
«On my second day on the job as an agent, they put me in the rear seat of the president’s limousine,» says former agent Larry D. Newman. «A supervisor on the detail placed a Thompson submachine gun on my lap. I had never seen a Thompson, much less used one.»
Over the next several years, Newman received a total of ten weeks of training, consisting of four weeks on law enforcement procedures at the Treasury Department and six weeks of Secret Service training. But he never could figure out why locked boxes of shotguns were kept in the White House for the Secret Service, yet only the White House police had the keys.
Newman was told to take a bullet for the president and keep his mouth shut about the president’s personal life. Human surveillance cameras, Secret Service agents observe everything that goes on behind the scenes. To this day, Secret Service directors periodically remind agents that they must not reveal to anyone-let alone the press-what they see behind the scenes. Usually the directors cite a phrase about trust from the commission book that agents carry with their credentials. The book says the agent is a «duly commissioned special agent of the United States Secret Service, authorized to carry firearms, execute warrants, make arrests for offenses against the United States, provide protection to the president and others eligible by law, perform other such duties as are authorized by law, and is commended as being worthy of trust and confidence.»
Newman and other agents assigned to guard Kennedy soon learned that he led a double life. He was the charismatic leader of the free world. But in his other life, he was the cheating, reckless husband whose aides snuck women into the White House to appease his sexual appetite.
Former agent Robert Lutz remembers a gorgeous Swedish Pan Am flight attendant who was on the press plane that was following Kennedy on Air Force One. She seemed to take a liking to Lutz, and he planned to invite her out to dinner. The detail leader noticed that they were getting chummy and told the agent to stay away.
«She’s part of the president’s private stock,» he warned Lutz.
Besides one-night stands, Kennedy had several consorts within the White House. One was Pamela Turnure, who had been his secretary when he was a senator, then Jackie’s press secretary in the White House. Two others, Priscilla Wear and Jill Cowen, were secretaries who were known as Fiddle and Faddle, respectively. Wear already had the nickname Fiddle when she joined the White House staff, so Kennedy aides applied the name Faddle to Cowen.
«Neither did much work,» says former agent Larry Newman, who was on the Kennedy detail.
They would have threesomes with Kennedy.
«When Jackie was away, Pam Turnure would see JFK at night at the residence,» says former Secret Service agent Chuck Taylor. «Fiddle and Faddle were well-endowed and would swim with JFK in the pool. They wore only white T-shirts that came to their waists. You could see their nipples. We had radio contact with Jackie’s detail in case she came back.»
One afternoon, Kennedy was cavorting in the pool with young women when Secret Service agents on Jackie’s detail radioed that she was returning to the White House unexpectedly.
«Jackie was expected back in ten minutes, and JFK came charging out of the pool,» says agent Anthony Sherman, who was on his detail at the time. «He had a bathing suit on and a Bloody Mary in his hand.»
Kennedy looked around and gave the drink to Sherman.
«Enjoy it; it’s quite good,» the president said.
According to Secret Service agents, Kennedy had sex with Marilyn Monroe at New York hotels and in a loft above the Justice Department office of then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, the president’s brother. Between the fifth and sixth floors, the loft contains a double bed that is used when the attorney general needs to stay overnight to handle crises. Its proximity to a private elevator made it easy for Kennedy and Monroe to enter from the Justice Department basement without being noticed.
«He [Kennedy] had liaisons with Marilyn Monroe there,» a Secret Service agent says. «The Secret Service knew about it.»
If Kennedy was reckless in his personal life, he was also rash when it came to security. Before his trip to Dallas on November 22, 1963, he received warnings about possible violence there. United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson called Kennedy aide Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and urged him to tell the president not to go to Dallas. He said he had just given a speech in Dallas and had been confronted by demonstrators who’d cursed at him and spat on him. Stevenson said Senator J. William Fulbright also warned Kennedy.
«Dallas is a very dangerous place,» Fulbright told him. «I wouldn’t go there. Don’t you go.»
Nonetheless, Kennedy aide O’Donnell told the Secret Service that unless it was raining, the president wanted to ride in an open convertible, according to the Warren Commission Report, which was largely based on the FBI’s investigation. If it had rained, Kennedy would have used a plastic top that was not bulletproof. Kennedy-code-named Lancer-himself told agents he did not want them to ride on the small running boards at the rear of the car.
Shortly after eleven-fifty A.M., Kennedy’s limousine proceeded from Love Field toward a scheduled luncheon at the Trade Mart. The car made a gradual descent on Elm Street toward a railroad overpass before reaching the Stemmons Freeway at Dealey Plaza. The Texas School Book Depository was on Kennedy’s right.
