Power Players

The Kennedy legacy for the Secret Service 50 years later: ‘We failed’

ABC News Videos

The Kennedy Legacy For the Secret Service 50 Years Later: 'We Failed'

The Kennedy Legacy For the Secret Service 50 Years Later: 'We Failed'

The Kennedy Legacy For the Secret Service 50 Years Later: 'We Failed'

Now watching

Next video starts in : 7 Play

The Kennedy Legacy For the Secret Service 50 Years Later: 'We Failed'

The Kennedy Legacy For the Secret Service 50 Years Later: 'We Failed'
Replay video
Up next

AP Top Stories April 18 P

AP Top Stories April 18 P Up next

AP Top Stories April 18 P

Power Players

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy still haunts the U.S. Secret Service 50 years on.

“Quite obviously, we failed,” Secret Service deputy director A.T. Smith told “Power Players” during an exclusive interview this week inside the agency’s headquarters, located a few blocks from the White House.

“At the time, it seemed like we had done all that we could do. But in the end, we didn't do enough because we did lose a president, and that is not what coincides with our protective mission,” Smith said.

While the agency has had a near-perfect record of presidential protection since 1963, Smith said the Kennedy anniversary remains a “significant,” if uncomfortable, moment for reflection every year.

Since Kennedy’s time, the Secret Service has undergone dramatic changes, some prompted by the Warren Commission Report, others by Congress. The agency has added countersniper units, intelligence analysts, assault teams and a technical security division to address threats from explosive devices.

Its budget has grown from a few million dollars in 1963 to more than a billion last year. Its ranks have swelled to more than 7,000 agents and staff.

While the threat from snipers and gunmen remains very real, Smith said today that chemical and biological weapons and improvised explosive devices were the “primary focus” of Secret Service efforts to prevent a plot against the president.

“Chemical attacks or anthrax, things that we saw somewhat in the wake of post 9/11, because those are the kinds of things where just a very small amount of a substance introduced into a place can cause great harm,” Smith said. “Also explosives, not only massive type explosives we see in other parts of the world but certainly IEDs, the improvised devices.”

Still, Smith acknowledged, there are times when the president is still vulnerable to attack. Since Kennedy’s death, there have five direct assaults on a president, according to the Congressional Research Service. All failed.

“No matter how hard we try to keep the president or the vice president under constant cover or in that limousine, there's going to also be times when he's outside and he's exposed to the general public,” he said. “We try our very best … to make sure we’ve done everything we can to prevent an incident.”

That effort includes taking every potential threat seriously, even those that may appear to be more humorous than threatening, Smith said.

“Maybe, maybe someone's in a bar, and they've had too much to drink and they don't necessarily agree with one of our protectees politically and they'll make statements that the next morning when they're sober they wish they had not said,” he said. “They’re there with Secret Service agents talking to them the next day, and we’re very serious.”

To find out more about how the Secret Service protects the president, and to see some of the assassination-related artifacts kept in the Secret Service’s exclusive museum, check out this episode of “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Alexandra Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Tom D’Annibale and Gary Rosenberg contributed to this episode.

View Comments (388)

Recommended for You

  • Thousands in Germany protest against Europe-U.S. trade deal

    By Noah Barkin BERLIN (Reuters) - Thousands of people marched in Berlin, Munich and other German cities on Saturday in protest against a planned free trade deal between Europe and the United States that they fear will erode food, labor and environmental standards. Opposition to the Transatlantic…

    Reuters
  • Diplomacy out, blunt talk in as Obama gets tough on GOP

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Diplomacy is out, blunt talk is in as President Barack Obama and his White House team single out Republican lawmakers by name for criticism over their words and actions on Iran, Cabinet nominations and climate change.

    Associated Press
  • Babysitter Calls 911 to Say He’s Watching Abducted Child

    The toddler had allegedly been kidnapped by the boy’s paternal grandmother and the girlfriend of the boy’s father, police in Washington state told ABC News. The girlfriend asked her brother John Truong to watch the 2-year old, and Truong was the one to call police once he realized who he had in his…

    ABC News
  • One man's last wish, 'Don't vote for Hillary Clinton.' Will it matter?

