“WITHIN ARM’S LENGTH” by Dan Emmett: A Literary Triumph- The Best Book on the Secret Service ; Available From iUniverse Publications In late January 2012- Book Review by Vince Palamara:
Former Secret Service agent Dan Emmett, author of “Within Arm’s Length”, is to be commended on putting together a refreshing take on a well-worn subject as of late: the United States Secret Service. While many of the books written by former agents are ghost-written, dry, dull, and are often dated, Emmett’s is exciting, never boring, compelling, and employed no co-author or ghost-writer; this work is solely his own. After the recent debacle of best-selling author Ronald Kessler’s dubious tome “In The President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect”, a book that seemingly betrayed the trust of the agents, past and present, that the author took into his confidence, littering the literary landscape with dubious tawdry tales of presidential sex, alleged agency incompetence, or worse, Emmett’s book will be embraced by scholars, the public and, perhaps most important of all, his colleagues.
Someone needed to take up the mantle and do away with all the controversy, poor writing, myopic outlook, and compromising information out there on the Secret Service and write a book the agency would be proud of AND that would also appeal to the lay public, as well. Dan Emmett took up the quest and succeeded admirably. In short, “Within Arm’s Length” is the antidote to Kessler, McCarthy, and all the silly and overwrought books and television specials that violate the agency’s code of being Worthy of Trust and Confidence. If there was a literary Medal of Valor the Secret Service could award Emmett for his book, they should hold the ceremony tomorrow. Emmett’s book truly reads like he had this epiphany: “I have had enough with Kessler, the hero worship, the gossip, the untruths, and all the crap—here is the TRUE story of an agent without the junk… and no compromising information, dammit!” Mission accomplished.
In short, Dan Emmett provides the reader with the nuts and bolts without giving away the game, so to speak.
“Within Arm’s Length” grabs the reader from the very first sentence and doesn’t ever let up. Beginning with a fascinating Preface about an experience he had while protecting Senator Edward Kennedy, Emmett cleverly starts the reader off properly on his journey (and ours), leading to catalysts for his eventual career in the Secret Service such as his upbringing in a good home with a strong work ethic, the powerful and world-changing events of November 22, 1963, and, in that regard, the heroic actions of Secret Service Agent Clint Hill on that terrible day in our Nation’s history. After a brief look at his college years, a very compelling and memorable overview of his career in the United States Marine Corps, which led him to become a proud officer, is powerfully rendered. The reader will already find himself impressed with Emmett’s strength of character and abilities, long before he was an actual Secret Service employee.
Another catalyst, in the form of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981, further cements Emmett’s resolve to satisfy his childhood goal of becoming a bona fide Secret Service agent. Ironically, it was another agency veteran of 11/22/63, Jerry Kivett (interviewed by this reviewer), a colleague of Clint Hill, who gave Emmett his formal start in the Secret Service on 5/16/83 (other long-time agents involved in Emmett’s formative agency beginnings were Grady Askew, a long time veteran of the Atlanta Field Office, and Frank Hancock, another veteran agent who famously guarded the JFK limousine the day after the assassination). Emmett describes his life as a rookie agent in the Charlotte, NC field office, as well as his Secret Service training in firearms, follow-up vehicle maneuvers, and so forth at the James J Rowley Training Center in Beltsville, MD (in another irony, Rowley was the Secret Service Chief at the time of the Kennedy assassination).
After getting a taste of presidential security as a post stander at an Atlanta event for President Reagan in the Fall of 1983, Emmett discovers a desire to become a member of “one of the most elite counter terrorist units in the world”: a United States Counter Assault Team (CAT) agent. While waiting for that dream to be fulfilled, Dan joins the team that guards Senator Edward Kennedy in 1984 and, ultimately (and against his true desires), becomes a member of the New York Field Office in 1986, “a bottomless black hole of despair that knows no limits”, as one fellow agent so aptly depicted it. Dan provides an excellent description of the drive into New York, the World Trade Center complex (made infamous by the cataclysmic events of 9/11/01), and life in this agency outpost, as well. In addition, Emmett ‘s superior description of life as a ‘street agent’ in New York is superb, including a heart-stopping close call he had coming within mere seconds of shooting a young suspect.
The New York Field Office agents, despite their drudgery, were well respected members of the agency who much preferred the investigation side of the Service (counterfeiters, credit card thieves, and check forgers) than the protection side, which was king and the most important aspect the Service is known for, to which they often performed security functions for the President of the United States (POTUS) and the UN General Assembly, with the many foreign heads of state involved with it. While doing an exemplary job there, Emmett still yearned to be a member of CAT, a dream which was ultimately fulfilled in 1989. But, first, CAT school beckoned in 1988.
With regard to CAT, as Emmett so aptly put it, “weapons proficiency was everything.” In this regard, with his superior training in the Marines, Emmett had a leg up and was well suited to this schooling. Interestingly, one of his CAT classmates was future colleague Joe Clancy, the SAIC of the Presidential Protective Division (PPD) for President Obama. Along with his aforementioned Marine Corps background, one becomes very impressed and humbled with Emmett’s training and abilities in CAT.