Only two Secret Service agents had gone ahead to Dallas to make advance preparations for the trip. As is true today, the agency relied a great deal on local police and local offices of other federal agencies. At the time, the advance protocol did not include an inspection of buildings along the motorcade route, which was publicized in advance.
At twelve-thirty P.M., the president’s limousine was traveling at about eleven miles per hour. Shots resounded in rapid succession from the Texas School Book Depository. A bullet entered the base of the back of the president’s neck. Another bullet then struck him in the back of the head, causing a massive, fatal wound. He fell to the left onto his wife Jackie’s lap.
Agent William R. Greer was driving the limo, and Agent Roy H. Kellerman was sitting to his right. But neither could immediately leap to Kennedy’s assistance, as would have been the case if agents had been allowed to ride at the rear of the car. Making things more difficult, the president’s limousine had a second row of seats between the front and rear seats, where Kennedy sat. The «kill shot» to the president’s head came 4.9 seconds after the first shot that hit him.
Greer had no special training in evasive driving. After the first shot, he did not immediately accelerate or take evasive action. In fact, he momentarily slowed the car and waited for a command from Agent Kellerman.
«Let’s get out of here! We are hit,» Kellerman yelled.
Agent Clinton J. Hill, riding on the left running board of the follow-up car, raced toward Kennedy’s limousine. He pulled himself onto the back of the car as it gained speed. He pushed Jackie-code-named Lace-back into the rear seat as he shielded both her and the president.
«If agents had been allowed on the rear running boards, they would have pushed the president down and jumped on him to protect him before the fatal shot,» Chuck Taylor, who was an agent on the Kennedy detail, tells me.
Confirming that, Secret Service Director Lewis Merletti later said, «An analysis of the ensuing assassination-including the trajectory of the bullets which struck the president-indicates that it might have been thwarted had agents been stationed on the car’s running boards.»
Taken to Parkland Memorial Hospital four miles away, Kennedy was pronounced dead at one P.M. Agents throughout the Secret Service were devastated.
Once again, an assassin had changed the course of history. For the Secret Service, the question was how well it would learn lessons from the assassination in order to prevent another one.
IF SECRET SERVICE agents found Kennedy to be reckless, Lyndon B. Johnson was uncouth, nasty, and often drunk. Agent Taylor recalls driving Johnson, who was then vice president, with another agent from the U.S. Capitol to the White House for a four P.M. appointment with Kennedy. Johnson-code-named Volunteer-was not ready to leave until three forty-five P.M. Because of traffic along Pennsylvania Avenue, they were going to be late.
«Johnson said to jump the curb and drive on the sidewalk,» Taylor says. «There were people on the sidewalk getting out of work. I told him, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I told you to jump the curb.’ He took a newspaper and hit the other agent, who was driving, on the head. He said, ‘You’re both fired.'»
When they arrived at the White House, Taylor told Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy’s secretary, «I’ve been fired.»
Lincoln shook her head in exasperation. Taylor was not fired.
After becoming president on November 22, 1963, Johnson had affairs with several of his young, fetching secretaries. When his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, was away, the Secret Service would take him to the home of one secretary. He would insist that the agents depart while he spent time with her.
«We took him to the house, and then he dismissed us,» Taylor says.
At one point, Lady Bird Johnson-code-named Victoria-caught him having sex on a sofa in the Oval Office with one of his secretaries. Johnson became furious at the Secret Service for not warning him.
«He said, ‘You should have done something,'» recalls a supervisory Secret Service agent.
After the incident, which occurred just months after he took office, Johnson ordered the Secret Service to install a buzzer system so that agents stationed in the residence part of the White House could warn him when his wife was approaching.
«The alarm system was put in because Lady Bird had caught him screwing a secretary in the Oval Office,» a former Secret Service agent says. «He got so goddamned mad. A buzzer was put in from the quarters upstairs at the elevator to the Oval Office. If we saw Lady Bird heading for the elevator or stairs, we were to ring the bell.»
Johnson did not limit himself to the women he hired for his personal staff. He had «a stable» of women with whom he had sex, including some who stayed at the ranch when Lady Bird was home, another former agent says.
«He and Lady Bird would be in their bedroom, and he’d get up in the middle of the night and go to the other room,» the former agent says. «Lady Bird knew what he was doing. One woman was a well-endowed blonde. Another was the wife of a friend of his. He had permission from her husband to have sex with her. It was amazing.»
«We had gals on my staff he screwed,» says Bill Gulley who headed Johnson’s military office. «One … showed up [for work] when she wanted to show up. I couldn’t tell her to do anything.»
