One of the most fiercely debated aspects of the Kennedy case is the conduct and response of the Secret Service Agents responsible for protecting the President on that fateful afternoon in Dallas. Clearly the Kennedy detail failed their mission of safely escorting the Commander-in-Chief through the most hostile stop of his trip to Texas. Questions linger regarding whether or not this failure was due to incompetence, recklessness, inebriation, outright treason, or President Kennedy’s fatalistic attitude towards his own mortality.
The Secret Service Stand Down
Several key Secret Service protocols were violated in Dallas on November 22nd. The speed at which the President’s open-top limousine was cruising the streets of Dallas was dangerously slow and the sharp angle at which the car turned on Houston and Elm was in stark violation of Secret Service protocols. The motorcade cruised past hundreds of open windows during the parade through the streets of Dallas and no effort was made to secure these potential sniper points.
Most egregiously, there were no Secret Service agents riding on the back of the limousine or running to the left and right of the vehicle, leaving the President completely exposed to potential gunfire. Even more shocking, video footage has surfaced showing the Secret Service agents being told to stand down. Note in the clip below how the shocked and incredulous Secret Service agent repeatedly raises his hands in frustration and disbelief as he is clearly ordered not to protect the President.
So in conclusion, the President was riding in an open-top limousine past hundreds of potential sniper nests while making dangerous turns at dangerous speeds with zero protection. In short, the President Kennedy was a sitting duck. The only question that remains is who is responsible for this fatal incompetence?
The “Ivy League Charlatans”
For years, a myth persisted that President Kennedy himself had ordered the stand down. According to this interpretation, the President wanted to appear brave and confident as opposed to cowering in fear behind his protectors. Proponents of this theory have reported that Kennedy told Secret Service Floyd Boring (a long-time agent who had helped successfully thwart an assassination attempt on President Truman) to keep the “Ivy League Charlatans” off the car.
Another related theory is that the President was in fact not allowing the Secret Service to adequately protect him and therefore the Service planned a fake assassination to scare the President into allowing them to do their jobs. According to this theory, the shooter was supposed to purposely miss the President but something either went wrong or the shooter decided to forgo the plan and actually kill the President.
Mortal Errors and Inside Jobs
Of late, a theory that Kennedy was shot by a member of the Secret Service itself has gained popularity, largely due to a YouTube clip of the Zapruder film which focuses on the behavior of Kennedy’s driver Bill Greer. Proponents of this theory claim that Greer turned around, produced a pistol and shot Kennedy in the head. There is however zero evidence to support this claim. The President’s wounds are completely inconsistent with close-range sidearm fire, none of the individuals in the car reported that the gunfire came from within the vehicle and none of the hundreds of bystanders witnessing the assassination have said anything that remotely supports this theory. Neither the Zapruder film or any of the other films and photographs of the assassination corroborates this claim despite what the uploaders of these misleading YouTube videos claim. Additionally, what motive would Bill Greer have to murder the person he was supposed to protect?
Another slightly less preposterous but still unproven claim is that the headshot was actually fired by a Secret Service agent in the follow-up car by mistake. After the shots began ringing out, agent George W. Hickey Jr. retrieved his AR-15 rifle (pictured below) and began to scan the area for the attacker. According to the theory, the acceleration of the vehicle caused him to accidentally fire a shot which struck the President in the back of the head.
This theory was first conceived by ballistics and firearms expert Howard Donahue and was spotlighted in the 1992 book Mortal Error but it was not until the 2013 documentary The Smoking Gun that this controversial theory gained much traction. But like the Bill Greer story , there are no witnesses in or out of the follow-up car that corroborate this theory and no material evidence to support it either. In fact, JFK’s assistant Dave Powers, who was riding in the follow-up car said that it would have been impossible for anyone to fire a shot without him noticing. Additionally, the trajectory of the bullet itself is not consistent with a shot from the follow-up car.
Was the Secret Service Hungover?
Another pervasive and infinitely more believable explanation for the Secret Service’s failure to protect the President is that the performance of the agents was negatively affected by a late night of partying the previous evening. Consuming even one drop of alcohol while on a trip with the President (even during off-duty hours) is strictly prohibited. However, 9 out of the 28 agents on the detail were seen drinking into the wee small hours of the morning the night before the assassination at a local establishment known as “The Cellar”. Many sources purport that there was a generally lackadaisical attitude among agents on the detail and that parties like the one at the Cellar were common. It is reasonable to conceive that had this large contingent of agents had not been hungover and operating on minimal sleep, they may have been able to save the President.
