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Monday, May 6, 2013

Noted Law Professor gives negative review to "The Kennedy Detail"

Noted Law Professor gives negative review to "The Kennedy Detail"

Pay No Attention

The Kennedy Detail, the other book I want to discuss, whitewashes

the Secret Service. It attempts to continue the earlier coverup of the

major errors the Secret Service committed. It is defensive in tone

and pretends that the Secret Service did not let down President

Kennedy. It omits or misstates key facts in order to make the

performance of the Secret Service agents look better than it was.

Nastily, the book even suggests that JFK was partially responsible

for his own assassination because allegedly he forbade agents from

standing on the back of the limousine where they might have

shielded him from shooters. (The claim that JFK barred agents from

riding on the back of the limousine is almost certainly false.) The

Kennedy Detail could appropriately have been subtitled Pay No

Attention to the Secret Service’s Major Malfunction.

Perhaps unintentionally, however, The Kennedy Detail sets forth facts which are confirmatory of

the consensus critical of the Secret Service.

• Jerry Behn, the Special Agent in Charge of the White House Detail (and the most senior agent

on the Detail) was on vacation and did not accompany JFK on the trips to Florida or Texas. “He

took his first vacation in four years the week JFK was assassinated.” Oddly, however, Jerry Behn

was in his office in Washington, D.C. when the assassination occurred. “He was supposed to be

on vacation, but he’d come into the office for just a couple of hours.” As the most senior Secret

Service agent on the Detail, Behn usually was at the president’s side whenever Kennedy was

away from the White House, and on trips he occupied the right front seat of the presidential

limousine. (This means, of course, that despite the known threats to JFK’s safety posed by

gunmen, and despite the fact that he was traveling to a dangerous place, JFK was, on his visit to

Dallas, not accompanied by the experienced, supervisory agent who ordinarily was in close

personal attendance when the president appeared in public or traveled. With President Kennedy

in such apparent danger on his trip, Jerry Behn had chosen a most inopportune time to take a


• When the Special Agent in Charge was unavailable, an Assistant Special Agent in Charge

would closely accompany the president on trips and sit in the right front seat of the limousine.

Contrary to usual practice, however, Jerry Behn’s deputy, Floyd Boring, an Assistant Special

Agent in Charge of the White House Detail, was at home on an unusual day off on Nov. 22,

1963. “Agent Floyd Boring was relaxing at home on a rare day off when he got the call [telling

him of the assassination].” (This means that Boring had picked a peculiar time to take the day

off, since he knew about the dangers of the Dallas visit and also knew that Jerry Behn was not

traveling to Dallas. It also means that while on his hazardous visit to Dallas JFK unusually was

not accompanied by either of the experienced agents who usually were in close proximity to him

while traveling.)

• Because of the absence of Behn and Boring, another Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the

White House Detail, Roy H. Kellerman, sat in the right front seat of the limousine as it

motorcaded through Dallas. Kellerman was an experienced agent. (The Dallas visit appears to

have been Kellerman’s first major trip as the supervisory agent.) It was Kellerman who

scandalously remained in his seat and made no effort to get to or shield the president when the

shooting began.

• At the time of the assassination, the White House Detail was in a weakened condition due to

recent resignations and transfers. Nearly one-third of the 34 agents on the White House Detail

assigned to protect JFK, including a number of experienced agents, had recently resigned or been

transferred. “In the past two months alone, eleven of the most experienced agents on the

Kennedy Detail had been replaced. It had been a purely personal choice by the agents–they’d

requested, and had been granted, transfers to field offices… [N]early a third of the agents had

decided they just couldn’t do it any more. Too many missed birthdays and anniversaries, too

many holidays away from home.” (This means that despite several known plots to assassinate the

president, the Secret Service nonetheless was permitting numbers of its experienced agents to

leave the Detail. Shouldn’t it have been obvious under the circumstances that allowing so many

experienced agents to depart was unwise?)

• Perhaps because of the recent departures from the Detail, some of the agents in Dallas were

working their first motorcade.

Ironically, therefore, despite The Kennedy Detail’s efforts to divert blame away from the security

men who dismally failed to prevent the assassination, some of the information in the book tends

to support the consensus that the Secret Service did not do its job on Nov. 22, 1963.

Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., is Professor of Law Emeritus in the UGA School of Law

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