Recent incidents involving White House security leave me concerned that for some reason the Secret Service is once again behind the threat curve in regard to presidential protection.  To assess that concern, its helpful to look back to presidential protection for JFK in 1963.  Vince Palamara has demonstrated that during the fall of 1963 there had been some apparently minor enhancements to White House Detail security during presidential trips – the addition of one or two new PRS (protective research services) staff to the traveling White House Security detail (whose jobs remain unclear even now) and additional staff for technical services work – apparently inspection of hotels and other locations for wire taps, bugs, etc. Beyond that, training and preparedness remained the same as they had for years, focused on protection from close up assaults or attacks while the president was exposed to crowds in public appearances.  Threats reported to the Secret Service were investigated and then indexed in a central file; agents assigned to presidential travel would check that file for outstanding threat suspects in a given city.  It appears that little thought was given to the possibility that individuals posing a threat might be mobile.  Protection also seems to have been very suspect oriented, the idea of a group being a threat seems only to have extended to demonstrations and protests, not to actual physical attacks. That explains why the majority of the threat protection in Dallas, Texas was oriented towards protests at JFK’s Trade Center speech.

The lack of any serous new protection measures in 1963 might seem like simple oversight if we had not become aware of some very specific threats that the Secret Service was aware of and others which they may well have been –  but where the relevant records have been destroyed (some as recently as the 1990’s).  Perhaps the most outstanding example is a threat passed from the FBI to the Secret Service relating to remarks by James Milteer that various militant right wing groups were actually preparing to attack the President and that they would do so with long range sniper fire from concealed positions in high rise buildings during a motorcade.  That report should have immediately surfaced the fact that close in crowd protection was not nearly enough for presidential security.  Beyond that we know that FBI informants were generating memos about ultra right rifle teams being formed and trained to attack the President. We also know that during JFK’s trip to Miami that fall,  threat reports out of Miami suggested that militant Cuban exiles might use explosives devices, either planted or literally thrown at the President.  On that same trip, Secret Service personnel panicked when items were indeed tossed into the Presidential limo – that turned out to be only candy but the risk of explosives tossed out of a crowd should have been clear.  There appear to have been other threat reports as well,  several of them suggesting rifle or bomb attacks on the president. We know that one individual in Chicago was investigated in regard to a potential rifle attack that fall and more importantly, it appears that another report related to the same trip, came from the FBI and was taken very seriously by the Secret Service – so seriously that personnel from the Secret Service and FBI field office stonewalled investigators from the Assassinations Records Review Board in the 1990’s and refused to discuss it.  At that point in time, against orders, the Secret Service destroyed several files relating to presidential travel in the fall of 1963.

The point in all that history is that there were new types of threats emerging, ones which the standard security practices were not capable of dealing with – as sadly proved in Dallas. Yet the Secret Service made no obvious (or known) changes in security protocol or practices to address such threats.  Whether it was due to a lack of headquarters intelligence coordination, the lack of a threat analysis group or simple inertia is impossible to say.  However, when we fast forward to 2014, when such things are supposedly in place and a major priority years after the attacks of 2001 what do we find?   We find that an individual with a history as a threat to the president can simply jump a White House fence and make it through an unlocked front door into the entry area of the presidential residence.  Does the fact that nobody routinely locked the front door to the White House cause you to shake your head?   Is the lack of any security immediately outside that front door hard to understand?   And how do you feel about the Secret Service response that they are “now” going to start observing passerby’s for individuals that don’t look like tourists?   Did they not get the message about radical Islamists wearing concealed explosive vests? Do they think experienced attackers will wear conspicuous clothing or carry signs?  We have numerous recent examples of “wearable explosives”, some quite powerful.  And of “belly bombs” which could be powerful enough to collapse the entry portico – such weapons have already been used overseas.  Did the Secret Service really not anticipate suicide bombers?   Beyond that, the same week we have a driver, again with a threat history, refusing to stop at the entrance – while the barrier might well have stopped his vehicle, given the amount of extremely high explosive that can be placed in a car trunk or built into the vehicle – not to mention a van,  what would be the propaganda impact of an explosion taking out the street facing wall of the White House.

Perhaps most strikingly, the two incidents occurred within days of the President effectively declaring war on ISIS and radical Islamists anywhere who might be preparing attacks on Americans domestically or overseas.  Did the Secret Service miss the fact that the nation had effectively gone to war? That may sound harsh but certainly in regard to White House security it really stretches the imagination to understand how front door remained unlocked following the President’s televised speeches – and the resultant personal threats from ISIS only days before. If the Secret Service was behind the threat curve in 1963, it appears – at least in terms of White House security – to have been even further behind in September, 2014.  We can only  hope that they catch up really fast…..



