Sunday, April 15, 2012

Secret Service Scandal....Not the First

We have seen the news in today's papers, that no less than 11 members of President Obama's Secret Service detail, in Columbia for his Latin American summit, have been put on administrative leave. The reason given - and now open to further investigation- relates to use of alchohol and prostitutes. (We are also informed these particular agents were not directly involved in the President's security detail there. Good thing!)

The media, meanwhile, has bandied it all about that this is "the first scandal in the Service's 147-year history". Not quite. There was an earlier one in the days and months leading up to Nov. 22, 1963 then in the wake of JFK's assassination. Alas, it never received the media attention that this one's bound to get.

Most of it is well documented in former Secret Service Agent Abraham Bolden's book, 'The Echo from Dealey Plaza'. Most other authors' references to this behavior - including hard drinking the night before in Dallas' bars, and the JFK agents' blatant racism, is based on Bolden's own testimony in his book.

Author James Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, notes in regard to Bolden, JFK and the White House Secret Service detail at the time (p. 103):

" Abraham Bolden joined the White House secret Service detail in June, 1961. He experienced personally John Kennedy's concern for people. Kennedy never passed Bolden without speaking to him. He asked about him and his family in such a way that he knew he meant it..

Abraham Bolden saw increasing evidence, however, of the president's isolation and danger from the standpoint of security. Most of the Secret Service agents seemed to hate John Kennedy. They joked among themselves that if someone shot at him, they'd get out of the way. The agents' drunken after-hours behavior carried over into lax security for the president. The other agents remarked about 'niggers' in his presence."

Douglass goes on to observe that Bolden reported the unseemly behavior to superiors but they did nothing. As he found that he could no longer go along with such a charade of security he asked to be transferred to the Chicago office. As Douglas puts it (ibid.):

"He had demoted himself on principle from the highest position an African-American had ever held in the Secret Service"

But what was the Kennedy WH Secret Service detail really like? What was its profile, and what cautionary tales does it hold for any truly liberal president? At root as Douglas and others have noted, these guys were mostly former police officers hailing from the Deep South. Recall also, it was exactly the Deep South - in states like Mississippi and Alabama - where Kennedy would directly have to confront other police bigots, such as Bull Connor in Selma and another yahoo in Montgomery, AL. Indeed, JFK would have to go so far as to nationalize these two Dixie states' National September, 1963, in order to ensure integration of schools.

This could not have sit well with the bigots on the Kennedy S.S. detail, so it's no wonder they'd refer to Kennedy as a "nigger lover". Bolden's own abrasive encounter with Agent Harvey Henderson, as told in his book (p. 37) is also eye-opening and outrageous. According to Bolden, Henderson said:

"I'm going to tell you something and I don't want you to ever forget it!You're a nigger. You were born a nigger and when you die you will still be a nigger. You will always be nothing but a nigger. So act like one!"

Bolden went on to note that this incident confirmed for him that it was none other than Henderson who had left an overt racist cartoon in his Service manual on June 9. As he put it: "I knew it for certain now as certain as I knew he was baiting me into a fight."

That wasn't the only incident or only agent involved. At another time, Bolden relates (p. 31) how agent Bob Foster opened up during a drive through Hyannis Port when he spotted members of the Women's Air Corps. Evidently one didn't meet his expectations as, according to Bolden:

"Foster pointed out the window and shouted in his thick Southern accent, 'Thar goes a nigger!"

Which begs the question of why a guy like Kennedy, a confirmed liberal who'd doffed the cold warrior play -acting by early 1963, would keep such a contingent of yahoo Johnny Rebs in his detail. (JFK was no semi-conscious dummy, and he had to be aware of the Southern agents' behavior, hatred towards him.) No one seems to be able to answer that, other than perhaps he preferred to be cool and not rock the boat. Sad, because it cost him his life.

More disturbing than the overt and covert racism exuded by these agents, as well as their drinking, was the sinister way the events unfolded leading up to Kennedy's assassination.