    Larry Darrell Upright died this week. "In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to Shriners Hospital for Children .... Also, the family respectfully asks that you do not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. We promise not to vote for Hillary," one mourner wrote. A CNN poll released Monday shows that…

    Christian Science Monitor
  • Shooting that wounded baby no longer considered road rage

    SEATTLE (AP) — A 1-year-old girl was shot in the head and critically wounded as she sat in a car with her parents in suburban Seattle.

    Associated Press
  • Fish found in suspected tsunami debris boat quarantined

    PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The wreckage of a fishing boat that appears to be debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami was carrying some unexpected passengers — fish from Japanese waters — when it was spotted off the Oregon coast.

    Associated Press
  • Play

    Missing Woman's Husband Admits to Police Wife Is Dead

    Act 4: Michael Wilkie tells a detective that Shelby Wilkie killed herself and that he cremated her.

    ABC News Videos
  • NHL's Jarret Stoll arrested for cocaine, MDMA possession

    (Reuters) - Los Angeles Kings player Jarret Stoll was arrested on Friday at a Las Vegas resort pool for carrying cocaine and the party drug MDMA, also known as "Molly," officials said. The Canadian-born Stoll was taken into custody around 4:30 p.m. local time at the MGM Grand Hotel's Wet Republic…

    Reuters
  • US military option 'old habit that dies hard': Iran FM

    Iran's foreign minister dismissed Saturday the threat of a US military strike against Tehran's nuclear sites, describing such warnings as an "old habit that dies hard" given ongoing diplomacy. Mohammad Javad Zarif, who leads the Iranian side in talks with six world powers that aim to end the…

    AFP
  • Mugabe 'shocked, disgusted' by South African anti-immigrant violence

    By MacDonald Dzirutwe HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Saturday expressed shock and disgust at attacks on immigrants in neighboring South Africa and said his government was working to bring back home affected Zimbabwean citizens. At least four people have been killed in a…

    Reuters
  • Maple syrup emerges as potential hero in antibiotic resistance crisis

    When it's been concentrated, an extract of maple syrup weakens harmful bacteria, reducing their resistance to antibiotics, according to a new study at McGill University in Canada. Making microbes more susceptible to being overcome by antibiotics could cut down on the amount that's necessary to…

    AFP Relax News
  • Play

    2 teenage boys shot in Bedford-Stuyvesant, 1 dead

    Police say a 16-year-old was shot dead and a 13-year-old was wounded in a burst of gunfire at a Brooklyn housing complex.

    WABC – NY
  • In Aaron Hernandez murder case, question lingers: Why?

    FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — Aaron Hernandez had it all.

    Associated Press
  • Sunken aircraft carrier rediscovered off California coast

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Scientists have rediscovered a mostly intact World War II aircraft carrier used in atomic bomb tests and then sunk at a secret location off the Northern California coast decades ago.

    Associated Press
  • Americans Are Changing Their Minds About Pot Legalization

    A new Pew Research Center poll has found that 53 percent of Americans believe marijuana use should be legalized. Twenty-one percent of Americans surveyed by Pew have changed their minds about marijuana and no longer oppose legalization. Meanwhile, a new poll from Bloomberg Politics shows that 58…

    Takepart.com
  • Why Apple just bought 36,000 acres of forest land

    Together with The Conservation Fund, Apple on Thursday announced its plan to acquire upwards of 36,000 acres of forest land in the eastern United States, in Maine and North Carolina to be precise. The purpose behind the purchase is that so Apple can exert even further control over its paper supply…

    BGR News
  • Kiev lists Russian military units allegedly in Ukraine

    Ukraine's army chief of staff on Saturday listed for the first time some of the specific Russian military units alleged to be fighting against Kiev alongside pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. "Regular Russian army troops are still in Ukraine" despite a ceasefire agreement signed in…

    AFP