IN THE PRESIDENT’S SECRET SERVICE (PART 2)
An exhibit hall features first chief William P. Wood’s 1865 letter of appointment from the solicitor of the treasury, a copy of Lee Harvey Oswald’s gun, and examples of counterfeit bills alongside real bills.
The nerve center of the Secret Service is on the ninth floor. Here, in the Joint Operations Center, a handful of agents monitor the movements of protectees, whose code names and locations are displayed on light panels on the walls. When a protectee arrives at a new location, the agent who is assigned to intelligence and is traveling with him informs the Joint Operations Center. When protectees make unexpected trips, agents refer to the new assignment as a pop-up. Next to the Joint Ops Center, as agents refer to it, the Director’s Crisis Center is used to direct operations in emergencies such as the 9/11 attack.
When a suspicious call comes in to the White House and an agent at headquarters listens in, the agent may pretend to be another operator helping out.
«He is waiting for the magic word [that signifies a threat to the president],» a Secret Service agent explains. «He is tracing it.»
The Forensic Services Division matches a recording of the call with voices in a database of other threat calls. No threat is ignored. If it can locate the individual, the Secret Service interviews him and evaluates how serious a threat he may be. Agents try to differentiate between real threats and speech that is a legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights.
«If you don’t like the policies of the president, you can say it. That’s your right,» a Secret Service agent assigned to the vice president’s detail says. «We’re looking for those that cross the line and are threatening: ‘I’m going to get you. I’m going to kill you. You deserve to die. I know who can help kill you.’ Then his name is entered into the computer system.»
Arrests for such threats are routine. For example, the Secret Service arrested Barry Clinton Eckstrom, fifty-one, who lives in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, after a Secret Service agent, alerted that the man was sending threatening emails, saw him type the following into an email he was sending from a Pittsburgh area public library: «I hate and despise the scum President Bush! I am going to kill him in June on his father’s birthday.» Eckstrom was sentenced to two years in prison and two years of supervised release.
If there is a problem at the White House, the Joint Ops Center can view the scene by remotely controlling surveillance cameras located outside and inside the complex. Any threatening letter or phone call to the White House is referred to the Secret Service. Most threats are in the form of letters addressed to the president, rather than emails or calls. Potential assassins get a great sense of satisfaction by mailing a letter. They think that if they mail it, the president will personally read it.
If a letter is anonymous, the Secret Service’s Forensic Services Division checks for fingerprints and analyzes the handwriting and the ink, matching it against the ninety-five hundred samples of ink in what is called the International Ink Library. To make the job easier, most ink manufacturers now add tags so the Secret Service can trace the ink. The characteristics of each specimen are in a digital database. Technicians try to match the ink with other threatening letters in an effort to trace its origin. They may scan the letter for DNA.
The Secret Service’s Protective Intelligence and Assessment Division categorizes individuals according to how serious a threat they may pose.
«There’s a formula that we go by,» says an agent. «It’s based on whether this person had prior military training, firearms training; a prior history of mental illness; and how effective he would be in carrying out a plan. You have to judge these things based on your interview with the subject, and then evaluate the seriousness of the threat.»
Class III threats are the most serious. Close to a hundred people are on the list. These individuals are constantly checked on. Courts have given the Secret Service wide latitude in dealing with immediate threats to the president.
«We will interview serious threats every three months and interview neighbors,» an agent says. «If we feel he is really dangerous, we monitor his movements almost on a daily basis. We monitor the mail. If he is in an institution, we put in stops so we will be notified if he is released.» If an individual is in an institution and has a home visit, «We are notified,» the agent says. «I guarantee there will be a car in his neighborhood to make sure he shows up at his house.»
«If a call comes here, if you get a piece of correspondence, any form of communication, even a veiled threat, we run everything to the ground until we are certain that we either have to discontinue the investigation or we have to keep monitoring a subject for a prolonged period of time,» says Paula Reid, the special agent in charge of the Protective Intelligence and Assessment Division.
