The Kennedy assassination legacy for the Secret Service is one of failure. Those charged with protecting the President’s life failed him on November 22, 1963.
In our times, nobody would dream of having a Presidential motorcade with an open top car driving through the streets of any city in the world.
But it happened when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and it still haunts the Secret Service 50 years later.
So why did the Secret Service fail the President?
Many called the President a “sitting duck” while he sat in the slow moving limousine, as it drove through Dealey Plaza surrounded by dozens of high-rise buildings.
The government agency has been charged with protecting US Presidents since 1902 and on November 22, it didn’t do its job.
“The Secret Service every year at this time is reminded that on that day in 1963, the Secret Service failed,” Dan Emmett, who served as an agent between 1983 and 2004, says.
Emmett, who is the author of a memoir about his days at the agency titled Within Arm’s Length, says the agency’s mission is to keep the President alive at all costs and “on that day they didn’t do that. It was somewhat of a painful day.”
The former agent says the world was a different place in 1963 and nobody thought something like that could actually happen.
Many things have changed since President Kennedy was assassinated. President’s Obama limousine resembles a tank rather than a car. It is nicknamed “The Beast.”
Even though detailed specifications about the car are not public knowledge, it is said to carry oxygen supplies and blood matching the President’s blood type, among other sophisticated gadgets.
It also has communications scrambling equipment on board and reinforced tires and wheels, according to Global Post.
Unlike the slow speed at which Kennedy’s limousine was traveling when he was assassinated, Obama never travels at that snail’s pace.
Today, the Secret Service stakes potential motorcade locations in advance and speeds the President through, effectively keeping him from the crowds, but keeping him safe.
Kennedy’s motorcade route was published on Dallas newspapers days ahead of November 22, 1963. That would never happen today, according to Jeffrey Robinson, co-author of the book Standing Next to History.
“As little as possible is left to chance. They really eliminate every single minute risk that they can,” said Robinson, who adds the Secret Service would never tolerate open windows.
The modern history of the Secret Service saw another incident similar to the one in Dallas in 1981, when President Ronald Reagan was shot outside a Washington hotel.
After Kennedy’s assassination, the Secret Service saw record breaking growth and went from 350 agents and a budget of $5.5 million in 1963, to a force of 600 agents and a $17 million budget five years later, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said.
“I certainly wouldn’t criticize what happened 50 years ago as far as how they did things, but what I would say is that the training is more comprehensive now,” Leary said.
“During training and after training, there’s an emphasis on learning from the past.”
Leary notes that despite assassination attempts on President Reagan and President Gerald Ford, the agency has not lost another president since Kennedy.
“There’s a reason for that, because they really learnt from Dallas,” said Vincent Palamara, author of Survivor’s Guilt, which examines the events of November 22, 1963.
Friday marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Texas.