Tag Archives: Secret Service

A bullet changed history 47 years ago today

RFK's last speech

Forty-seven years ago today, I had gone to bed. It was late on a Tuesday night.

I had just watched the news about the California Democratic Party presidential primary. Sen. Robert Kennedy had just been declared the winner. I turned in and was happy about the outcome.

Right after midnight, my mother knocked on my door. “You need to come down and see this,” she said. “Something terrible has just happened.”

I dragged myself out of the sack and went downstairs and saw for myself. Someone had shot Bobby Kennedy.

The shock was palpable. No. This isn’t happening. Oh, but it did.

I was about two months away from being inducted into the Army, although I didn’t yet know it that evening. My own life was about to change dramatically.

On that night, the nation’s life changed as well.

RFK died the next day at the age of 42. Would he have been nominated by his party? Would he have been elected president? The debate has raged for 47 years ever since that terrible event in Los Angeles, but I believe the answer is “yes” to both questions.

Maybe it’s my heart overriding my head in believing RFK would have become president. Still, I can make an analytical argument that even though then-Vice President Hubert Humphrey was ahead in convention delegates at the time of the assassination, that RFK could have peeled enough of them away by selling his own candidacy as the only one capable of defeating the Republican nominee, Richard M. Nixon.

I had a fair amount of political interest back then, even though I was just a year out of high school. It was heightened beyond its already high level the week before the shooting.

The previous week the Oregon primary took place. My home state had delivered the Kennedy its first-ever political defeat when Democrats chose Sen. Eugene McCarthy over RFK.

I was working at my job at McDonald’s the night of the Oregon primary. A motorcade pulled into the lot next door in front of a fashionable Chinese restaurant. I shot a look at the figure climbing out of an open convertible. The profile that was back-lit by a lamp belonged to Robert Kennedy. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and ran across the lot and walked right up to the senator and  his wife, Ethel; this was before Secret Service agents surrounded presidential candidates and, indeed, it was Kennedy’s death that prompted President Johnson to issue an executive order assigning such protection to future candidates.

I told Sen. Kennedy how much I wanted him to win the presidency and that I wanted to wish him well as his campaign proceeded.

RFK signed his name to the piece of paper and then he asked me one question: “Are you old enough to vote?” I said no. With that, he turned and walked away. He didn’t say another word.

I’ll be candid. I thought at the time it was a serious insult to a young man. Perhaps if I’d anticipated the question, I would have said “yes,” even though the voting age was still 21 and I was a couple of years younger than that. Hey, what would have done, asked for ID?

I didn’t have enough snap at that moment.

Now that I’m a whole lot older, I understand better that a politician in the middle of a fight — who needs every vote he can get at the last minute — doesn’t have time to waste on someone who couldn’t help him.

Well, it all ended the next week.

Mom was right. Something “terrible” did happen that night.

And I still miss Bobby Kennedy.


Conspiracy theories are for the birds

Conspiracy theories drive me nuts.

I mean it. I think I’m going crazy listening to any and all of them.

The latest spate of conspiracy theories centers around downtown Amarillo. There’s a segment of our city population — and I’m not convinced it comprises even a significant minority of residents — who keep concocting nefarious schemes dealing with business relationships within (a) city government (b) the business community or (c) between them both.

These theories are coming from individuals — or perhaps small groups of individuals — who don’t believe the city’s master plan for reviving downtown is going to work. They won’t give it a chance. They are willing to toss it out at the front end because, by golly, they just know something underhanded is going on.

I forged a fairly decent career in daily journalism over the span of 37 years. I am wired to be skeptical of matters at a lot of levels. However, I am not such a cynic as to believe out of hand that a high-dollar business deal is simply a bad thing because it involves a fair amount of money.

And yet, that’s what I keep hearing.

Conspiracy theories have this way of growing legs and even wings. They feed on themselves. They produce conspiracy spawns, that themselves grow into full-fledged conspiracies.