According to his Warren Commission testimony (Vol. 2, Warren Commission Hearings, p. 63), Roy H. Kellerman stated:

"I was in charge of the White House detail for this trip for President Kennedy for this trip to Texas for those two days."

Not mentioned or indicated was that Kellerman was actually an emergency fill-in and relatively inexperienced. The most senior agent that ought to have been present, Agent Gerald A. Behn, decided to take a vacation at the last minute, leaving the inexperienced Kellerman in charge. Moreover, eleven members of the White House detail had been transferred at their own request to other assignments within 60 days of the assassination. (Douglass, pp. 260-66) Why? We don't know and Bolden himself offers no reasons.

What Bolden does offer, is information made concerning a direct threat to Kennedy and for which zero effective action was taken. Bolden observes (p. 56):

"Just a few days before the shooting in Dallas, the Secret Service received even more threatening information, this time about a group of anti-Castro Cuban activists allegedly plotting to assassinate the president. Homer S. Echevarria had been overheard too make a statement to the effect that Kennedy was about to be taken care of. Instead of immediately contacting the White House detail, which was with the president in Fort Worth, Texas, ASAIC (Maurice) Martineau assigned several of his agents in Chicago to look into the matter. None of our agents was able to get to Echevarria and our investigation fell apart."

This negligence itself was beyond disgusting, especially given the fact everyone in any security capacity had to know the right wing Cubans (the sort that blew up the Cubana Airlines plane off Barbados thirteen years later) would stop at nothing to kill Kennedy - after he had refused to provide air cover for Brigade 2506 which was then captured, many killed.

But the worst was yet to come: the implication of actual Secret Service impostors - able to present official looking commission books with their alleged IDs, when confronted in Dealey Plaza and on the Grassy Knoll.

In The Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. 7, p. 107, Deputy Constable Seymour Weitzman, described how he met up with "Secret Service agents" behind the wall that that adjoined the stockade fence on the Knoll. In that WC Hearing testimony, Weitzman said that he had "turned over to one of the Secret Service men" what he believed was a piece of JFK's skull found on Elm St.

Similarly, witness Jean Hill - stated that "when she ran behind the fence of the grassy knoll men who identified themselves as Secret Service agents held her while they took form her coat pocket all the motorcade pictures she had just put there from her friend Mary Moorman's Polaroid camera." (Douglass, op. cit. , p. 262).

As Douglass further notes after recounting other such interceptions in and around Dallas' Dealey Plaza that day (p. 266):

"Thus, the assassins were not only prepared to identify themselves as government agents. They also seemed confident they would not be exposed from their bold use of Secret Service credentials to assure their escape. They were right. The Warren Commission went out of its way to ingore the obvious evidence of Secret Service impostors at a source of the shots."

The question remains: How could these impostors get away with it and access such critical documents? For sure, their identifications would have to pass muster and exhibit top quality to fool so many, even in law enforcement. We know that the Secret Service ID was embodied within the commission books issued to the agents. Accordiing to Douglass (ibid.):

"As we learned from Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden, the Secret Service took the extraordinary step of withdrawing and replacing all of its agents' commission books a month and a half following the assassination, moving Bolden to suspect the Secret Service identification had been used as a cover for the assassins of President Kennedy.

Officer Joe Marshall Smith, who was familiar with Secret Service credentials, said he confronted a man behind the fence at the top of the grassy knoll who showed him such credentials. That raises the question: What was the source of the Secret Service identification displayed by JFK's assassins?"

Douglass then goes on to cite the CIA's Sidney Gottlieb, "acknowledging that 'over the years' his Technical Services Division 'furnished' such identification to the Secret Service - identification that could just as easily have been given at any time as might prove useful, to CIA operatives using a Secret Service cover. The source was the same."