The Chicago and Miami Plot
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Kennedy assassination is that a previous plot against JFK had been thwarted mere weeks before in Chicago, where the President was slated to make an appearance on November 2nd, 1963. Even more eerie is that the details of this plot oddly mirrored the circumstances of Kennedy’s eventual demise in Dallas.
The Secret Service received an anonymous tip that a man named Thomas Arthur Vallee was part of a plot to assassinate the President. Vallee was arrested and Vallee fit the same exact profile of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who would eventually be arrested for the assassination of President Kennedy. Like Oswald, Vallee was a disaffected former Marine and a political extremist. And like Oswald, Vallee had recently take a job at a building which directly overlooked the President’s planned motorcade through Chicago. Vallee was subsequently arrested and found to be in possession of an M-1 rifle, a hand gun and a significant amount of ammunition for the weapons. JFK’s Chicago trip was called off and Vallee was released. Curiously, the Dallas detail was never informed of this incident.
The similarities between Oswald and Vallee have led many to theorize that there were several parallel assassination plots being orchestrated across the country with a particular template. A local disaffected Marine working at a business on the motorcade route would be framed and used as a scapegoat to throw the trail off of the true assassins. Oswald himself claimed to be just such a scapegoat with his famous “I’m just a patsy” statement.
A week after the Chicago trip was cancelled, Miami police informant William Sommersett secretly recorded a conversation with Joseph Milteer, a wealthy militant right-wing activist from Georgia. In the conversation (excerpts below), Milteer states Kennedy will be killed with a high-powered rifle from a nearby office building and that a patsy would be arrested to “throw the public off”. A planned Kennedy motorcade through Miami was cancelled and the President was transported to his destination in Florida via helicopter.
Do the three plots in Chicago, Miami and Dallas represent a pattern? Was there a shadowy conspiracy setting up patsies and assassination plots in various American cities the President was planning to visit? Whether or not the Dallas plot was part of a conspiracy or Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone, it is clear that there were likely other plots already in motion against the President. As Milteer puts it in the Sommersette tape, Kennedy was a “marked man”.
Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden was the first African American to serve on the Presidential detail. Kennedy wanted to send a subtle message that he supported Civil Rights by demonstrating that he trusted a black man to protect his life as much as he trusted a white man. The experience was trying for Bolden, who was reportedly subjected to considerable racism and emotional abuse from his fellow agents. Frustrated with the situation, Bolden transferred to the Chicago office. It was here that he caught wind of the possible threat against the President’s life in Chicago. Bolden was shocked that the Secret Service did not reveal any information to the Warren Commission about the threats against the President’s life in Chicago.
Bolden was publicly disgraced in 1964 when he was accused of soliciting a bribe. He denied the charges and claimed he was being framed for threatening to reveal the truth about the Chicago plot to the Warren Commission. The judge declared the case as a mistrial but Bolden was eventually retried and sentenced to 6 years in prison. The main witness used to convict him, Joseph Spagnoli, later admitted that he had committed perjury in his testimony against Bolden. Was Abraham Bolden framed to coverup the Chicago plot against Kennedy?
Lazy Friday in Dallas
It is said that there was a festive, almost carnival-like mood in the streets of Dallas the afternoon of November 22nd. The trip had gone better than expected and there was no sign of the vitriol that the administration had expected from the rowdy, conservative city. The forecasted rain had failed to appear and the warm sunshine invited the citizens out to meet their President. A detail of tired, overworked and hard-partying Secret Service agents let their guard down for a moment to enjoy a lazy Friday ride through Dallas. Before they snapped back to attention it was too late. Only Clint Hill reacted, running to the back of the limousine but failing to reach the President before the fatal headshot.
Maybe the Secret Service just failed. Maybe it’s just as sad and simple as that.
Whether it was the result of conspiracy, drunkenness, recklessness or just plain incompetence, the Secret Service should clearly shoulder considerable blame for the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The evidence demonstrated that an attack against the President was both inevitable and preventable. Although the Warren Commission and House Select Committee both concluded that the Secret Service failed in their duties that day, no punishment was ever handed out to any agent in the entire organization.