Dan Emmett, a former Secret Service agent with first-person experience in the presidential security details of former Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, told WND the “office of the presidency for the last couple of years has not been as secure as it has been in years past.”
“This goes back to a complete failure in leadership from the director’s seat all the way down to middle management,” said Emmett, the author of the 2014 book “Within Arm’s Length: The Extraordinary Life and Career of a Special Agent in the Secret Service.”
“It’s not out of question that a Secret Service agent, or even two or three, might get drunk and act stupid on a trip, but it was beyond imagination during my career that a supervisor would get drunk and act stupid on a trip,” he said.
Vincent Michael Palamara, who claims to have interviewed more Secret Service former agents than any other researcher, said he has confidence in the new acting Secret Service director, Joe Clancy, but “unless Clancy can clean up the Secret Service fast, President Obama is going to continue to be at risk.”
Palamara, a leading expert on the Secret Service lapses surrounding the JFK assassination, has devoted a page of his blog to tracking the Secret Service under President Obama, with a recent focus on Clancy’s background and experience in the Secret Service.
Emmett noted that some of the Secret Service agents involved in the Cartagena, Colombia, prostitute scandal and other incidents were supervisors at the GS-14 level or even higher.
“I’ve been very critical of the Secret Service with impropriety after impropriety over the last couple of years, and I have no dog in the fight,” he said. “I’m just calling them as I see them. When the leadership is not good, the troops do not perform up to standard.”
Emmett also expressed hope the Secret Service was “on the road to recovery” with the appointment of Clancy.
“There can not be a worse tragedy for the nation than losing a president,” he stressed. “We must make sure that never happens again.”
Secret Service leadership failures
Clancy replaced Julia Pierson after she resigned in the wake of a disastrous appearance before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Sept. 30 in which she was grilled for more than three hours over two security breaches.
The first breach was an incident that occurred at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta on Sept. 16 when Secret Service agents allowed a security guard armed with a gun and three prior assault convictions to ride an elevator in close proximity to President Obama.
It was followed by a second incident three days later in which Omar Gonzalez, a knife-wielding Iraq War veteran, jumped the White House fence and entered the East Room before he was tackled by an off-duty security agent.
Palamara, author of the 2013 book “Survivor’s Guilt: The Secret Service and the Failure to Protect President Kennedy,” told WND that Clancy has a short time to reestablish discipline in the Secret Service detail assigned to protect the president.
“Clancy was appointed to clean house,” Palamara said. “You read between the lines and now, I believe, you are going to see a culture that that is ship-shape now.
“What’s been going on with the Secret Service is disgraceful, with these drinking forays, the partying with prostitutes, and the fence jumpers who get into the White House. This is gross negligence, tremendous incompetence, and it worries me.”
Mark Sullivan, the director of the Secret Service who preceded Pierson, was forced to resign Feb. 22 after six Secret Service agents were forced to resign over reports they partied with prostitutes in Cartagena in advance of a presidential visit.
Avoiding repeat of history
Palamara told WND he is concerned that patterns of Secret Service misconduct he has documented in JFK’s Secret Service detail prior to the assassination are being repeated in Obama’s presidential detail.
“I’m seeing even among the Secret Service a dislike, if not a hatred for President Obama,” he said.
Palamara said there are members of the Secret Service who don’t like President Obama, just as some didn’t like President Kennedy.
“Many in the Secret Service in the JFK era did not like President Kennedy’s womanizing or his position on civil rights, or maybe his policies toward Cuba,” he said. “But here, with President Obama, the Secret Service is supposed to be apolitical, but the agents are human beings. I’m not saying Secret Service agents actually cross the line to commit a federal offense by wishing President Obama ill. But many don’t like Obamacare or Obama’s policy on illegal immigration.”
Palamara pointed out the Secret Service can put the safety of the president at risk by not taking actions they should be taking.
“Secret Service agents can let things happen when they start not liking or caring about the president,” he explained. “It’s inactions as well as actions that can put the president at risk.”
