Paula Reid, the 46-year-old African American special agent who reported the recent sex scandal that occurred among Secret Service agents in Cartagena, Colombia, has survived the whistle-blowing in better shape than another African American agent did a little more than 50 years ago.
Reid, the head of the Secret Service detail in Latin America, discovered that at least 11 agents, including two supervisors, had brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms just days before the president arrived for an international summit. The action posed a significant security risk for the president of the United States Barack Obama.
“She acted decisively, appropriately,” Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee and one of Congress’ lead investigators into this incident, told ABC’s “This Week” on April 22.
New York Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney from the House Oversight Committee, added, “I talked to [Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan last night, and he was commending her leadership, too. She really went in there and cleaned up the mess.” Maloney’s comments were reported in a story from the New Pittsburgh Courier and carried on the National Newspaper Publishers Association news wire.
In the wake of Reid’s probe, six agents have been fired, six others are being investigated and 11 military personnel are also under scrutiny. Officials are also examining whether this incident was part of a pattern.
“I recognize that the vast majority of Secret Service personnel are professional, disciplined, dedicated and courageous. But to me it defies belief that this is just an aberration,” Collins said.
“There were too many people involved. If it had been one or two, then I would say it was an aberration. But it included two supervisors. That is particularly shocking and appalling.”
Former agent Abraham Bolden, who was reportedly handpicked by President John F. Kennedy as the first African American to serve on the Secret Service presidential detail, did not fare as well as Reid. In fact, Bolden said he was told by Special Agent in Charge Harvey Henderson during his tenure on the presidential protective detail: “You’re a nigger. You were born a nigger. You’re going to die a nigger, so act like a nigger.”
As OurWeekly reported in its Aug. 13-19, 2009, edition, Bolden said he “endured racial hostility and alienation from his fellow agents” after he criticized the lax security surrounding the president and some agents’ habitual practice of reporting for duty under the influence of alcohol.
“Bolden expressed his concerns about this negligence in his exit interview with director U.E.
Baughman in July 1961, before returning to his regular posting in Chicago. In the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, Bolden tried to go to the newly formed Warren Commission, which was investigating this fatal event; but before he was able to do so, he was accused of attempting to sell confidential information about an investigation against a counterfeiting ring to one of the defendants, Joseph Spagnoli,” said the OurWeekly article.
“Spagnoli would later be instrumental in the resulting criminal case against Bolden, though Spagnoli subsequently admitted to committing perjury at the instigation of the prosecution,” the article continued.
“Interestingly enough, Spagnoli was affiliated with the Sam Giancana crime family, which was implicated in the Kennedy assassination.
“When Bolden’s initial court case ended in a mistrial, he was then retried, convicted and sentenced by the same judge who had presided over the original [trial]. Bolden served six years of incarceration in a series of federal prisons along with a brief stint in a psychiatric hospital.”
Bolden has always maintained his innocence. When asked about the recent Secret Service scandal in South America, he wrote:
I am concerned about the safety of President Barack Obama. I am dismayed to see that not much has changed since I served on the Secret Service detail under President John F. Kennedy in 1961.
At that time, I consistently advised my superiors of the unprofessional and serious misconduct of some of the agents (who) were responsible for the protection of President Kennedy. For the past 50 years, spokesmen on behalf of the Secret Service have consistently denied that this conduct was endemic within the Secret Service.
“I paid a very high price for trying to reveal what I perceived to be practices that compromised the safety of this nation’s chief executive by some of the agents surrounding President Kennedy.
The parallels between the night before the Kennedy assassination in November 1963 and the Colombian incident are indeed startling.
“In my opinion, a few members of the media are attempting to water down the importance of the Colombian breach of security matter by emphasizing the errant conduct occurred before the president arrived in Colombia.
“Minimizing the time of the occurrence of the misconduct and the whereabouts of the president at the time of occurrence tends to create a continuing danger to the well being of our president.”
The protection of the president revolves around a series of imaginary circles or layers. The outer layer is the Protective Research Section in Washington, D.C. This Secret Service section receives possible security threat information from the FBI, Secret Service field office files, military intelligence agencies, National Security Agency and the State Department Protocol.
The next important circle is the Secret Service Advance Team who works in conjunction with one of the liaison presidential aides. This circle, using both ground and satellite intelligence, is responsible for determining the particular details as to the movements, housing, travel routes, and assignments of military and other personnel (foreign or domestic) used for the security of the president.
The next circle seals the president away from the general public. These are your local police forces, fire personnel, constructors of the barricades, ambulance crews, snipers standing on tall buildings, etc. The final circle is composed of the agents that are nearest to the president, i.e., the motorcycle detail, the fore and aft security vehicles, the agents in the follow-up car, etc.
Of all of the circles, the second is the most critical because that is where the final security plans originate. A terrorist or spy infiltrating that circle can circumvent the protective measures of any of the other layers because of the “foreknowledge” of the president’s scheduled movements, his position in the motorcade, his times of arrival and departure. In espionage 101, it is axiomatic that prostitutes plus alcohol equal voluntary plus involuntary information.
No one may ever know the consequence of the Colombia misconduct as it affects the totality of our national security; but one fact is crystal clear, the errant conduct did nothing to enhance the protection of our president and was a major international embarrassment to the image of America. The American people deserve better.
New York attorney and historian Gregory J. Wallace cites a long history of Secret Services “protecting” secret indulgences of presidents and other high officials.
