The United States Secret Service: The President’s Vest

Break It Down!

The United States Secret Service (USSS) is a federal law enforcement agency that is currently part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. With a reported one third of the currency in circulation being counterfeit at the time, the Secret Service was created on July 5, 1865 in Washington, D.C., to suppress counterfeit currency. Today, the agency has two specific areas of responsibility:

The Secret Service assumed full authority for presidential security in 1902. In the area of protection, the President’s security is his security detail’s number one priority. As the saying goes, any member of his security detail is prepared to take a bullet for him.

This situation has happened twice. On November 1, 1950, two Puerto Rican Nationalists opened fire on Private Leslie Coffelt at Blair House in Washington, DC, in an attempt to assassinate President Harry S. Truman. Private Coffelt was mortally wounded, but also killed one of the attempted assassins, Griselio Torresola. The other accomplice, Oscar Collazo, was wounded, but he survived his injuries, and spent 29 years in jail before returning to Puerto Rico in 1979.

On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley, Jr., attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan as he was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC. Special Agent Tim McCarthy stepped in front of President Reagan and although he took a bullet to the abdomen, he later made a full recovery. To date, Private Coffelt is the only member of the Secret Service to be killed in a Presidential assassination attempt.

In addition to the two failed attempts in during which Secret Service agents were shot, four Presidents have been assassinated:

  • President Abraham Lincoln – 1865
  • President James A. Garfield – 1881
  • President William McKinley – 1901
  • President John F. Kennedy – 1963

There have been a number of other attempts, including:

