Friday, April 4, 2014

The Cautionary Instruction: The tarnished image of the Secret Service

Matthew T. Mangino
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
April 4, 2014
Jack Ready died on February 24, 2014 in Ft. Washington, Maryland. He was 86 years old. There was so much more to Ready’s life. Ready was a special agent in the U.S. Secret Service, assigned to the presidential motorcade as it made its way through Dealey Plaza in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Ready was assigned to the car following the presidential limousine positioned on the car’s right-front running board. His position placed him opposite agent Clint Hill.
When the shots rang out, Hill rushed forward and—in a scene that would become iconic -- jumped onto the limousine in an effort to shield the president and the first lady. Ready held his position.
Hill would later say, “I know that it was devastating to Jack that he was unable to do anything.”
It wasn’t until 1902 that the Secret Service, created in 1865 to eradicate counterfeit currency, assumed official full-time responsibility for protecting the president. Before that, security for the president could be unbelievably lax.
The most astounding example was the scant protection afforded President Abraham Lincoln on the night he was assassinated. Only one man, an unreliable Washington cop named John Frederick Parker, was assigned to guard the president at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865.
The secret service has become more and more sophisticated and at times more heroic. On March 30, 1981, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy stepped in front of a bullet, fired by John Hinckley Jr., intended for President Ronald Reagan.
"You never dream that you are going to be in this situation. You train intensely, there's a reason for doing it, and frankly I never thought it would happen to me," McCarthy said in an interview with CNN last year. “I'm just thankful that on that particular day I was able to do what I was trained to do."
Lately the news about the Secret Service has been anything but heroic—starting with a South American prostitution scandal last year that made world-wide headlines.
Thirteen agents were accused of partying with female foreign citizens at a hotel in the seaside resort of Cartagena, Colombia, where they were staying before President Barack Obama's arrival for a Latin American summit. Some of the women were prostitutes and the incident came to light after an agent had a fight in the hotel with a prostitute over payment.
Last month, two agents in Florida were involved in a traffic accident that reportedly involved alcohol. Then there was an incident involving an agent recently found drunk in a hotel in the Netherlands.
Not the stuff of Jack Ready, Clint Hill or Tim McCarthy.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, P.C. He is the former district attorney of Lawrence County and just completed a six year term on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. His weekly column on crime and punishment is syndicated by GateHouse New Service. You can read his musings on the criminal justice system at and follow Matt on Twitter @MatthewTMangino. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 is due out this summer.

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