If the president is traveling to a city where a Class III threat not confined to an institution lives, the Secret Service will show up at his door at some point before the visit. Intelligence advance agents will ask if the individual plans to go out and, if so, his destination. They will then conduct surveillance of the house and follow him if he leaves.
Even if a Class III threat is locked up, an intelligence advance agent will visit him. Nothing is left to chance.
«If they aren’t locked up, we go out and sit on them,» former agent William Albracht says. «You usually have a rapport with these guys because you’re interviewing them every quarter just to see how they’re doing, what they’re doing, if they are staying on their meds, or whatever. We knock on their door. We say, ‘How’re you doing, Freddy? President’s coming to town; what are your plans?’ What we always want to hear is, ‘I’m going to stay away'»
«Well, guess what,» an agent will say. «We’re going to be sitting on you, so keep that in mind. Don’t even think about going to the event that the president will be at, because we’re going to be on you like a hip pocket. Where you go, we go. We’re going to be in constant contact with you and know where you are the entire time. Just be advised.»
John W. Hinckley Jr., is still considered a Class III threat. In March 1981, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shootings of President Reagan, Reagan press secretary James Brady, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy, and D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty. Since then, he has been confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington. But Hinckley is periodically allowed to leave the psychiatric hospital to visit his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia. If he visits Washington, his family notifies the Secret Service, and agents may conduct surveillance of him.
In contrast to a Class III threat, a Class II individual has made a threat but does not appear to ha
After another state prisoner wrote a threatening letter to Bush, an agent arranged to meet with him. After driving three hours to the prison, the agent asked him if he knew why the agent was there.
«Yep. When do I go to federal prison?» the man said.
The prisoner added that he hoped to «see the country» and, since he was serving a life term, this would be his best opportunity. When the agent explained that he would be serving his state term first, the man said he had heard that threatening the president was the way to be transferred to a federal prison.
«I could have strangled him,» the agent says.
A Class I individual-the least serious threat-may have blurted out at a bar that he wants to kill the president.
«You interview him, and he has absolutely no intention of carrying this threat out,» an agent says. «Agents will assess him and conclude, ‘Yeah, he said something stupid; yeah, he committed a federal crime. But we’re not going to charge him or pursue that guy’ You just have to use your discretion and your best judgment.»
In most cases, a visit from Secret Service agents is enough to make anyone think twice about carrying out a plot. When Pope John Paul II visited Saint Louis in January 1999, the Secret Service, which was protecting him, received a report about a man seen driving a camper in the city. On the sides of the camper were inscriptions such as «The Pope Should Die» and «The Pope Is the Devil.»
Through the reported license plate number, the Secret Service tracked the man to an address, which turned out to be his mother’s home not far from Saint Louis. When interviewed by Secret Service agents, the man’s mother said her son was driving to the mountains in western Montana near Kalispell to see his brother.
Norm Jarvis, the resident agent in charge, drove to the Kalispell area where the brother was supposed to be living. The forested area is vast. Like many who live in the area, the brother did not have an address. Jarvis hoped local law enforcement would know where he could start looking.
«I was driving down the road, and lo and behold, coming the other way down the street, is this camper,» Jarvis says. «The Pope Should Die» and «The Pope Is the Devil» were written on the sides of the vehicle. The man driving the camper fit the description of the suspect. Jarvis could not believe his luck.
«I spun my car around and turned on my lights and siren,» Jarvis says. «I got up alongside him and waved him over.»
With the man’s wife sitting beside him, Jarvis interviewed the man, who said he had been in mental institutions and was off his medication. The man had no firearms, and Jarvis decided he was not capable of harming the Pope. Thus, he was a Class II threat. Jarvis took his fingerprints and photographed him. He warned him to stay away from Saint Louis during the Pope’s visit, and he suggested the man get some help.
Jarvis called headquarters to report his contact with the suspect and the results of his initial findings. Within a few days, he finished writing a report and called the duty desk to say he was going to be sending it.
«They told me the guy had killed himself with his brother’s pistol,» Jarvis says. «His brother reported that he was so shook up after talking to me that he decided to end his life. He felt that he couldn’t escape the devil; the devil was going to find him. And then he shot himself.»