He compared the Secret Service under Obama to the Secret Service under President George W. Bush.
“You didn’t hear about these kinds of Secret Service scandals with President George W. Bush,” he said.
“I think what the scandals under Obama are really revealing is Secret Service discontent with the president. The Secret Service agents are trained far better than they were in the Kennedy days. And as far as I’m concerned, even by 1963 standards, President Kennedy should have lived, had the Secret Service been doing their job the way the Secret Service should have been doing their job as they were trained to do.”
Palamara fears the Secret Service’s failure to protect JFK could repeat itself.
Palamara contends in his book “Survivor’s Guilt” that contrary to the conclusions of the Warren Commission, President Kennedy did not order Secret Service agents to stay off the presidential limousine, and he did not insist that police motorcycles ride behind the limo to keep open his direct access to the crowd along the motorcade route.
“The story that JFK had ordered Secret Service agents to stay off the back of the limousine was a creation of Secret Service agents that wanted to take the onus of the assassination off their backs to place the responsibility on the back of the dead president who couldn’t defend himself,” he maintained.
Palamara pointed out that photographs of the presidential limousine in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, show Secret Service agent Clint Hill rode the back running board several times along the route before the motorcade entered Dealey Plaza.
“It’s the other way around than most people understand,” he said. “By law, it’s the president who takes instructions from the Secret Service, not the other way around. President Harry Truman was famous for saying the only boss a president has is the Secret Service.”
Palamara pointed out that even agent Clint Hill, the Secret Service agent who jumped on the back of the limo after JFK was shot, said in an interview that President Kennedy could tell the Secret Service what he wanted done, but that did not mean the Secret Service was going to obey.
In an interview for the Sixth Floor Museum in the Texas School Book Depository building in Dallas, recorded on Nov. 18, 2010, Hill said he “had been told” JFK preferred the Secret Service not be on the back of the limo.
Despite this, he noted his responsibility was to protect Mrs. Kennedy, and “four or five times as we drove down Main Street, I got on the back of the president’s car, on the left side, to be in close proximity to Mrs. Kennedy, in case anybody tried anything.”
Palamara also documented in his book that in a motorcade in Tampa, Florida, Nov. 18, 1963, only a few days before the assassination in Dallas, Secret Service agents rode on or near the rear of the presidential limousine. Agents also walked on either side, while police motorcycles drove alongside and in front of the presidential limousine, not just behind the limo as was the case in Dallas.
“The Secret Service was in big trouble after the JFK assassination,” Palamara pointed out. “The Secret Service lost the president, and the JFK detail was worried about their reputations, their jobs and their pensions.”
Palamara’s breakthrough came in 1992, when he talked with Gerald Behn, the special agent in charge of the White House detail at the Kennedy White House.
“Behn told me JFK never ordered the Secret Service off the back of the limo, and that opened the floodgates,” Palamara said. “Subsequent to that, all the Secret Service I interviewed about the JFK trip to Dallas told me the same thing.”
Palamara’s conclusion was clear.
“JFK’s assassination was either attributable to gross negligence or worse on the part of the Secret Service,’ he said. “At the very least, by standing down with security in the Dallas motorcade, the Secret Service left JFK a sitting duck.”
Palamara referenced the 1963 film taken of the JFK motorcade departing Love Field in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, in which Secret Service agents Henry J. Rybka and Donald Lawton express shock at being ordered off the riding stations on the rear bumper of JFK’s limousine.
On pages 234-235 of his book, Palamara establishes that Secret Service agent Amory Roberts rose up in his seat from the Secret Service car following the JFK limousine from Love Field, shouted and used hand gestures. He ordered Rybka to fall back from the rear area of JFK’s limousine, causing a perplexed Lawton to also fall back from the car, raising his arms several times in disgust.
