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Secret Service agents have a front-row seat to the private lives of presidents, vice presidents and presidential candidates as well as those of their wives and children. No one knows that better than New York Times Best-selling author Ron Kessler whose new book – “The First Family Detail: Secret service agents reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents” – hit the newsstands on August 5th.

“In particular, he focuses on first ladies and their children and their relationships with the presidents. Based on exclusive, on-the-record interviews with former and current Secret Service agents, [the book] will include revelations about the first families and their feuds, foibles, idiosyncrasies, and character and explore the special challenges agents assigned to their protective details face.”  Crown Forum


Kessler has authored 20 non-fiction books about the U.S. Secret Service, FBI and CIA and all about ‘secrets.’  This is where we get confused: If everything is a secret, then how come we are reading about it?  Hollywood on the Potomac sat down with Kessler for a one on one interview to find out how it’s possible that ‘secrets’ become…..well, ‘secrets’ no more. 

If somebody’s a Secret Service agent, whether obliged by law or contract not to ever reveal details, then how come we are reading about the details?  “The Secret Service is more secretive than the CIA or the FBI,” explained Kessler,  “which I can attest to because I’ve done books on all 3 agencies. It’s always been just an understanding that they will not reveal ‘secrets.’  After I wrote the story in the Washington Post about agents being sent home for hiring prostitutes in Columbia when Obama was about to visit, they also required every agent to sign a contract as well pledging that they will not reveal what they see.”  Exactly our point.  So, how come we read about it?

Hotel Caribe

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“They also feel compelled to blow the whistle through me,” he explained. “and in the course of doing that, we’ve developed a good relationship and they tell me what they see behind the scenes as well.  I have a good track record. I tell an honest story when they do a good job. For example, the FBI has kept us free of terrorist attacks since 911. I say that, which is pretty unusual in journalism today. When they screw up or there’s an abuse I report that too. For example, one of my books led to the dismissal of an FBI director, so that’s one thing. Secondly, I’m really interested in how things work and they appreciate that. Then with the Secret Service there have been so many problems that need exposing, to the point where agents feel that the life of the president is threatened, because of the corner cutting and laxness by Secret Service management.”

OK, so let’s pretend that I am a Secret Service person guarding the First Family. I know about you, I call you, and I go ‘Ron, I really have something to tell you,’ what do you tell me ?  How do you guarantee my anonymity if I’m asking you to get this information out?  This, of course, is the ongoing saga of journalists and their sources.  “Well, I just give my pledge and that’s that,” he answered.   “Remember, we would all be in a lot of trouble if we had not used anonymous sources [such as during Watergate].  We trusted them to expose Watergate because Nixon would’ve disbanded our democracy. Actually, about 2/3 of the book is on the record quotes from former agents or records.”

So what changes need to be made with the Secret Service on both sides of the aisle, the Secret Service protecting the First Families and the First Families who are being protected?  “First of all, what needs to be changed is they need a new Secret Service director from the outside who can shake things up and change the culture. The same for the FBI.  An FBI director, being an outsider, focuses the FBI much more on preventing attacks before they happen. In the case of the Secret Service, only an outside director would be able to make the changes that are necessary.”  This of course, suggests some conflict between the agencies and The White House.  We asked Kessler to give us several examples of how interagency conflicts occur, siting seemingly innocuous examples that had or could have had disastrous results.

Pam-and-Ron-Kessler-Final copy

Pam and Ron Kessler at Cafe Milano

Kessler referenced an incident at a recent White House Correspondents’ Dinner where actor Bradley Cooper skipped the security check.  “A high-ranked Secret Service official in New York just as a favor to Bradley Cooper ordered the agents at the scene to let Bradley Cooper’s SUV in with Bradley Cooper to this secure area in the front where Secret Service vehicles and even they are screened by dogs for explosives. Someone could introduce explosives when agents aren’t aware of it and that’s what could have happened with the Bradley Cooper vehicle and yet he was allowed in. It could’ve been filled with explosives and taken out the president. You can imagine the reaction of the agents who are there to protect the president and yet this high-ranking guy has it on a whim or as a favor decides to waive all rules and just say let him in.”

This made us think of all the celebrity look alikes that get paid to be impostors.  We get it.  It could have been a fake Bradley Cooper.  More surpisingly, there were higher up A-Listers there like Kevin Spacey who did due diligence by going through proper procedures.  “Nobody else was allowed in the oval driveway where his vehicle was allowed in.  Nobody else was allowed in except Secret Service. That’s another example of Secret Service management which includes letting people into events without proper screening or metal detection screening. In this case, Obama was about to give his talk at the White House correspondence dinner 2 years ago.”  Note to Bradley Cooper:  Next time please follow procedures……..thank you…..


“Another really shocking revelation in the book is that the reason – and this shows again that the book is nonpartisan – the reason that John Hinckley was able to shoot Reagan is that Reagan’s own White House staff overruled the Secret Service to allow spectators within 15 feet of Reagan as he came out of the Washington Hilton unscreened. That’s why Hinckley was able to shoot him. Then the Secret Service covered this all up so that until now nobody knew that the reason that there was this assassination attempt was because of Reagan’s own White House staff and the Secret Service bowing to their wishes.  Typically, when the White House orders the Secret Service to do something they will cow tail and that’s wrong.”

Then there is the Salahi case whereby the well dressed couple passed through the gates of the White House without even being on the guest list: “That again tells agents if we follow the rules, and for example if we turn away guests when they show up at the state dinner at the White House because they’re not on the guest list, we could be in trouble with our management so hey let them in. That’s the culture.  Yeah, it came down to just what I said. Two uniformed knew that they weren’t on the guest list, let them in anyway and they were not screened. They could’ve been terrorists. They could’ve been wanted serial killers, but who again were allowed in. That alone is unthinkable.”


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Kessler went on to tell us about how other seemingly unimportant sequences can have explosive results:  “Regular Joe Biden” – Chapter I; “The Stripper” – Chapter 5

En fin, we wanted to know about the relationships between the First Families and The Secret Service.  “Ronald Reagan was the most gracious guy that he appeared to be on TV. For example, when he went into Air Force One he would always go and greet the captain and the co-pilots and chat about their kids, even keep track of their kids’ name; whereas Jimmy Carter did that only once in his whole 4-year term. George W. Bush also was considerate as was Laura Bush. Obama and his wife are also very respectful of agents and treat them well.”

As for the first children, that was another story. …. Chapter 21.