About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

16 responses »

  1. Brian Kelshaw says:

    Or they quite simply did it on purpose. A person who would know such things, Abraham Bolden, commented on Facebook only the other day that he sees all the signs of a major false flag attack somewhere in the world, probably on US soil

    • Brian, I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Bolden and have met him, albeit briefly….however, his only real experience was a very limited time on the White House Detail. Having studied his experience and his remarks in detail I’m afraid he – like my friend Madeleine Brown – has associated with too many assassination researchers. I certainly believe in conspiracies but I’ve also seen more than enough examples of just plain inertia and bureaucracy not to give that its due. My last three years work on Surprise Attack has more than confirmed that for me, hopefully I’ll get that in print next year and it will be self explanatory. In regard to the Secret Service, honestly its track record over certain periods is questionable and while there have been a number of excellent agents, there have also been a goodly number who took advantage or their positions. They get better for a time after each attempted attack but then it just rolls off with time – of course they are far from being the only agency with that problem.

      • Brian Kelshaw says:

        OK. Entirely at random, who decided they would be called the Secret Service, given their actual job is Presidential protection (apparently) and not spying ☺

      • Actually Presidential protection came along relatively late as a duty for the Secret Service. It was originally organized to serve under the Secretary of the Treasury to deal with a wave of counterfeiting – in 1865. As one of the very few agencies with powers to investigate Federal crimes, it began to get involved with lots of crimes, such as bank robbery, that would eventually be reallocated to the FBI when it was formed. In 1991, after the assassination of President McKinley, Congress directed that the Secret Service undertake protective services.

        So, originally it was a secret investigative service dealing with Federal crimes – even though we tend to think of it’s best known contemporary security activities.

  2. Nominay says:

    I think the SS is feeling so confident from its state of the art protection technology, and policies of a President who is not physically open to the public, that they go lax on some basic measures, like a locked door, or being vigilant to stop an intruder before they make it to the White House.
    Kennedy was uniquely at risk because he was the subject of a coup. I’m just not concerned over another President getting killed again. Of course it could happen, but the chances of it happening are just not there, as I see it. Just an opinion, I could be wrong.

    • I suspect you are on target with that, and in the incidents just mentioned, the President and his family had just departed the White House and no doubt the SS was focused on travel protection – and rightly so. However what we really are not getting is that since 1998, when the jihadi fatwa was issued to kill all American’s wherever they could be attacked, the nation had been on the receiving end of what amounts to a state of war. We have totally failed to deal with that, stumbling from one attack to another and reacting in a totally knee jerk fashion. I’ve posted on this issue before and probably should do so again but basically the American public – and certainly not Congress nor the media – is really not psychologically prepared to deal with the fact that the nation as a whole is a propaganda target for jihad. The World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked for what they represent, not for the people that became the human targets. Every year there have been plots to attack the New York City transit system or prominent tourist sites in New York. Which means that the White House, the Capital and other sites in DC are targets in and of themselves. Imagine the propaganda value to ISIS if they had send a body bomber through the door and collapsed the front of the White House – they would gain thousands of recruits just by doing that.

      So, I’m in agreement with your thoughts on the President – his family is possibly at more risk than he is, ISIS dearly loves to target women. But given the true threat that we are under, and will remain under for at least a couple more decades, protection of the White House itself – as a national symbol – is also an issue the SS needs to address.

      • Well it looks as if I need to broaden my presidential protection concerns a bit. It seems that we are coming to learn that the intruder who went in the front door actually overcame one agent and went far into the White House, actually passing the stairway to the upstairs family are and eventually being taken into custody in the Green Room. If this had truly been a serious bad guy, the consequences are obvious. Worse yet, we also learned that in an earlier incident unknown persons fired up to seven shots into the living quarters on the second floor. While one agent did report gun shots, apparently there was no follow up and the shooting was only discovered based on reports of damage from housekeeping. The incident was not made public up to now and there may have been multiple suspects questioned by police but with no action since the Secret Service did not act on their own agents initial report.

        It would be good if this were a wake up call – it not I’m sure we will get one at some point and it will be bad.

      • beowulf says:

        It keeps getting worse for Secret Service. Latest shoe to drop is the armed (!) felon that the Secret Service allowed to share an elevator ride with the President earlier this month when he was visiting the CDC in Atlanta. At this rate, FBI may yet realize Hoover’s dream of taking over presidential security.

    • beowulf says:

      correction: I said felon but the report only said he’d been convicted of three assaults and batteries. In Georgia, those can be either misdemeanors or felonies (depending on severity). Probably wasn’t a felon since he was carrying a gun.

  3. Jim Stubbs says:

    This might sound thuggish, but if someone like that crashed the White House and actually tried to enter it, there should have been no struggle. Two to the body, one to the head. Standard federal law enforcement firearms training. In this day and age, anyone is well forewarned about the threats we face, the fact that the terrorists tried for the White House on 9/11, and are likely to try again. This guy rtook his own life in his hands when he tried that stunt. I might also say that peformance in federal law enforcement is cyclical. It has a lot to do with who’s running the government at the time. Secret service is not the only agency experiencing quality problems today.