IF LYNDON JOHNSON was out of control, the Secret Service found Richard Nixon and his family to be the strangest protectees. Like Johnson, Nixon-code-named Searchlight-did not sleep in the same bedroom with his wife. But unlike Johnson, who consulted Lady Bird on issues he faced, Nixon seemed to have no relationship with his wife, Pat.
«He [Nixon] never held hands with his wife,» a Secret Service agent says.
An agent remembers accompanying Nixon, Pat, and their two daughters during a nine-hole golf game near their home at San Clemente, California. During the hour and a half, «He never said a word,» the former agent says. «Nixon could not make conversation unless it was to discuss an issue…. Nixon was always calculating, seeing what effect it would have.»
Unknown to the public, Pat Nixon-code-named Starlight-was an alcoholic who tippled martinis. By the time Nixon left the White House to live at San Clemente, Pat «was in a pretty good stupor much of the time,» an agent on Nixon’s detail says. «She had trouble remembering things.»
«One day out in San Clemente when I was out there, a friend of mine was on post, and he hears this rustling in the bushes,» says another agent who was on Nixon’s detail. «You had a lot of immigrants coming up on the beach, trying to get to the promised land. You never knew if anybody’s going to be coming around the compound.»
At that point, the other agent «cranks one in the shotgun. He goes over to where the rustling is, and it’s Pat,» the former agent says. «She’s on her hands and knees. She’s trying to find the house.»
Pat, he says, «had a tough life. Nixon would hardly talk. The only time he enjoyed himself was when he was with his friends Bebe Rebozo and Bob Abplanalp, when they would drink together.»
Nixon often spent time with Abplanalp on his friend’s island, Grand Cay in the Bahamas.
«Just to give you an idea of his athletic prowess, or lack of it, he loved to fish,» a former agent says. «He’d be on the back of Abplanalp’s fifty-five-foot yacht, and he would sit in this swivel seat with his fishing pole. Abplanalp’s staff would hook Nixon’s hook and throw the hook out. And Nixon would be just sitting there, with both hands on the pole, and he’d catch something, and the staff would reel it in for him, take the fish off, put it in the bucket. Nixon wouldn’t do anything but watch.»
During Watergate, «Nixon was very depressed,» says another former agent. «He wasn’t functioning as president any longer. [Bob] Haldeman [Nixon’s chief of staff] ran the country.»
Milton Pitts, who ran several barbershops in Washington, would go to a tiny barbershop in the basement of the West Wing to cut Nixon’s hair.
«Nixon talked very little,» Pitts told me. «He wanted to know what the public was saying. We had a TV there. But he never watched TV. All the other presidents did.»
During Watergate, Nixon would ask Pitts, «Well, what are they saying about us today?»
Pitts would say he hadn’t heard much news that day.
«I didn’t want to get into what people were saying,» Pitts said. «I’m not going to give him anything unpleasant. He was my boss.»
One afternoon, Alexander Butterfield, who would later reveal the existence of the Nixon tapes, came in for a haircut just before Nixon did. Motioning to the television set, Butterfield said to Pitts, «Leave that on. I want him [Nixon] to see what they are doing to us.»
But as soon as Nixon walked into the barbershop, «He pushed the button, and the TV went off,» Pitts says. «He said, ‘Well, what are they saying about us today?’ I said, ‘Mr. President, I haven’t heard much news today, sir.'»
As the Watergate scandal progressed, «Nixon got very paranoid,» a Secret Service agent says. «He didn’t know what to believe or whom to trust. He did think people were lying to him. He thought at the end everyone was lying.»
While Nixon rarely drank before the Watergate scandal, he began drinking more heavily as the pressure took its toll. He would down a martini or a manhattan.
«All he could handle was one or two,» a Secret Service agent says. «He wouldn’t be flying high, but you could tell he wasn’t in total control of himself. He would loosen up, start talking more, and smile. It was completely out of character. But he had two, and that was that. He had them every other night. But always at the end of business and in the residence. You never saw him drunk in public.»