“It should be no surprise these guys (Secret Service) got caught up in the moment of partying with hookers. They have assisted their bosses, the past presidents of the United States, with booty calls since the 1920s,” he said during a phone interview. And he wrote in an article called “Sex and the Secret Service,” that “a Secret Service agent stood guard while President Harding and his mistress slipped into a coat closet in the White House. Secret Service agents escorted FDR to wartime meetings with his former mistress Lucy Mercer Rutherford (her Secret Service code name was Mrs. Johnson) when they began regularly seeing each other 20 years after their affair had ended.”
And Wallace claims author Ronald Kessler’s book, “In the President’s Secret Service,” said agents kept one eye out for Jackie Kennedy while her husband dallied with young women. There were so many comings and goings, the White House seems to have resembled a small bordello, Wallace said. Not for nothing was “Lancer” the Secret Service code name for President Kennedy. Wallace said these actions are recorded in grand jury testimony during the Clinton hearings. Secret Service agents bent the rules for frequent Oval office visitor Monica Lewinsky.
An article in the Presidential Studies Quarterly (March 2002) titled “Sumner Welles FDR’s Global Strategist,” by Benjamin Welles, Sumner Welles’ son, describes how the Secret Service kept quiet homosexual advances Sumner Welles made toward Pullman porter’s while returning to Washington, D.C., in September 1940.
“The president and his entourage had gone to attend the funeral of House Speaker William Bankhead (the father of actress Tallulah). It had been a sweltering day in Alabama, and the presidential party was exhausted. On the return trip, Welles, a hard drinker, sat up in the dining car with his colleagues until 2 a.m. Two hours later, he staggered to his compartment and rang for coffee. A sleepy member of the Pullman staff came by to serve him, at which time he allegedly offered money to the man for what his son terms ‘immoral acts.’
“The porter turned him down but recounted the story to his fellow workers; other porters then answered Welles’ calls and reported ‘indirect’ advances. The news soon reached the dining car manager, the conductor and other officials of the railroad as well as the chief of the president’s Secret Service detail. Again, tight lips prevailed.”
The tight lips shouldn’t be surprising for an agency whose job since the American Civil War has been keeping secrets, said Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a former general counsel for the House Committee on Homeland Security, who is now a partner with a Washington consulting firm Monument Policy Group. ‘”It’s a discreet organization. That’s part of its mission,’ she said. ‘If you are dealing with the Secret Service or any type of intelligence agency, you are going to see the same kind of response.’”
The United States Secret Service Division was created on July 5, 1865, to combat counterfeiting. Later, after the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley its present-day duties also include protecting presidents, vice presidents, presidential candidates and foreign heads of nations visiting the United States, protecting payment (currency, credit cards) and financial systems of the United States.
These include crimes that involve financial institution fraud, computer and telecommunications fraud, false identification documents, access device fraud, advance fee fraud, electronic funds transfers and money laundering.
The 145-year-old federal agency employs 6,800 employees that staff dozens of U.S.-based field offices as well as overseas locations in Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Africa. In 2010, 80 percent of the people who worked at the Secret Service were White, and 10 percent were African American, according to data obtained by the Associated Press.
The remaining 10 percent were of other races. In the agency’s strategic leadership, Whites made up about 75 percent and African Americans 13 percent.
Secret Service recruiter Gordon Kemp was not familiar with former Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden and would not comment on the recent incident in Colombia. However, he did mention that numerous agents in the Secret Service have been recruited from college, universities, and law-enforcement agencies.
“What we are looking for is a pretty specific type of person,” he said. “The ideal recruits are former college athletes, both men and women, because athletes understand teamwork, and in a dangerous situation a coordinated group effort is required to protect the POTUS (President of the United States). You find a lot of Secret Service agents played football. In part, it’s size, but football players understand positions and how to play that position in relation to other players playing other positions.”
When asked about the recruitment of African Americans Kemp responded with “we are a lot farther along than we were years ago.”
Sen. Collins believes Reid’s leadership in the case also shines a light on the paucity of women and minorities within the Secret Service.
“I can’t help but wonder if there’d been more women as part of that detail if this ever would have happened,” Collins said Sunday on ABC weekly news talk show.
According to Rep. Maloney, the agency comprises only 11 percent women. “I can’t help but keep asking this question, where are the women? We probably need to diversify the Secret Service and have more minorities and more women.”
Reid, who is being cast as a hero in some circles, grew up in Maryland, and has served in the White House as well as Miami since joining the Secret Service in 1990. She earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Maryland in 1988 and thought about becoming a lawyer or investigator before attending an NAACP job fair that focused on law enforcement jobs for minorities, said the NNPA article.
A decade ago, she joined a controversial class-action lawsuit alleging that African Americans like her were discriminated against by the agency and given less prominent jobs. (Reid has since withdrawn from the suit, which continues today).
In an interview several years ago, she stood up for the ability of women to serve as bodyguards, saying: “Women would not be remotely considered if we couldn’t do it physically–and we can.”
“The general public is intrigued to see a Black female in my position,” said Reid in an interview with Women for Hire. “They always need to confirm that I really am a special agent. I enjoy being a role model for women and minorities.
As for Andrew Bolden, after his release, he settled into obscurity before setting his harrowing experiences to paper in his autobiography, “The Echo from Dealey Plaza.” Bolden continues his effort to have his record cleared and his story has been told on a variety of forums, including CNN, the Discovery Channel and National Public Radio.