    • Jim, actually I would agree with you on the first part and find it amazing that I’m seeing editorials about the fact that the White House should not be “fortified” – it’s still hard to comprehend that many of the pundits have not internalized the fact that a large number of very fanatic individuals have declared war on us, want to kill us wherever possible and destroy our government – along with democracy and contemporary culture in general. Perhaps someone should review the White House protection practiced during WWII and ramp that up a few levels to address contemporary threats.

      Having said that, I’d probably have to disagree on the second part, again after spending the last five years studying every administration from Truman on, I find very little variance in the quality of security practices regardless of administration. We know too well the actual state of the Secret Service under JFK, and looking at its record of Secret Service scandals I can trace them thorough administrations of both parties. In terms of general federal agency quality problems, if my next book gets published, you will find the state of virtually every federal agency in 2001 to have been simply pitiful in terms of national security – particularly the DOJ and FBI – which had been fervent in demanding the lead role in homeland security. But, to be even handed, the Clinton Attorney General put DOJ and FBI in that state and her successor simply failed address it or to respond to his own people who attempted to communicate it to him. In other words, I’m giving nobody a break on this subject…

      • Jim Stubbs says:

        I defer to your research and conclusions drawn from it, Larry. My reference to cyclical performance of federal LE agncies was a general statement on the overall functioning in all fields of their authority. Back in the day, stuff like Fast & Furious and some other things wouldn’t have been done because the agency heads then would have stood up and quashed it. That’s not to say that some stupid ideas didn’t arise from time to time. But those ideas went nowhere, usually. Today, you have more “poltically attuned” heads of agencies. It wasn’t that long ago that the National Border Patrol Council, which speaks for the rank and file field agents and investigators, formally issued a vote of no confidence to the BP’s Chief Patrol Agent. I believe it was over immigration reform. J. Edgar, for all his many faults, kept those secret and confidential files, in good part originally, to keep the politicians off the FBI’s back. As to the Secret Service, I can’t speak. But agency heads now are chosen for their politcs first, or their willingness to go along with whatever. And then there’s Eric Holder, a disgrace who should have been disbarred back when he helped broker PardonGate. Not that I have an opinion about him!

      • Point well taken Jim, I was interesting to listen to a couple of career Secret Service officers talk and they essentially said that over the last couple of decades a very high level senior management clique had emerged at the top of the organization and essentially blocked any issues coming up from the field units. It does appear, as you said, that the heads of the agencies are chosen based on their politics and that probably goes for at least their senior managers. And that top level has its own constituency, often political but sometimes “commercial”. The attempted whistle blowing from the Red Teams at the FAA/DOT before 9/11 is a very good example of that. Of course some of this has been around forever but I would say its gotten exceptionally bad more recently – its sort of like Supremer Court appointments which have become a political football. Personally I didn’t find any agency level principal that I could really speak well of although there were some senior individuals that certainly did their best, like Richard Clarke. I’ll give you Holder for a disgrace but match you with Condi Rice…sigh.

  4. Jim Stubbs says:

    Don’t know a lot about Condaleeza Rice. She doesn’t seem to have the awful (and well earned) bad rep that Holder has. I lived through a lot of AG’s. It’s an inherently political place, but men of principle and honor have served there. But both parties have had some in there that should not have been. Webb Hubbell comes to mind (Associate AG), Ramsey Clark are couple. Many of us wweere uneasy with Ed Meese. Lots of honors and a power player, but he had some of the typical power player’s attitudes on ethics: they’re for others, not me. Anway, I digress. Sorry.

    • Rice’s story has to be understood in the context of what the National Security Adviser’s position had evolved into – and compared between what Rice did in regard to dealing with terror threats vs the actions of her predecessor. I had no idea of it myself until I started digging into not just 9/11 but the period from the late 80’s up to that point. If you want some background I would refer you to Clarke’s Against all Enemies, Bush at War by Woodward and possibly The Commission by Shenon. They give a broader picture of what she did and did not do in her role; Clarke in particular is valuable since he served under Clinton, then GWB and worked directly for Rice under GWB. Shenon’s book does a fine job of showing how her political connections and the appointment of one of her associates to the Commission essentially was effectively a misdirection effort for the whole inquiry, if not wholly intentionally then certainly politically. As you noted, Condi doesn’t really have a rep, which means nobody learned a lesson from what she didn’t do – at this point its too early to actually tell what impact any of the Obama national security folks have truly had but its really hard to dope out such things during any given administration. My gut is telling me they have been more in the Rice mode though, a good Natl Sec Advisor would have been pushing hard about ISIS, just as Clinton’s adviser did on al Queda.

      I would agree with your comments on Attorney Generals, but if you read the books I mentioned, you will see why I would also add Ashcroft to the list of folks that should never have been in that sort of job.

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