“There were several Secret Service agents protecting JFK that I have on the record stating they were angry at JFK,” Palamara said, including Roberts in this list. “Various of the agents have told me JFK was a ‘procurer of prostitutes,’ and that ‘any president who treats the office this way doesn’t deserve to be president.’ And these are the guys assigned to protect the president? I don’t think so.”
Palamara also notes (page 233) that Roberts participated in the “infamous drinking binge in Fort Worth” that kept Secret Service agents on the presidential detail out most of the night before JFK was assassinated. Roberts was accused of being “the worst offender,” because he was the only one assigned to the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift with JFK on Nov. 22, 1963.
Rybka and Lawton, two agents Palamara believed took seriously their responsibilities to protect JFK, ended up being left behind at Love Field.
“JFK was the ultimate Secret Service scandal – they lost the president,” Palamara said.
“So far what has happened to President Obama is silly stuff in comparison – Obama left the White House before the armed intruder jumping the fence got into the East Room, and he rode an elevator with an armed security guard with an assault record who evidently had no ill intent toward the president.
“Let’s just hope Clancy can set the Secret Service right before all that changes,” he said in conclusion.
Emmett takes issue with Palamara’s conclusion that there was any malice on behalf of the JFK Secret Service detail that led them to “stand down.”
But there’s no disagreement that the Secret Service failed, he said.
“Vince continues to assert the obvious and attempts to prove what has already been proven, that the Secret Service was responsible for the death of JFK,” Emmett said. “This is like saying that the sun came up today. Everyone knows that.”
Emmett said the failure of the Secret Service on Nov. 22, 1963, “had nothing to do with hangovers or whether JFK did, or did not order the agents off the limousine – an event I have always been skeptical about.”
“Further, it was not due to any Secret Service conspiracy. JFKs death was due to the failure of PPD [Presidential Protection Detail] to take appropriate action as the result of a complete lack of training, especially drivers’ training,” he said.
“The entire day was lost when the day began, taking the president out into the downtown streets of Dallas in an open-top limo” he insisted. “As someone who drove POTUS for one year, I can attest that driving slowly in a straight line while under fire was the reason JFK died.”
Emmett said the first round through the back was survivable and had the driver, William Greer, begun evasive maneuvering subsequent to looking back to see Kennedy had been hit, it is unlikely the head shot would have occurred.
He said, also, the detail leader, Roy Kellerman, riding in the front passenger seat of the JFK limo, looked around to see the president had been hit in the back.
“Had he acted properly by moving to the rear seat and pulling JFK down, history would have been significantly different,” he said.
Emmett summed up his argument as follows: “JFK died because PPD agents of the day never trained. Had the Secret Service agents in JFK’s era trained as today’s agents, JFK would have survived Dallas. While each was a dedicated and devoted public servant, none was any more capable of reacting properly on that day than a group of insurance salesmen with guns. They simply had no idea what to do, other than Clint Hill, who responded more out of natural instinct than training.”
Emmett argues that the problems in the current Obama-era Secret Service began after 9/11 when the Secret Service was moved from Treasury to DHS, and a large number of additional agents were hired.
“After 9/11, we got agent candidates at the academy that were so substandard they never would have been hired before,” he said. “I watched the quality of a class of 24 agents in training that would produce before 9/11 about 18 super-solid future agents and about six that were average, to a class of 24 agents in training after 9/11 that would produce about eight agents that were average and 16 who were sub-standard.”
He said many of these agents are now managers.
Political correctness also is to blame, Emmett said.
“Barack Obama was going to have a female Secret Service director and that was the end of the story,” he said.
“Julia Pierson was a fine agent. We came on the job together, and I consider her to be a friend. But she was not director material. When she got the position, I feared it would not end well, because she lacked a strong sense of being a leader.”
He said the Secret Service “is filled with great managers and she was probably a great manager.”
“But just because you keep being promoted does not make you a good leader.”
Emmett faulted Pierson for delegating without going out into the field to see in person what was happening.
“You can’t sit in your office on the eighth floor, do nothing but hold meetings, and expect that everything is going to go well,” he said.