After a trip back to the NY Field Office in the Spring of 1989, Emmett saw his CAT team dreams realized in August of that same year, protecting President George H.W. Bush (Bush 41). Along the way, Emmett provides an exemplary description of CAT, including its humble beginnings and agency resistance to change. Only someone who has walked in those giant shoes could have so accurately and compellingly portrayed the inner workings of this elite unit and the culture of the Service during that time.
A riveting tale of the CAT team’s protection of President Clinton in Korea in 1993 at the “Bridge of No Return”—involving a close call with North Koreans—is breathlessly portrayed to stunning effect. Once again, we see the appearance of CAT school classmate, command post agent, and “good friend” Joe Clancy in the story. There follows a good description of the merging of CAT and PPD, as well as the training they took together, in addition to CAT missions with Vice President Dan Quayle in Haiti and the Phillippines. Throughout the book, Dan is honest and forthright without ever becoming petty or revealing too much. He keeps the lay reader interested and shows proper respect to his former colleagues by his respectful portrayal.
Chapter 9 is the tale of Dan’s meeting of fellow agent Donnelle in 1988, to whom he married in 1990. It is touching, honest, not overwrought, and to the point. In short, it merely adds to the power of the book. Only a woman who was a fellow agent herself (former deputy sheriff and a 21-year veteran of the Service) could begin to understand the long separations and all that encompassed being a member of the elite CAT/ PPD nexus. One can only continue to admire Dan’s “career choices”!
Chapter 10, “Human Shields and Operant Conditioning”, is another outstanding look at what it takes to become a Secret Service agent and all that it entails. Emmett provides an excellent historical summary of the attempts on Presidents Ford and Reagan; specifically, the valor of agent’s Larry Beundorf and Jerry Parr (events that happened while Emmett was a member of the Marine Corps and no doubt led him further along his Secret Service career dream). The training of the agents truly becomes a muscle memory, as these courageous examples duly depict. Like the other chapters in the book, Dan is careful not to be too long-winded or clinical; he makes his points then he covers and evacuates, to use agency vernacular. Well done.
Emmett was a member of CAT for four years, the last 18 months of which were spent as a section of PPD. It was in the Old Executive Office Building in June of 1993 that Emmett had a meeting with Clinton PPD ASAIC’s Pete Dowling and Tommy Farrell which culminated with Dan becoming a member of the PPD working shift (Dowling, by the way, was one of the agents depicted in and betrayed by Kessler’s book, but this author digresses). It was at W-16, the command post in the West Wing of the White House, where Dan was reunited with former CAT team members Tony Meeks and the aforementioned Joe Clancy (Jim Knodell was the senior agent on the shift, officially known as the shift”whip”).
From here, Emmett convincingly and impressively portrays the push and pull he and the agents had with Clinton’s White House staff, non- agency personnel who typically put protection on the back burner of their collective agendas. Trips to Jordan and Israel with President Clinton are duly noted, as is the chore of covering the media who were tasked with covering the president in their own right and who, like the president’s staff, had THEIR own agendas, as well. As with magnetometer coverage and the need to have a “hospital agent”, the events of 3/30/81 led the agency to invoke the use of (as Emmett describes) the “press agent”, a duty he once nobly fulfilled. What would be a scurrilous or clinical telling in some other author’s book becomes fascinating in Emmett’s.
A terrific section (aren’t they all?) follows describing the “journalistic media”—those that seek to cover the Secret Service, often to ill effect. Dan describes with riveting prose the “irresponsibly detailed documentaries” from Joan Lunden, the History Channel, National Geographic, and the Discovery Channel. His verdict? Guilty…of misrepresenting the agency and potentially doing harm to the working agents and protectees. This reviewer could not agree more. Another section of the book that Director Sullivan, yet another official betrayed by Kessler, would do well to read multiple times before agreeing to get involved in another “tell-all” ‘documentary (or book) again.
There are some light-hearted and funny moments along the way (the book isn’t all guns and glory, you know), and, in that regard, the section on being “relieved” and helping to “secure” the restroom for President Clinton is top notch, indeed. These segments of the book remind us all that, in the final analysis, in spite of their superior training and stamina, these agents ARE merely human like the rest of us. Sometimes the bridge between being and agent and being human (“normal”) is a slippery slope, indeed, so to speak. It is these human interest vignettes that are essential components to making this book so readable, compelling, and fascinating. Otherwise, what could become a great book would digress into a mere training volume. It is truly amazing that Dan is a first time author- he has the skill of a full time, lunch pail novelist or true crime author.