In contrast to the blustering in his taped conversations, Nixon in private seemed passive and often out of it, although he did have a sense of humor. After spending a weekend at Camp David, Nixon stepped out of his cabin with Pat to get into a Secret Service limousine that would take them to Marine One, the president’s helicopter.
«Secret Service agents were at the ready to move,» says one of Nixon’s agents. «The agent who was driving was checking everything out, making sure the heater was properly adjusted. Nixon paused to talk to Pat. The driver accidentally honked his horn, and Nixon, thinking he was being impatient, said, ‘I’ll be right there.'»
At his San Clemente home, Nixon was watching television one afternoon while feeding dog biscuits to one of his dogs.
«Nixon took a dog biscuit and was looking at it and then takes a bite out of it,» says Richard Repasky who was on his detail.
Nixon would walk on the beach wearing a suit-all his suits were navy blue-and dress shoes. Even in summer, he would insist on having a fire burning in the fireplace. One evening, Nixon built a fire in the fireplace at San Clemente and forgot to open the flue damper.
«The smoke backed up in the house, and two agents came running,» says a former agent who was on the Nixon detail.
«Can you find him?» one of the agents asked the other.
«No, I can’t find the son of a bitch,» the other agent said.
From the bedroom, a voice piped up.
«Son of a bitch is here trying to find a matching pair of socks,» Nixon said, poking fun at himself.
One agent will never forget a reunion for Vietnam prisoners of war held outside Nixon’s San Clemente home.
«This POW did a series of paintings of Hanoi camp scenes,» the former agent says. «He was quite good. He presented Nixon with a big painting of POWs. Later that evening, after everyone had left, Nixon was going back to his home. It was a warm night. His assistant turned to Nixon and said, ‘What do you want me to do with the picture? Should I bring it in the house?'»
«Put that goddamned thing in the garage,» Nixon said. «I don’t want to see that.»
The former agent says he shook his head and thought, «You smiled and shook hands with these guys, and you couldn’t care less. It was all show.»
«Monday through Friday, Nixon would leave his home at twelve-fifty-five P.M. to play golf,» Dale Wunderlich, a former agent on his detail, says. «He would insist on golfing even in pouring rain.»
Occasionally, Nixon’s son-in-law David Eisenhower, grandson of former president Dwight Eisenhower, went with him. Agents considered the younger Eisenhower the most clueless person they had ever protected. One day, the Nixons gave him a barbecue grill as a Christmas present. With the Nixons inside his house, Eisenhower tried to start the grill to char some steaks. After a short time, he told Wunderlich it would not light.
«He had poured most of a bag of briquets into the pit of the grill and lit matches on top of them, but he had not used fire starter,» Wunderlich says.
«Do you know anything about garage door openers?» Eisenhower asked another Secret Service agent. «I need a little help. I’ve had it two years, and I don’t get a light. Shouldn’t the light come on?»
«Maybe the lightbulb is burnt out,» the agent said.
«Really?» David said.
The agent looked up. There was no bulb in the socket.
«We did a loose surveillance, or tail, on David Eisenhower when there were a lot of threats on the president, and he was going to George Washington University Law School in Washington,» a former agent says. «He was in a red Pinto. He comes out of classes and goes to a Safeway in Georgetown. He parks and buys some groceries. A woman parks in a red Pinto nearby. He comes out in forty-five minutes and puts the groceries in the other Pinto. He spent a minute and a half to two minutes trying to start it. Meanwhile, she comes out, screams, and says, ‘What are you doing in my car?'»
«This is my car,» he insisted. «I just can’t get it started right now.»
The woman threatened to call the police. He finally got out, and she drove off.
«He was still dumbfounded,» the former agent says. «He looked at us. We pointed at his car. He got in and drove off like nothing had happened.»