Johnson «would screw anything that would crawl, basically,» says William F. Cuff, Gulley’s executive assistant in the military office. «He was a horny old man. But he had a totally loyal White House staff. There was one common enemy everyone in the White House had, and that was him [Johnson]. Therefore, everyone got along fine because they were afraid of him.»
Asked in a 1987 TV interview about her husband’s rumored infidelities, Lady Bird Johnson said, «You have to understand, my husband loved people. All people. And half the people in the world were women.»
Air Force One crew members say Johnson often closed the door to his stateroom and spent hours alone locked up with pretty secretaries, even when his wife was on board.
«Johnson would come on the plane [Air Force One], and the minute he got out of sight of the crowds, he would stand in the doorway and grin from ear to ear, and say, ‘You dumb sons of bitches. I piss on all of you,'» recalls Robert M. MacMillan, an Air Force One steward. «Then he stepped out of sight and began taking off his clothes. By the time he was in the stateroom, he was down to his shorts and socks. It was not uncommon for him to peel off his shorts, regardless of who was in the stateroom.»
Johnson did not care if women were around.
«He was totally naked with his daughters, Lady Bird, and female secretaries,» MacMillan says. «He was quite well endowed in his testicles. So everyone started calling him bull nuts. He found out about it. He was really upset.»
Johnson was often inebriated. He kept bottles of whiskey in his car at the ranch. One evening when Johnson was president, he came back to the White House drunk, screaming that the lights were on, wasting electricity.
«He is the only person [president] I have seen who was drunk,» says Frederick H. Walzel, a former chief of the White House branch of the Secret Service Uniformed Division.
«He had episodes of getting drunk,» George Reedy, his press secretary, told me. «There were times where he would drink day after day. You would think, ‘This guy is an alcoholic’ Then all of a sudden, it would stop. We could always see the signs when he called for a Scotch and a soda, and he would belt it down and call for another one, instead of sipping it.»
Johnson’s drinking only fueled his outbursts.
«We were serving roast beef one time,» says MacMillan. «He [Johnson] came back in the cabin. Jack Valenti [Johnson’s aide] was sitting there. He had just gotten his dinner tray. On it was a beautiful slice of rare roast beef.»
Johnson grabbed the tray and said, «You dumb son of a bitch. You are eating raw meat.»
Johnson then brought the food back to the galley and said, «You two sons of bitches, look at this. This is raw. You gotta cook the meat on my airplane. Don’t you serve my people raw meat. Goddamn, if you two boys serve raw meat on my airplane again, you’ll both end up in Vietnam.»
Johnson threw the tray upside down onto the floor and stormed off.
A few minutes later, Valenti went back to the galley.
«Sorry about your dinner, Mr. Valenti,» MacMillan said.
«Do we have any more rare?» Valenti asked.
«We have plenty of rare,» MacMillan said.
«Well, he won’t be back. He’s done his thing. Don’t serve me any fully cooked meat.»
Gerald F. Pisha, another Air Force One steward, says that on one occasion when Johnson didn’t like the way a steward had mixed a drink for him, he threw it onto the floor.
«Get somebody who knows how to make a drink for me,» Johnson said.
At his ranch in Texas, Johnson was even more raunchy than at the White House. At a press conference at his ranch, Johnson «whips his thing out and takes a leak, facing them [the reporters] sideways,» says D. Patrick O’Donnell, an Air Force One flight engineer. «You could see the stream. It was embarrassing. I couldn’t believe it. Here was a man who is the president of the U.S., and he is taking a whiz out on the front lawn in front of a bunch of people.»
A Secret Service agent posted to his ranch recalls that Johnson would take celebrities on a tour of the ranch in a car that-unknown to them-was amphibious. As he approached the Pedernales River, he would drive the vehicle into the river, terrifying his guests.
At six one morning, the agent was posted outside a door that led directly to Johnson’s bedroom.
«I’m looking at the sun coming up and listening to the birds, and I hear this noise,» the former agent says. «I turn around, and here’s the most powerful man in the world taking a leak off the back porch. And I remembered a saying down in Texas that I heard when I first got on that detaiclass=»underline» When LBJ goes to the ranch, the bulls hang their heads in shame. This guy had a tool you wouldn’t believe.»
The former agent was present when LBJ held a press conference with White House pool reporters as he sat on a toilet, moving his bowels. He had discarded his girdle, which he wore to hide his girth.
«I just couldn’t believe that this stuff was going on,» the former agent says. «But this was an everyday thing to the guys that were with him all the time.»
After Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, an agent was told to wake Johnson in the morning so he could meet with his press secretary.
«I tapped on his bedroom door,» the former agent says. «Lady Bird said to come in.»