In other words, the CIA are the most likely culprits in using such fake commission books to get away with what they always planned: knock off JFK after he vowed to smash the agency into a thousand pieces, following the Bay of Pigs fiasco which the CIA orchestrated (and for which a subsequent government investigation placed full responsibility - see: 'The Bay of Pigs Declassifed')

Despite likely not being part of any intentional ruse to distribute fake commission books, the Service yet stands guilty of incompetence and perhaps worse. Numerous witnesses, for example, reported JFK limo driver Will Greer coming to a complete stop when the deadly gunfire erupted. He ought to have accelerated instead, but only did so after Kennedy was fatally wounded. "Explanations" later proffered by Greer don't add up, never mind his apologists.

Then there was Roy Kellerman, who unlike Rufus Youngblood (who threw himself over VP Johnson immediately after the first shots) never moved from his own seat - from the time the first shot was fired until Greer pulled the limo into Parkland with the dead president in the back seat. By all rights, Kellerman ought to have flung his body over Kennedy after the first shot. He screwed up on his prime duty to protect the president. No excuses!

Indeed, the only Secret Service agent near the president's limo that fulfilled his duty that day was Clint Hill, charged with protecting Jackie.

Equally distressing as this "incompetence" (I am trying to be generous here) is the change in Kennedy's protection implemented on Nov. 21. As Douglass notes (pp. 270-71):

"The Secret Service made a critical change in the protection the president would normally receive from his motorcycle escorts."

As he had in Houston, Kennedy ought to have been accompanied by 12 escorts, with four along the sides of the limo to "partially screen him from any gunfire".

But instead,

"the Secret Service changed the plan. The motorcycle escorts were pulled back from their positions along side the limousine to positions in the rear."

The later excuse given was that Kennedy "did not desire motorcycle officers directly on either side of him and preferred the officers to be in the rear" (Warren Commission Hearings, Vol. 7, pp. 580-81)

But this is bare bollocks and bullshit. If Kennedy had no problems with motorcycle side-riders in Houston, a fairly benign place, why the hell would he suddenly change the plans in Dallas, when he already knew of its right wing vitriol (when Adlai Stevenson returned from a UN Day Meeting a month earlier and reported how he'd been spat on and smacked with placards) and thousands of death threats?

The fact is, even after fifty years the Secret Service has a lot to explain on its November 1963 Kennedy detail, and all the books those various agents have so far churned out are more exercises in strategic PR than factual. Meanwhile, Abraham Bolden's book offers a glimpse into the workings of the White House S.S. detail of the time and the breakdowns in Kennedy's protection that merit our serious consideration and attention.

Has the Secret Service mostly had a stellar, honorable history? Most likely! But as in other examples within the government as well as the private sphere (e.g. banking), it does us no good to overlook the exceptions and bad apples - especially if the aim is to strive for genuine excellence!


Unknown said...

There were many other breaks from standard operating procedure by the Secret Service in the planning and the execution of that motorcade in Dallas. The current scandal should be looked at in the same light. Drinking the night before duty, meeting with prostitutes in their own hotel rooms are forbidden for more than moralist reasons. They open the protection details to blackmail, penetration and compromise. Thre were other similar breaches in security in almost every administration. This is not the first time the Secret Service failed to protect President Obama in his administration. Such failures marked his term from his inauguration day, when an individual was found in his personal living area during the parade. The unauthorized entry of several people during a diplomatic reception at the White House, taken by the press as a prank, involved a stand down by the Secret Service guards at the door that night. If you can stand next to someone, even unarmed, you can kill them. These incidents may only mark the flawed culture inside the Secret Service that Bolden points to. However, it may reveal incidents that were meant to embarrass the president, which this latest one did in international circles. Note that it was facilitated by members of the military stationed there. The possibility also remains that these breeches are meant as warnings to Obama that he will not be protected at critical times.

W. Green said...

Great post. Abraham Bolden (United States Secret Service) is a true American hero. I dedicated my book SAVING JFK to him (about the Chicago November 2, 1963 JFK assassination attempt). The Secret Service "blunders" in Dallas were obviously intentional. Greer (the driver) watched and waited until JFK's head exploded before hitting the gas. He and Kellerman were never held accountable for their actions or lack of action. Bolden's efforts to expose the truth resulted in his defamation and imprisonment.


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