Here’s one that came to me today — second-hand to be sure, but I trust the source who mentioned this tidbit to me: A young member of my family told another member of my family that “it has been proven” that a Secret Service agent killed President Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. It wasn’t Lee Harvey Oswald. It wasn’t any of the other so-called conspiracy theories: the mob; the Cubans; hell, it wasn’t even Lyndon Johnson. The killer was a member of the Secret Service, the agency charged with protecting the life of the president of the United States. And it’s been proven that the Secret Service did it.

I’m glad I didn’t hear my young family member make that idiotic assertion. I would have stroked out.

That’s the kind of thing that has infected much of the discussion surrounding the downtown Amarillo story.

How about we just keep our eyes peeled and our ears open and actually witness and listen carefully to the things being discussed?


Secret Service fails ex-president

The hits just keep on coming at the Secret Service department.

Now this: It took the agency charged with protecting presidents and former presidents more than a year to repair a faulty alarm system at the Houston home of former President George H.W. Bush.

Let’s see. We’ve had agents frolicking with hookers in South America, a man busting through security at the White House, someone crashing a small helicopter on the White House lawn — and now reports of a failure to respond in a timely manner to concerns about an alarm system at the home of the 41st president of the United States.


There’s more, too.

Vice President Joe Biden’s home in Delaware had its alarm system shut off indefinitely by the Secret Service because it, too, wasn’t working properly.

This is getting increasingly difficult to understand, let alone justify.

The Secret Service is charged with protecting the highest government officials in the land, namely the president and the vice president. It also protects former presidents and their families. The one notable recent exception to that was the late former President Richard Nixon, who resigned from office in August 1974 and who then hired private security officers to protect him in his family in his post-presidency years.

The rest of them, though, get — and deserve — protection from the Secret Service.

That the agency wouldn’t repair former President Bush’s home security immediately after its malfunction became known is unconscionable. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and new Secret Service director Joseph Clancy have declared security upgrades for those under the agency’s protection to be a top priority item.

Do you think?


Have we seen enough from Secret Service?

Isn’t the Secret Service supposed to be the elite of the elite? The cream of our national security apparatus? The individuals charged with protecting the Most Powerful Person on the Planet?

What in the name of Homeland Security is going on with these individuals?


Two more agents have been accused of driving under the influence of alcohol and taking their vehicle through an active investigation scene involving a bomb.

The Secret Service has a new director who was supposed to turn the agency around after it went through a series of shameful incidents involving disgraceful behavior and serious breaches of security at the White House.

Joseph Clancy hasn’t turned anything around.

The Secret Service used to be run by the Treasury Department. Since 9/11, it’s been handed over to the Department of Homeland Security. Did we hear of these kinds of screw-ups when Treasury was in charge? Maybe once in a while, but not with this kind of chilling regularity.

Any thoughts of returning the Secret Service to the Treasury Department? Well? Are there?


Foes team up for security reform

It turns out that two leading members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee aren’t enemies for life after all.

Republican Chairman Darrell Issa and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings are on the same page regarding the Secret Service. They want a broad investigation that examines the culture that seems to pervade the agency charged with protecting the president of the United States.


Their concern is legit. The Secret Service has been pounded in the media and on Capitol Hill for the horrendous security lapses that have placed the president in potential peril. The agency’s director, Julia Pierson, has resigned. Issa and Cummings have sent Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson a letter asking to examine a full range of issues that have resulted in what they call “embarrassing security mistakes.”

We’ve had the fence-jumper who ran through the front door of the White House. That incident came after an armed convicted felon got into an elevator with President Obama in Atlanta, standing only a few feet from the head of state.

The Secret Service is in trouble. It needs fixing. Congress has been justifiably outraged over these embarrassing matters.

Issa and Cummings have had their differences over their committee’s handling of the IRS matter and the Benghazi controversy.

On this one, they’ve locked arms and are demanding answers.

Political animosity appears to come and go, according to the issue of the moment.

I’m OK with that.

Even worse than White House fence-jumper

Good grief! The more I hear about this one, the worse it gets for the Secret Service.

And this case is far worse than some guy jumping the White House fence and bursting into the president’s residence.


It turns out that a convicted felon, carrying a firearm, rode an elevator with President Obama while the president as in Atlanta to speak to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How on God’s Earth does someone with a criminal record, packing heat, walk aboard an elevator with the Leader of the Free World without the Secret Service knowing it?

