Misconduct by several U.S. Secret Service agents who were caught partying with Columbian prostitutes prior to President Obama’s March 2011 visit to that country is nothing new, says a former agent. It’s happened before, and he fears it will happen again.
“I witnessed some of the same behavior back in 1961,” recalls Abraham Bolden, the first Black to be assigned to the White House Secret Service detail, about the “advance team” of agents who are sent ahead of the president’s arrival.
“They were bringingprostitutes into the room and doing a lot of heavy drinking. I witnessed this myself. That was one of the reasons I asked to be relieved from the presidential detail.”
Bolden last week spoke exclusively to the MSR by phone from his home in Chicago. “It would be my suspicion right now that the president’s life is still in danger,” he admits. “I’ve received emails from seven or eight persons who were there with the Secret Service in their town. They [are] still doing the same things that I complained about back in 1960.”
Bolden entered law enforcement after graduating from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri in 1956 with a degree in music composition. “I always had been interested in police work,” he says. He became the first Black detective hired by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and later joined the Illinois State Police.
He became a Secret Service agent in 1960 under President Eisenhower. During a visit to Chicago in April 1961, Bolden met President John Kennedy. “They stationed me outside a washroom…far away from the banquet room where the president would be speaking,” he recalls.
“All of a sudden I was looking up and here comes President Kennedy coming down the steps, and he wanted to use the washroom. The president walks up to me…and asks me was I a Chicago policeman or a Secret Service agent. I told him that I was a Secret Service agent. The president [asked], ‘Mr. Bolden, has there ever been a Negro on the White House detail of the Secret Service?’ I said not to my knowledge.
“The president then looked me square in the eye and said, ‘Would you want to be the first?” Bolden joined the president’s detail in June 1961. He says President Kennedy once introduced him as “the Jackie Robinson of the Secret Service.”
“That touched me in two ways. It showed me that the president knew what I was facing — he understood what I had to go through. He was looking for me to be a credit rather than a debit to his administration. He wanted me to follow the same road that Jackie Robinson followed — to break the ice without any violence or any hesitancy to do your job. And that what I did.”
However, Bolden says he soon became disenchanted with his assignment. “Being the first African American on the White House detail, I expected some racism coming from the crowd, [but] I received a very minimum of that. Most of the racism [came] from the agents within the Secret Service.
“A few of them were very vigorous in their anti-Negro attitude. Some of the agents resented my presence simply because of my race.”
The worst came when the president visited his Massachusetts vacation home during the Fourth of July holiday of 1963, Bolden remembers. His White supervisor “was from Mississippi, and he didn’t like African Americans… He would say some very uncomplimentary things around me.”
In front of another agent, the supervisor told him, “‘I want to tell you one thing and you should never forget it: You’re a ni**er; you were born a ni**er, you’re going to die a ni**er, and will never be anything else but a ni**er.’ He did that because of jealousy — he saw the president introduce me to his brother Bobby Kennedy, his father Joe Kennedy, and some of the family members. He really took offense of that and made mention that he thought President Kennedy was a ‘ni**er lover.’”
Soon after, he was reassigned back to Chicago and was working on a counterfeit check case on November 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was shot. “There were organized organizations out to kill the president,” Bolden explains. “I also knew that some of the members of the Secret Service were not fit to be near the president and give the proper protection that he would need.”
Prior to the assassination he had reported to his supervisors what he considered “the lax overconfidence” by the security detail, “and I feared for the president’s life,” he says. “There were some who really hated him on the integration issue. I brought all of this to the attention of the chief of the Secret Service, and I was transferred back to Chicago.
“I knew that it would be a grave situation for the president — he would be open and the agents would not react because they probably were out drinking the night before, and as a result my worst nightmare came to reality.
“We all failed the president. I didn’t blame the agents who were around him, but I did blame the Secret Service [agents] that were sent ahead of the president to provide security. Our only duty in Dallas, Texas was to make sure that the president was safe. It was their duty and obligation to the American people to make sure that this tragedy not happen.”
Bolden fully believes that the Secret Service didn’t do its job for Kennedy nearly 50 years ago, and he doesn’t have any more confidence in those providing security for President Barack Obama today.
“When it comes to protecting the president, many of the agents who were guarding the president had lost focus of the real perspective of what the Secret Service was there for. The Secret Service was there to protect the presidency of the United States, no matter who that person might be, and no matter whether they agreed with his domestic policies and foreign policies.
“Once you lose focus of that and let your emotions, beliefs and opinions come to the fore, you lose that critical step needed to carry out your responsibility. When shots are fired, seconds count. If there is any hesitancy whatsoever in your attitude toward the individual that you are protecting, then you are going to lose that critical step and become confused at what you should or should not do, because you are not thinking rationally.
“I think it is absolutely horrendous in the way our president has been treated,” Bolden asserts. “I really believe that President Barack Obama was divinely appointed to turn this country around. He has a hard time before him, because he is trying to satisfy so many different contingents of people, and they are making it difficult for him.”
Becoming a Secret Service agent “really changed my life in more ways than one,” says Bolden. Next week he talks about how profoundly it affected his post-Secret Service years.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokes man-recorder.com.