A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
This book is one of the most fascinating contemporary reads to emerge in a long time. Leonnig, a distinguished Washington Post reporter, delves into the 155-year history of the United States Secret Service—the agency designed primarily to keep the president and family safe. She brings to light its early history: Within a period of thirty-six years, the U.S. experiences three presidential assassinations. Lincoln. Garfield. McKinley. Following Lincoln’s death, the Service is established with minimal or feeble funding. After the third assassination, the congress still refuses to provide additional protection, not wanting the president to be treated like royalty. When Kennedy is assassinated, the congress ultimately realizes it must provide more resources for the Secret Service. And presidents must adjust their thinking. Kennedy may, in part, have contributed to his own death by not adhering to the Service’s request that he not get as close to crowds as he liked. And also by not riding in an open car and by not allowing agents to stand on the rear bumper of his limo.
Leonnig explores subsequent presidencies to inform readers in great detail about each administration since: Ford’s two close calls. Reagan’s near-death attack. How the Service erodes during Bush’s and Clinton’s administrations. How the Service is pushed beyond its capabilities during Obama’s era when threats and attempts on him rise exponentially and when two different “jumpers” leap over the White House fence, one of them actually coming within feet of the Obama family’s living quarters. The author informs us of the unrest within the Service: the frequent change of leadership, the history of good old boy networks that reward relationships instead of meritorious service. She tells of the scandals that rock the service, including details of the one in Cartagena where at least ten agents become extremely drunk and involve themselves with prostitutes. Her conclusion: many problems still exist. The agency needs a complete restructuring, much more funding, and a coordinated effort to heartily renew its mission of always putting the lives of the president and family and other figures ahead of lives of agents sworn to protect them. Until these things occur, the Secret Service will remain stretched beyond its capabilities and perhaps remain a second-rate organization.
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