What’s more, the Secret Service didn’t even tell the president about it until several days later.

I’m more glad than ever that Julia Pierson quit today as head of the security agency.

More heads ought to roll before this matter shakes out.

It's still the People's House

Julia Pierson is gone from her job as head of the Secret Service.

She’d come in to change the culture of an agency beset by scandals involving agents consorting with hookers. Now, though, she’s resigned, the person responsible for a new scandal involving the protection of the White House, where the president and his family live.

A man jumped the fence and got into the mansion, running past and/or through several perimeters. What’s more, now we have learned that an armed man masquerading as a security guard at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rode an elevator with President Obama.

OK, so now we’re searching for a new permanent director of the agency charged with protecting the president.

What’s next for security at the White House?

Here’s my suggestion for what should not happen at the People’s House: Do not lock the place down and make it next to impossible for tourists to walk through it and enjoy the majesty of the place.

The knee-jerk reaction is predictable. Some might want to essentially shut down the White House to the public. They’ll suggest searching tourists as they enter the place. One thing that can be done easily is to boost the height of the fences surrounding the White House. That’ll get done; no problem there.

Let us remember, as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson noted this afternoon, the White House is a symbol of First Amendment guarantees, where people can assemble and perhaps ask questions of their head of state — the president — on questions that concern them.

Shutting the White House off from the people to whom the house belongs would be the wrong course as this necessary review of security takes hold.

Pierson quits; good deal

Bragging is so unbecoming, so I won’t go there.

About an hour ago, I posted a blog that said Secret Service director Julia Pierson needed to quit her job in the wake of the abject failure of her agency’s White House security detail to protect the place that houses the president of the United States and his family. An obviously disturbed Iraq War veteran stormed onto the White House lawn, ran into the front door of the building and then got deep into the structure before being restrained.

Just a few minutes ago, CNN reported that Pierson has resigned.

She’d been grilled intensely by House Democrats and Republicans. Her answers were insufficient.

Now it’s time to fix the problems that created this mess in the first place.

See the earlier blog post:


Pierson's days at Secret Service appear to be over

Given the mile-wide partisan rift between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, it’s really saying something when politicians on both sides of the aisle sound as one in their outrage at a leading public official.

Secret Service director Julia Pierson got the grilling of her life Tuesday from the U.S. House Government Oversight and Reform Committee.

She had it coming.


Now we hear from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the chief Democrat in the House, saying Pierson should quit.

Why? It’s on her watch that some serious security glitches have occurred at the White House, the most notable of which is the one involving Omar Gonzalez, who raced across the White House lawn, broke into the building and then got deep inside the mansion after rushing through five levels of security. He finally was subdued.

Pierson got the treatment from committee Democrats and Republicans, all of whom spoke with equal outrage over the security detail’s failure to prevent the intruder from entering the White House.

That the first family was not in the house doesn’t matter. The intruder got past security in broad daylight.

Pierson didn’t help herself any with her non-answers to some quite specific questions about the breach in security.

If I were a betting man, I’d put some money on Pierson leaving this job in fairly short order.

Then we can get some needed changes installed at the Secret Service.

No 'standing down' at the White House

Leave it to one of the talking heads on a morning TV show to put the Secret Service mess-up in perspective.

It comes from Nicole Wallace, one of the regular hosts of “The View,” the morning gabfest that occasionally takes on matters of substance to discuss, debate and argue.

Wallace, a former Republican “strategist” — someone will have to tell me what that job really entails — took note of the Secret Service detail’s blunder when Omar Gonzalez stormed into the People’s House and apparently got deeply into the mansion before he was subdued, handcuffed and hauled away.

She said that even though the first family was not in the building when Gonzalez stormed the place, it fell to the Secret Service to ensure he didn’t get in. “The Secret Service doesn’t ‘stand down’ when the first family isn’t there,” she said.

Indeed, the presidential security detail has to be on full alert at all times to protect this house/office complex where critical decisions are made almost every hour.

Someone didn’t do his or her job that day. That someone needs to answer for that failure.