Book: Secret Service To Blame For Weak Security Around Reagan, Brady

Seth Richardson Contributor
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Former White House Press Secretary James Brady died Monday, more than 30 years after he was shot in an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

According to a new book, the Secret Service deserves some of the blame for letting a would-be assassin so close to the president and his aide.

In his new book “The First Family Detail,” author and journalist Ronald Kessler delves behind the scenes of the inner workings of the Secret Service and its relation to the presidency.

Kessler found by talking to agents that the Secret Service should have been able to prevent the assassination attempt, but instead broke protocol at the behest of the White House.

“The corner cutting by the Secret Service is shocking,” Kessler said in an interview with The Daily Caller. “It really threatens the life of the president according to the agents I’ve talked to.”

On March 29, 1981, Reagan was visiting the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. for a speaking engagement. Normal protocol for the Secret Service is to not allow unscreened individuals anywhere within handgun range to the president.

But White House staff overruled the Secret Service and told the agency to let individuals close to the president, likely to maintain his image.

Amongst those individuals was the deranged John Hinckley, Jr. who pulled out a pistol and fired six shots, with five rounds hitting Reagan, Brady, police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy. The shots nearly killed Reagan and left Brady with paralysis. He would spend the rest of his life using a wheelchair.

Kessler does give the agency some credit, saying that the quick reaction led to no deaths during the chaotic incident and saved Reagan’s life. The Secret Service uses the scenario in training to this day.

Embarrassed at how a lone, crazed gunman could come so close to killing the president and one of his top aides, the Secret Service attempted a cover-up, according to Kessler. An internal investigation revealed the area was not a “designated press area” as per the original assessment and to move the area further back was a “matter of judgment and civil rights as to how much an area can be restricted.”

The book continues that the Secret Service then tried to shift blame to the FBI by saying the agency had not informed them Hinckley was arrested in 1980 at Nashville International Airport with three pistols. There were no indication during that arrest that he was anything more than a man trying to travel with his guns.

The folly is just one of many times when the Secret Service acted recklessly, Kessler writes. During the 2012 election, Republican candidate Mitt Romney routinely faced serious security issues.

One of the Secret Service’s tasks is to protect presidential nominees. The agency provides agents, sets up barricades and uses magnetometers for screening during events.

But the Romney campaign was nearly always supplied with an insufficient amount of magnetometers as a cost-cutting method. As a result, Romney would often have to give two speeches per event: one to screened individuals indoors and one to the crowd outside where he was vulnerable to any number of people in the crowd.

“As a result, a country that spent $113 million in fiscal 2012 to protect the presidential candidates would not scrape together funds to provide enough magnetometers at events held by a possible future president,” Kessler states in the book. “The same kind of corner cutting ordered by the Reagan White House led to the shooting of President Reagan.”

Kessler says recklessness in the agency continues to this day and is problematic since it involves protecting the president’s life.

Edwin Donovan, the assistant deputy director for the Secret Service’s Office of Government and Public Affairs, said in a statement the claims in Kessler’s book should be viewed with skepticism, mainly because they rely on anonymous sources.

“It is always difficult to defend your record against anonymous sources,” he stated. “However, it should be noted that we currently dedicate more personnel, funding and technical assets to our protective mission than at any time in our history and our protective measures and methods continue to increase in scope and complexity, not diminish. The safety of those we protect remains this agency’s highest priority.”

However, Kessler maintains there is a huge difference between the agency’s image and the actual inner workings.

“There’s a wide disparity between the image and the reality,” he said. “The Secret Service really is very secretive, even more secretive than the FBI and CIA which I’ve written books about. So they’ve been able to keep it quiet, but if there’s an assassination, you can be sure everyone will say, ‘Why didn’t we see this before? Why didn’t we pay attention.’ But by then it will be too late.”

Kessler’s book “The First Family Detail” is available now.

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