The Secret Service agents implicated in the prostitution scandal last week in Columbia probably never saw Mike Wallace’s 60 minutes interview with Clint Hill. If the agents had, there wouldn’t be a scandal.
The last time I worked with the Secret Service was in 2008, when they were protecting Renaissance, a code name for Michelle Obama, who was at San Jose State University. In January of the following year, she became the First Lady of the United States. But in all of my experiences with those who protect Presidents and would-be Presidents, there has never been a doubt in my mind that they are the most serious, focused, obsessive, humorless and professional people on the face of the planet. That’s how it should be. Their job duties include putting themselves in harm’s way to protect the Leader of the Free World.
That’s why it was unfathomable that an advance party of these highly trained public servants would be exposed in a scandal. In the world of Secret Service agents, everybody gets a background check, every threat is real and nobody is allowed to breach security protocols. Nobody.
In the famous Clint Hill interview, Wallace talked with the former Secret Service Agent who was in Dallas to protect President John Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. The guilt-ridden agent confessed to being at fault in the President’s death for not moving fast enough. A sympathetic Wallace and American public would interpret the admission as “survivor’s guilt.”
But Hill understood, as does every agent in the Service, that failure is not an option. He failed, as did every member of the detail. The consequences of that failure resulted in an abrupt change in history. There are no do-overs and therapy does not absolve one of a failure to fulfill their duty.
This President has a unique set of threats and the Service has more than its share of challenges. The pressure to perform flawlessly in a job that does not allow for any error is intense. That’s why the actions of a few are so alarming and out of character with their inviolable mission.
More than a few of us who support President Obama worry about his safety. Until last week, I was confident he had the best protection possible; that any agent would compromise his security, even unintentionally, was never a previous concern.
But if any agents needs a reminder of their mission and the consequences of failure, let them re-watch the Clint Hill/Wallace interview.