«He’s in the bathroom,» she said.
«I tapped on the bathroom door,» the former agent says. «Johnson was sitting on the can. Toilet paper was everywhere. It was bizarre.»
«If Johnson weren’t president, he’d be in an insane asylum,» former agent Richard Roth says he thought to himself when he was occasionally on Johnson’s detail.
Johnson kept dozens of peacocks at his ranch.
«One night at midnight, one of these peacocks was walking around,» says David Curtis, who was temporarily assigned to Johnson’s Secret Service detail at his ranch. «It was a moonlit night, and an agent picked up a rock just intending to scare the darn thing. He lobbed it over in the direction of the peacock and hit him right in the head. The peacock went down like a ton of bricks.»
After an agent relieved him at his post, the agent told other agents, «Oh, my God, I’ve killed a peacock. What do you think we should do?»
«The consensus was, there were so damn many of them around, no one would miss one,» Curtis says. «Just drag him down to the Pedernales River and throw him in. So that’s what they did.»
At the break of dawn, the day shift relieved the midnight people. One of the day shift agents called the command post on the radio.
«My God, you’ve got to get out here!» the agent said. «Looks like a drunken peacock. He’s all wet. He’s staggering from one foot to the other, feathers askew. He’s walking back up toward the house.»
Somehow, the peacock had recovered and managed to drag itself out of the river. Johnson never found out about the incident.
«Johnson was the grand thief,» Gulley his White House military aide, says. «He knew where the money was. He had us set up a fund code-named Green Ball. It was a Defense Department fund supposedly to assist the Secret Service to purchase weapons. They used it for whatever Johnson wanted to use it for. Fancy hunting guns were bought. Johnson and his friends kept them.»
All the while, Johnson fostered the image of a penny-pincher who was saving taxpayer money. As part of an economy drive, Johnson announced he had ordered the lights turned off inside the ladies’ room in the press area.
When Johnson left office, Gulley says he arranged for at least ten flights to fly government property to Johnson’s ranch. O’Donnell, the Air Force One flight engineer, says he flew three of the missions, shipping what he understood were White House items back to the Johnson ranch.
«We flew White House furniture back,» O’Donnell says. «I was on some of the missions. The flights back were at seven-fifty or eight-fifty P.M. and early in the morning. … I think he even took the electric bed out of Walter Reed army hospital. That was a disgrace.»
Johnson’s greatest achievement was overcoming Southern resistance to passage of civil rights legislation, yet in private, he regularly referred to blacks as «niggers.»
After Johnson died, Secret Service agents guarding Lady Bird were amazed to find that even though their home was crammed with photos of Johnson with famous people, not one photo pictured him with JFK.
EVERY DAY, THE Secret Service receives an average of ten threats against any of its protectees, usually the president. Ironically, until after the Kennedy assassination, murdering the president was not a federal crime. Yet in 1917, Congress made «knowingly and willfully» threatening the president-as opposed to killing him-a federal violation. As later amended, the law carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or both. The same penalty applies to threatening the president-elect, the vice president, the vice-president-elect, or any officer next in the line of succession.
To ensure that an attack on a protectee-called an AOP-does not take place, the Secret Service uses a range of secret techniques, tools, strategies, and procedures. One of those tools is the extensive files the Secret Service Protective Intelligence and Assessment Division keeps on people who are potential threats to the president.
To most potential assassins, killing the president would be like hitting the jackpot.
«We want to know about those individuals,» a former agent who worked intelligence says. «Sooner or later, they will direct their attention to the president if they can’t get satisfaction with a senator or governor.»
The Secret Service may detect threats anywhere, but those directed at the White House come in by email, regular mail, and telephone. Upon hearing a threatening call, White House operators are instructed to patch in a Secret Service agent at headquarters. Built in 1997, Secret Service headquarters is an anonymous nine-story tan brick building on H Street at Ninth Street NW in Washington. For security reasons, there are no trash cans in front of the building. An all-seeing security camera is attached below the overhang of the entrance.
Just inside is a single metal detector. On the wall in big silver letters are the words «Worthy of Trust and Confidence.» No mention of the Secret Service, not even on the visitor’s badge that the security officer issues. It is just when you get into the inner sanctum that you see a wall announcing the United States Secret Service Memorial Building, a reference to the thirty-five agents, officers, and other personnel who have died in the line of duty.
Inside, around a central atrium, catwalks link the rows of offices behind glass walls. For agents too pressed to wait for an elevator, open staircases within the atrium offer vertiginous looks down during the climb to another floor. The hallways are lined with candid photos of presidents being protected. A display commemorates those who have died in the line of duty, with spaces left for more.