Subsequently, Eisenhower bought a new Oldsmobile and planned to drive it from California to Pennsylvania to see his grandmother Mamie Eisenhower, who was code-named Springtime. In Phoenix, the car gave out. Eisenhower called a local dealership, which said it would fix the car the next morning. After staying overnight in a motel, Eisenhower went to the dealership where the car had been towed. The dealership told him the problem had been fixed: The car had run out of gas and needed a fill-up.
Near the end of Nixon’s presidency, his vice president Spiro Agnew was charged with accepting one hundred thousand dollars in cash bribes. Agnew had taken the payoffs when he was a Maryland state official and later when he was vice president. Agnew pleaded nolo contendere and agreed to resign, leaving office on October 10, 1973.
What never came out was that the married Agnew, a champion of family values who made no secret of his disdain for the liberal press, was having affairs while in office. One morning in late 1969, Agnew asked his Secret Service detail of five agents to take him to what is now Washington’s elegant St. Regis hotel at 923 Sixteenth Street NW.
«We took him in the back door and brought him to a room on the fourth floor,» says one of the agents. «He asked us to leave him alone for three hours. The detail leader understood he was having an affair with a woman.»
The agents waited in Lafayette Park, two blocks from the hotel and across the street from the entrance to the White House. They then returned to the hotel to pick up the vice president.
«He looked embarrassed,» the former agent says. «Leaving him in an unsecured location was a breach of security. As agents, it was embarrassing because we were facilitating his adultery. We felt like pimps. We couldn’t look her [his wife] in the eye after that.»
In addition to that incident, Agnew was having an affair with a dark-haired, well-endowed female member of his staff. Agnew would not stay in hotels overnight unless the Secret Service arranged for her to be given an adjoining room, a former agent says. The woman was the age of one of Agnew’s daughters.
Ironically, Agnew-who had a good relationship with his agents-expressed concern to them early on about whether they would be telling stories about him to others. In fact, while agents love to exchange stories about protectees among themselves, as a rule, Secret Service agents are more tight-lipped with outsiders than CIA officers or FBI agents. The reason the Secret Service insists that agents not reveal information about personal lives of protectees is that those under protection may not let agents close if they think their privacy will be violated.
While that is a legitimate concern, those who run for high office should expect a high degree of scrutiny and to be held accountable for personal indiscretions that conflict with their public image and that shed light on their character. Rather than expecting the Secret Service to cover up for them, they should not enter public life if they want to lead double lives. That is particularly true when one considers that a president or vice president having an affair opens himself to possible blackmail. If a lower-level federal employee was having an affair, he would be denied a security clearance.
«If you want the job, then you need to lead the kind of life and be the kind of person that can stand up to the scrutiny that comes with that job,» says former Secret Service agent Clark Larsen.
«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,» a former Secret Service agent says. «They are probably worse than most average individuals.» He adds, «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…. If we would pay attention to their track records, it’s all there. We seem to put blinders on ourselves and overlook these frailties.»
The poor personal character of presidents like Nixon and Johnson translated into the kind of flawed judgment that led to the Watergate scandal and the continuing fruitless prosecution of the Vietnam War when American security interests were not at stake. Voters tend to forget that presidents are, first and foremost, people. If they are unbalanced, nasty, and hypocritical, that will be reflected in their judgment and job performance.
If a friend, an electrician, a plumber, or a job applicant had a track record of acting unethically, lying, or displaying the kind of unbalanced personality of a Johnson or a Nixon, few would want to deal with him. Yet in the case of presidents and other politicians, voters often overlook the signs of poor character and focus instead on their acting ability on TV.
No one can imagine the kind of pressure that being president of the United States imposes on an individual and how easily power corrupts. To be in command of the most powerful country on earth, to be able to fly anywhere at a moment’s notice on Air Force One, to be able to grant almost any wish, to take action that affects the lives of millions, is such a heady, intoxicating experience that only people with the most stable personalities and well-developed values can handle it. Simply inviting a friend to a White House party or having a secretary place a call and announce that «the White House is calling» has such a profound effect on people that presidents and White House aides must constantly remind themselves that they are mortal.
