In the President’s Secret Service by Ronald Kessler

March 10, 2010

Summary: In this book, author Ronald Kessler attempts to give readers a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into protecting the President of the United States, as well as other high-profile people. The author begins with a brief history of the Secret Service, and then talks about how the agency grew into its current role of providing protectors and law enforcement officials (mostly investigating counterfeiting).

Kessler was able to interview many agents and ex-agents for the book, most of whom actually went on the record with their names. From the agents, readers learn what some of the presidents and first families were like when the cameras were off — and the picture isn’t pretty. For instance, while Tipper Gore was generally considered gracious, husband Al was anything but. Hillary Clinton might as well be named the Ice Queen. The Bushes (both George H.W. & Barbara and W & Laura) were very nice and respectful to the agents, but first daughters Jenna and Barbara were a handful — as were Amy Carter and one of Gerald Ford’s daughters.

Kessler also does a fair amount of bitching and moaning throughout the book, as he complains about how higher-ups in the Service are more concerned with saving money and padding statistics than with actual protection. He says that agent recruitment is low, attrition rates are high, weapons are outdated, training is waived, overtime is mandatory and often uncompensated, promotions and transfers are hard to come by, and security measures are often skipped as the start of an event nears so the crowd can get in to see the president or other dignitaries.

The author also touches a little bit on what goes into actually protecting a high-profile person — though the book is understandably short on details in this regard.

Liked:

  • The anecdotes about the presidents, vice presidents, and first families were undoubtedly the book’s strong suit. They were interesting for the most part — yet at the same time, they were of a rather superficial nature and gave the book a decidedly tabloid-y feel.

Disliked:

  • The writing was pretty bad, with few transitions between topics or chapters, and with many details seemingly tacked on without real context. This book really could have used a good editor.
  • Kessler repeats himself many, many times — especially when railing against the way the Secret Service is run today. All of that “office politics” stuff was boring to outsiders like myself. What do I care if the Secret Service is stingy about buying new office supplies? I’ve got my own problems at work and am not exactly prepared to weep for Secret Service agents who don’t get that cushy transfer to the Hawaii field office that they wanted.

Rating:

In The President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect by Ronald Kessler could have been a very interesting book, if the author had stuck to talking about the topic in the title. But he veered off into complaining about how the Secret Service is run, and as a result simply sounded like a guy with an ax to grind. Lots of people hate their jobs. Just because the job you hate happens to be with the Secret Service doesn’t automatically make the story exotic and interesting. At the end of the day, it’s still just someone bitching about their job. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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