Emmett then regales the reader with the “not-so-exotic foreign travel” that the agents experienced, stating that, with the different shifts, the hours, the jet lag, and the fatigue, “Budapest could have been Cleveland.” With regard to the president’s trips to various foreign lands, Emmett provides a detailed portrayal of yet another heart-stopping moment that occurred in Switzerland that involved the Syrians and their meeting with President Clinton. Dan’s training, skill and resolve are in full expanse here; there is a reason, after all, that Shift Leader Bob Byers picked him to handle this delicate situation.
Dan provides an excellent history of presidential travel, Air Force One, and Marine One, Emmett having experienced his first presidential helicopter and airplane travels in the Summer of 1993 with Clinton. You truly feel like you are there with Dan as he describes what life is like as a working agent on a shift. Dan also ably details the Service’s use of various cargo planes that carried the various limousines and personnel at home and abroad, including the curious habit of agents who brought home various foreign treasures and sundry items. Again, these men were human and had lives away from protecting the leader of the free world.
In a section titled “Running With The President”, Emmett describes just how much fitness and being in shape became a requirement of the agents who protected Clinton, as compared to prior, older presidents who often resorted to golf and other lesser exertions (CAT had to augment PPD). “There was no such thing as an uneventful run with Bill Clinton”, Emmett states, and he would know: he ran with the president a lot in the Winter of 1993 as a CAT agent and then in the Summer of 1993 as a member of PPD. Emmett and the aforementioned Meeks and Clancy, as well as another agent, Roland McCamis, ran with Clinton. This is truly fascinating reading.
Dan makes note of the unofficial collateral duty of the Service: taking blame for things it is not responsible for (i.e. the staff was actually to blame). It is here, and elsewhere, that one truly gets the impression of what a thankless job being a working agent of the Secret Service can become. The line between politics and protection is sometimes a balancing act of dubious scope; Emmett succeeds admirably in his honest depiction of what the agents had to handle.
In another irony, it was former Reagan PPD agent Danny Spriggs, one of the heroes of 3/30/81 that so inspired Emmett, that informed Dan that he would be joining the Transportation Section of the Service, thus having the duty of driving President Clinton. Agent Emmett ended up driving the president scores of times, in the United States and abroad, and has some interesting anecdotes to share, including his very first time driving the president.
After 5 years of constant travel and no true days off, Emmett, as was customary of the vast majority of the working shift agents, began to feel the strain and requested a transfer out of PPD, which became a reality in the Fall of 1994. Emmett then began another interesting and important part of his career in the agency, perhaps most important and far reaching of all, when he joined the Special Agent Training Education Division (SATED), thus being in a position to share his wealth of knowledge and experience and help shape the next generation of special agents, a task he performed with relish and vigor, leading by example, until 2003. All told, Dan spent nine years in training, helping to lead nearly 2000 men and women, many of whom were hired in record numbers as a result of the tragic events of 9/11/01, on to bright careers as agents and leaders of men. In fact, Dan even trained Ben Stafford, the son of former Director Brian Stafford!
After receiving a well-earned promotion (a GS14: ATSAIC in the Division of Training), not very long after, Dan received a reassignment back to PPD as one of two supervisors in charge of CAT. It was in November of 2003 when Emmett reported back to PPD and CAT as an agent protecting his third sitting president, George W Bush. It was Dan’s first day back at PPD, during a meeting with SAIC of PPD Eddie Marinzel, that Emmett was reunited with a veritable who’s who of the best agents in protection- men who started the job with him way back in 1983 (most were, like him, former CAT and PPD shift mates). That said, Dan’s new job was essentially administrative- he was one of two ATSAICs (Assistant to the Special Agent in Charge/ Shift Leader) in the CAT program in charge of 6 of the 12 teams. In essence, Dan was managing, not leading, which he loved to do and had great skill at doing.
Since this newfound position seemed to entail a never-ending series of meetings, Emmett felt the inner voice to retire, which he did, in April 2004, after accepting an offer from the CIA, yet another impressive chapter of his life (which, he says, he will leave for another day). It was on 5/16/04, 21 years to the day that he became an agent, that Dan officially retired during a small ceremony at the Executive Office Building. The reader is left impressed and in awe of Emmett’s illustrious career.
The book ends with an important Epilogue and Afterword, as well as 3 fascinating and useful Appendixes: Myths and Truths about the Secret Service, A Brief History of the Secret Service, and a Glossary of Terms.
In short, “WITHIN ARM’S LENGTH” is, without question, the best book ever written about the Secret Service: current, well-written, classy, very informative, but, most importantly, does not indulge in hero worship of presidents or reveal “inside secrets” or other compromising details. In short, “WITHIN ARM’S LENGTH” makes you feel like you are THERE! Emmett is a great guy with an impressive background who truly represents the valor of the Secret Service. Emmett has given a blueprint for all agents—past, present, and future—to follow and admire. Worthy of Trust & Confidence indeed! Dan Emmett is an example of a great American.”
Vince Palamara, literary Secret Service expert (History Channel, C-SPAN, ARRB Government Report, and quoted in over 60 related books)