Of all the perks, none is more seductive than living in the one-hundred-thirty-two-room White House. Servants are always on call to take care of the slightest whim. Laundry, cleaning, and shopping are provided for. From three kitchens, White House chefs prepare meals that are exquisitely presented and of the quality of the finest restaurants.
If members of the first family want breakfast in bed every day-as Lyndon Johnson did-they can have it. A pastry chef makes everything from Christmas cookies to chocolate eclairs. If the first family wants, it can entertain every night. Invitations-hand-lettered by five calligraphers-are rarely turned down. In choosing what chinaware to eat from, the first family has its choice of nineteen-piece place settings ordered by other first families. They may choose, for example, the Reagans’ pattern of a gold band around a red border, or the Johnsons’ pattern, which features delicate wildflowers and the presidential seal.
Fresh flowers decorate every room, and lovely landscaping-including the Rose Garden and the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden-adorns the grounds.
«The White House is a character crucible,» says Bertram S. Brown, M.D., a psychiatrist who formerly headed the National Institute of Mental Health and was an aide to President John F. Kennedy. «It either creates or distorts character. Few decent people want to subject themselves to the kind of grueling abuse candidates take when they run in the first place,» says Dr. Brown, who has seen in his practice many top Washington politicians and White House aides. «Many of those who run crave superficial celebrity. They are hollow people who have no principles and simply want to be elected. Even if an individual is balanced, once someone becomes president, how does one solve the conundrum of staying real and somewhat humble when one is surrounded by the most powerful office in the land, and from becoming overwhelmed by an at times pathological environment that treats you every day as an emperor? Here is where the true strength of the character of the person, not his past accomplishments, will determine whether his presidency ends in accomplishment or failure.»
Thus, unless a president comes to the office with good character, the crushing force of the office and the adulation the chief executive receives will inevitably lead to disaster. For those reasons, the electorate has a right to know about the true character of its leaders.
ALMOST DAILY, SOMEONE comes to the White House gates and demands to see the president or causes a disturbance requiring the Secret Service’s Uniformed Division to intervene. Each year, twenty-five to thirty people try to ram the White House gates in cars, scale the eight-foot-high reinforced steel fence, shoot their way in, set themselves on fire at the gates, or cause other disruptions. Most of the people who cause disturbances around the White House are mentally ill.
«For the same reason that people stalk the president, the White House is a magnet for the psychotic,» says former agent Pete Dowling. «The president is an authority figure, and many people who have psychoses or have paranoid schizophrenia think that the government is transmitting rays at them or interrupting their thought processes. And what is the ultimate symbol of the government? It’s the White House. So, many of these people come to the gate at the White House and say they want to have an appointment to see the president or they want to see the president.»
«The White House is a mecca for what we call M.O.s-mental observation nuts,» says a former Uniformed Division officer. «Sometimes almost every day there was what we call a White House collar. You’d have people that show up and say ‘Listen, I demand to talk to the president now. My son’s in Iraq, and it’s his fault.'»
Unlike Secret Service agents, uniformed officers are required to have only high school diplomas. Nor do they have the background and training of Secret Service agents. To apply, they must be U.S. citizens. At the time of their appointment, they must be at least twenty-one years of age and younger than forty. They also must have excellent health, be in excellent physical condition, and have uncorrected vision no worse than 20/60. Besides a background check, they are given drug and polygraph tests before being hired. In addition to their White House duties, the Uniformed Division protects foreign embassies.
In protecting the White House and providing security at events, the Uniformed Division employs canine units. Mainly Belgian Malinois, most of the dogs are cross-trained to sniff out explosives and to attack an intruder. Much like German shepherds in appearance, the breed is believed to be higher energy and more agile. The dogs are prey driven, and ball play is their reward after they locate their «prey.» The Secret Service pays forty-five hundred dollars for each trained canine unit. In all, the agency has seventy-five of them.
While waiting to check cleared vehicles that arrive at the White House’s southwest gate, the dogs stand on a white concrete pad that is refrigerated in summer so their paws don’t get hot. Each dog eagerly checks about a hundred cars a day.