  • January 30, 1835 – A man pointed two guns at President Andrew Jackson and pulled the triggers. Miraculously, neither fired
  • October 16, 1909 – Texas Ranger Private C.R. Moore and private security specialist Frederick Russell Burnham captured and disarmed a would be assassin within a few feet of President William Howard Taft, who was in El Paso, Texas to attend a Summit with Mexican President, Porfirio Díaz
  • October 14, 1912 – three years after President Theodore Roosevelt left office, he was running for President again as a Third Party candidate, and was shot while running for re-election. The bullet remained in him until his death in 1919
  • November 19, 1928 – while in Argentina, President Herbert Hoover escaped an assassination attempt by Argentine anarchists, led by Severino Di Giovanni. He was arrested before he could place the explosives in President Hoover’s railcar.
  • February 15, 1933 – Giuseppe Zangara fired five shots at President Franklin Roosevelt, killing Chicago Mayor, Anton Cermak. The attempt occurred less than three weeks before the President would be sworn in for his first term
  • In the summer of 1947 – shortly prior to the creation of the state of Israel, the Zionist group Stern Gang sent a number of letter bombs to President Harry S. Truman and high-ranking cabinet members. The letters were intercepted in the White House mail room, and the Secret Service diffused them
  • April 13, 1972 – Arthur Bremer carried a firearm to an event, intending to shoot President Richard Nixon. After being repelled by security he left. Several weeks later he shot and seriously injured Alabama George Wallace
  • February 22, 1974 – Samuel Byck, planning to kill President Nixon by crashing a plane into the White House, hijacked a plane by force. He shot the pilot and co-pilot, but could not take off because the wheels were blocked. An officer shot him through the window; he in turn committed suicide with his pistol.
  • September 5, 1975 – Lynnette (Squeaky) Fromme, a Charles Manson follower, drew a pistol on President Gerald Ford when he reached to shake her hand at the California State Capitol (Sacramento). She had four bullets in the magazine, but none in the chamber. She was quickly detained.
  • September 22, 1975 – Sara Jane Moore fired a revolver at President Ford from 40 feet away, in San Francisco, California. A bystander grabbed her arm, and the shot missed the President. She was sentenced to life in Prison, and paroled in 2007, a year after President Ford’s death by natural causes.
  • May 5, 1979 – Raymond Lee Harvey was arrested by the Secret Service 10 minutes before President Jimmy Carter was scheduled to give a speech at the Civic Center Mall in Los Angeles. Harvey claimed to be part of a plot to assassinate President Carter, and named Osvaldo Espinoza Ortiz as a co-conspirator. Officials eventually dropped charges against the pair due to lack of evidence
  • April 13, 1993 – Fourteen men believed to be working for Saddam Hussein smuggled bombs into Kuwait to assassinate President George H. W. Bush during a visit there to speak at Kuwait University. Kuwait police foiled the attempt when they found the bombs and arrested the suspected assassins.
  • January 21, 1994 – Ronald Gene Barbour plotted to kill President Bill Clinton while he was jogging. Mr. Barbour returned home to Florida after a week without having fired a shot, as the President was on a state visit to Russia. He was later arrested and spent 5 years in prison.
  • September 12, 1994 – Frank Eugene Corder flew a stolen single engine Cessna into a tree on the White House lawn. He was killed in the incident.
  • October 29, 1994 – Francisco Martin Duran fired at least 29 shots with a semi-automatic rifle at the White House. He thought he was shooting at President Clinton. The President was inside the White House. Three tourists, Harry Rakosky, Ken Davis and Robert Haines tackled Duran before he harmed anyone. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
  • 1996 – During a visit to Manila to visit the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Lewis Merletti, Director of the Secret Service re-routes the President’s motorcade before driving over a bridge, after intercepting a message that an attack was imminent. An investigation determined later that there was a bomb under the bridge. Later, intelligence briefs revealed that the mastermind behind the bomb was a terrorist living in Afghanistan named Osama bin Laden
  • May 10, 2005 – In Tbilisi, Georgia, Vladimir Arutyunian threw a live Soviet-made grenade toward the podium where George W. Bush was speaking. Because the device was wrapped tightly in a handkerchief, it did not detonate immediately, even though the pin was pulled. Arutyunian escaped that day, but was captured after killing an Interior Ministry agent in July 2005. He was sentenced to life in prison.
  • August 2008 – Cousins Tharin Gartrell and Shawn Adolf and their friend Nathan Johnson allegedly planned to assassinate Barack Obama during his acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. However, officials insist there was no substantial threat.
  • October 22, 2008 – Paul Schlesselman and Daniel Cowart, two white supremacists, plotted to drive their car toward nominee Obama and raise their guns and open fire. They were arrested before acting to execute the plot. They pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the plot in 2010, and were sentenced to 10 and 14 years in prison, respectively.
  • April 2009 – A man of Syrian origins plotted to kill President Obama at the Alliance of Civilizations Summit in Istanbul, Turkey in April 2009. The man confessed of his involvement in the plot, and that of three alleged accomplices.
  • April 2013 – Another attempt was made when a letter laced with ricin was sent to President Obama

And I hasten to add, these are just those attempts that have been reported. It is clear, that the Secret Service has many challenging jobs. Protecting the President is just one of them; though likely the most high profile.

Taken in that light, it is no surprise that Julia Pierson, the Director of the Secret Service until last week, resigned under bi-partisan pressure. The organization has had a long and mostly distinguished history of providing Presidential protection. Yet, it’s been a difficult, and scandal-filled few years.

Ms. Pierson was hired to clean up and repair the agency’s muddied reputation. After 17 months, the consensus on Capitol Hill was, she failed. In the end, a recent fence jumper, made his way all the way across the White House lawn, into the facility, all the way to the vicinity of the Green Room. This was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back. But that was by no means the only issue.

A man stopped his car near the White House and fired several shots at the structure, some of which hit the building. There was considerable confusion about what actually happened, and as a result, it took several days to confirm there had actually been shots fired. One of the Obama’s daughters was at home at the time, yet the Obama’s were not told until even later.

Add to that an instance in which the President while visiting Atlanta was on an elevator with an individual who was found to be carrying a gun. All in all in a world filled with anxiety over terrorists and others who would do harm to Americans in general, and the President, in particular, these gaffes and lapses were rightly deemed too much to bear. So Ms. Pierson paid a steep price. Hopefully, the chance will help ensure that the President does not pay the ultimate price. After all, it’s important to remember, “The United States Secret Service: The President’s Vest!”

I’m done; holla back!

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