Demonstrating how a canine unit operates, a technician in the underground garage at Secret Service headquarters proudly introduces Daro, a brawny eighty-seven-pound Czech shepherd. The dog is presented with a real-world scenario: Hidden from view, a metal canister holding real dynamite has been planted behind a dryer, which is used in laundering the rags that polish the president’s limos. Because the dynamite is not connected to a blasting cap or fuse, it is considered safe to bring it into headquarters.
Daro races around the parked cars, sniffing. Then he walks up to the dryer, stops, and sits. At this point, some explosives-sniffing dogs are trained to bark, but Daro sits down, as he has been trained to do. After his success, his reward is not the usual doggie treat but a hard red rubber ball, which he ravages, chewing off bits of red rubber.
The dogs are certified once a month. For new recruits, there’s a seventeen-week canine school at the Secret Service training facility in Laurel, Maryland, where the dogs are paired up with their handlers. The dogs come with a lot of training already, but the Secret Service gives them more-in explosives detection and in emergency response to incidents such as a fence jumper at the White House.
«You know right away if there’s a fence jumper,» a Secret Service agent says. «There are electronic eyes and ground sensors six feet back [from the sidewalk] that are monitored twenty-four hours a day. They sense movement and weight. Infrared detectors are installed closer to the house. You have audio detectors. Every angle is covered by cameras and recorded.»
Uniformed Division officers and the Uniformed Division’s Emergency Response Team, armed with P90 submachine guns, are the first line of defense.
«If somebody jumps that fence, ERT is going to get them right away, either with a dog or just themselves,» an agent says. «They’ll give the dog a command, and that dog will knock over a two-hundred-fifty-pound man. It will hit him dead center and take him down. The countersniper guys within the Uniformed Division are always watching their backs.»
A suspect who is armed and has jumped the fence may get a warning to drop the weapon. If he does not immediately obey the command, the Secret Service is under orders to take the person out quickly rather than risk any kind of hostage-taking situation.
As part of their work in developing criminal profiling, FBI agents under the direction of Dr. Roger Depue interviewed assassins and would-be assassins in prison, including Sirhan B. Sirhan, who killed Bobby Kennedy, and Sara Jane Moore and Lynette «Squeaky» Fromme, both of whom tried to kill President Ford.
The FBI profilers found that in recent years, assassins generally have been unstable individuals looking for attention and notoriety. In many cases, assassins keep diaries as a way of enhancing the importance of their acts. Like most celebrity stalkers, assassins tend to be paranoid and lack trust in other people.
«Usually loners, they are not relaxed in the presence of others and not practiced or skilled in social interaction,» John Douglas, one of the profilers who did the interviews, wrote in his book Obsession. Often detailing their thoughts and fantasies in a diary, assassins «keep a running dialogue with themselves,» Douglas said. Before an assassination attempt, the perpetrator fantasizes that «this one big event will prove once and for all that he has worth, that he can do and be something. It provides an identity and purpose,» Douglas said. As a result, assassins rarely have an escape plan. Often, they want to be arrested.
When interviewed in prison, Sirhan told profiler Robert Ressler that he had heard voices telling him to assassinate Senator Kennedy. Once, when looking in a mirror, he said he felt his face cracking and falling in pieces to the floor. Both are manifestations of paranoid schizophrenia, Ressler wrote in his book Whoever Fights Monsters.
Sirhan would refer to himself in the third person. An Arab born in Jerusalem of Christian parents, Sirhan asked Ressler if FBI official Mark Felt-later identified as Deep Throat-was a Jew. He said he had heard that Kennedy supported the sale of more fighter jets to Israel. By assassinating him, he believed he would snuff out a potential president who would be a friend of Israel, Sirhan told Ressler.
When John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Reagan, the FBI’s Washington field office called on the FBI profilers for help. While the Secret Service is in charge of protecting the president, the FBI is in charge of investigating assassinations and assassination attempts.
Douglas and Ressler had identified typical characteristics of the assassin. Based on that research, Ressler told the FBI that Hinckley would have had a fantasy about being an important assassin and would have photographs of himself for the history books, records of his activities kept in a journal or a scrapbook, materials about assassinations, and audio tapes of his exploits. The agents were able to use the tips in drawing up search warrants for Hinckley’s home. They found all of the items Ressler had described.
Sometimes if would-be assassins decide security at the White House looks too tight, they try the Capitol instead. That was the path taken by Russell E. Weston, who shot up the Capitol on July 24, 1998. Weston walked into the Capitol through a doorway on the east side and shot and killed Capitol Police Officer Jacob J. Chestnut, who manned a security post there. Then Weston burst through a side door leading into the offices of Republican Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the majority whip. Weston then shot Capitol Police Detective John M. Gibson, who returned fire and wounded the assailant.
The two Capitol Police officers died. Republican Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, a medical doctor, raced across the Capitol and helped save Weston’s life.
Weeks earlier, Weston had called the Secret Service in Montana, where he lived. He spoke with agent Norm Jarvis, claiming he was John F. Kennedy’s illegitimate son and was entitled to share in the Kennedy family trusts. Jarvis let him ramble on.
«I asked if he was being threatened by anybody in the government,» Jarvis recalls. «Did he have any feelings towards the president? What was getting him upset at this time? Because psychotics have these episodes. Suddenly something sparks them, and they get wound up.»
Weston did not express any anger toward the president, who at the time was Bill Clinton. But years earlier, he had penned a non-threatening but disturbing letter to the president, and as a result, Jarvis’s predecessor in Montana interviewed him. While that agent, Leroy Scott, concluded then that Weston did not represent a threat to the president, he established a relationship with the man, as good agents do.
«Weston would call and speak to Leroy now and then whenever he was upset about something,» Jarvis says. «He was an on-call counselor, if you will. We acquire pet psychos along the way during a career. You’d get a call from another agent from somewhere in the country once in a while looking for background information. It was not uncommon for repeat psych cases to carry an agent’s business card with them. They would usually produce those cards at some point during an interview if they had a repeat episode.»
After the shooting at the Capitol, Secret Service agents discovered a tape Weston had made of his conversation with Jarvis, and the agent eerily got to review his own performance. In retrospect, he wouldn’t have done anything differently. After the shooting, Weston was committed to a federal mental health facility near Raleigh, North Carolina.
If an individual causes a disruption at the White House, Secret Service agents detain the person and interview him at the field office at Thirteenth and L Streets NW in Washington or at a Metropolitan Police station. Agents would never bring them anywhere near the White House. Yet in his book, The Way of the World: A Story of Truth and Hope in an Age of Extremism, Ron Suskind relates a story about Usman Khosa, a Pakistani national who graduated from Connecticut College.
As Suskind tells it, on July 27, 2006, Khosa was leisurely strolling by the White House as he was «fiddling» with his iPod, which was playing tunes in Arabic. Suddenly, Khosa found himself confronted by a «large uniformed officer» who lunged at him.
«The backpack!» the officer yelled as he pushed Khosa against the gates in front of the nearby treasury building and ripped off the man’s backpack. Other Secret Service uniformed officers swarmed him. «Another officer on a bicycle arrives from somewhere and tears the backpack open, dumping its contents on the sidewalk,» Suskind writes breathlessly in his first chapter.
ve the ability to carry it out.
«He may be missing an element, like a guy who honestly thinks he can kill a president and has made the threat, but he’s a quadriplegic or can’t formulate a plan well enough to carry it out,» says an agent.
Class II threats usually include people who are confined to a prison or mental hospital. According to a virulent rumor in state prisons, if a prisoner threatens the president and is convicted of the federal crime, he will be moved to a federal prison, where conditions are generally more favorable than in state prisons. For that reason, the Secret Service often encounters threats from prisoners. For example, in November 2008, Gordon L. Chadwick, age twenty-seven, threatened to kill President George W. Bush while serving a four-year state prison term in Houston for threatening a jail official. As happened in Chadwick’s case, a federal prison term for threatening the president is tacked on to the state prison term.