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I dreamed of becoming an elite White House Secret Service officer, a member of its Uniformed Division.
Nothing more—and certainly nothing less.
My dream came true. I stood guard, a pistol at my hip, outside the Oval Office, the last barrier before anyone saw Bill Clinton.
The last barrier before Monica Lewinsky saw Bill Clinton.
Yes, I'm that Secret Service officer.
I saw Monica, and I saw a lot more.
I saw Hillary, too.
I witnessed her obscenity-laced tirades, her shifting of blame, how she berated Vince Foster until he could stand no more, how minor incidents involving blue gloves and botched invitations sent her into a tizzy. It was like watching Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny obsessing about a quart of missing strawberries—and losing sight of the world war raging about him. I saw Hillary scheming with Dick Morris to undermine White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta. FBI agents confided in me about her emerging Filegate scandal; they were just as frustrated with Hillary's methods as we were.
Life at the Clinton White House careened from crisis (manufactured or not) to even greater crisis, the participants often unable to catch their breath and certainly incapable of learning from them. The Clinton White House atmosphere alternated from hilarity to bitter anger, lurching from nerves-on-end tension to sheer boredom, its most important residents painfully trapped between illusion and reality.
When I joined the Secret Service, I knew my body would be put to the test, that my knees would buckle from rigorous training, and I hoped that the extent of my ethical choices would be "Body armor or no body armor?" (Those damn vests weighed down my gun belt and me.) We were supposed to lay our lives—not our consciences—on the line.
But at the Clinton White House, I soon recognized a disturbing and pervasive crisis of character. Boots on the ground, the men and women at the lowest part of the totem pole—those who faced death head-on—were measured by the highest of ethical requirements. Those at the very pinnacles of power held themselves to the very lowest standards—or to none whatsoever.
I saw how the Clinton Machine's appalling leadership style endangered law enforcement officers, the military, and the American people in general. And with Hillary Clinton's latest rise, I realize that her own leadership style—volcanic, impulsive, enabled by sycophants, and disdainful of the rules set for everyone else—hasn't changed a bit.
What I saw in the 1990s sickened me. I departed first to other White House duties (which didn't take me far enough away) and then to the Federal Air Marshal Service, still working to protect those who can't protect themselves.
Over a twenty-nine-year career serving my country in the military and in federal law enforcement, I've encountered both heroes and villains. I've observed human character at its greatest heights and lowest depths. In any organization, character is defined at the top; it percolates down to the top executives of an organization, to the middle managers, and to the grunts at the front lines. Hillary Clinton is now poised to become the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, but she simply lacks the integrity and temperament to serve in the office. From the bottom of my soul I know this to be true.
So I must speak out.
Though portrayed as the long-suffering spouse of an unfaithful husband, whose infidelities I personally observed or knew to be true, the Hillary Clinton I saw was anything but a sympathetic victim. Those loyal to her kept coming back for her volcanic eruptions.
I witnessed firsthand the Clintons' personal and professional dysfunction: So consumed were they by scandal, so intent on destroying their real or imagined enemies, that governing became an afterthought. The First Couple wasted days obsessing over how to "kill" a forthcoming book (one alleging that Bill Clinton's mother ran a brothel) or in squashing yet another tabloid revelation. Their machinations and their constant damage control diverted them from the nation's real business. Good people like Leon Panetta, Betty Currie, and Evelyn Lieberman had to pick up the slack and bear it for as long as they could.
I have not written a word of this book with a political agenda. Whether the Clintons were Democrats or Republicans, I saw what I saw; I heard what I heard.
Politics do not change unpleasant truths.
Politicians only think they do.
I now close nearly three decades of military and law enforcement service, protecting the citizens of a country I love. My sense of service compels me to share with you the real-world, often harrowing experiences that career law enforcement professionals face every day. At the same time, I'm revealing the unvarnished true story of the Clintons, the real damage they inflicted via the presidency and, in my view, the threat they again pose to the future of our nation.
During the Clinton administration, I swore myself to secrecy but not because government lawyers demanded it (though they later did). I kept silent not just because my superiors insisted on it. My own conscience also demanded it. Duty required it. But it was hard. Sometimes I'd trudge home to my wife, Genny, and just hug her without explanation.
"What's going on?" she'd ask.
I'd say, "I'm so glad we aren't like those people." I didn't want to live in their crazy world.
I had no animosity toward the Clintons. Out of a sense of loyalty to our First Family I even secretly disposed of sordid physical evidence that might later have been used to convict the president. The blue dress wasn't the only evidence of his misdeeds. But I could not keep from asking myself how our nation's leaders could be so reckless, so volatile, and so dangerous to themselves and to our nation.
And yes, to me and my family.
Only under federal subpoena—and later a ruling by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist—did I reveal to Ken Starr's prosecutors the true story of President Bill Clinton's false testimony and misstatements.
I've retired now from public service, from safeguarding the Bush and Clinton families as well as from protecting passengers at the Federal Air Marshal Service.
Maybe I haven't seen it all, but I've seen enough.
I want you to hear my story. It's about the men and women risking their lives to protect this nation. And more important, it's about how the Clintons must never again be allowed to put them—or you and your children—at risk.
—Gary J. Byrne
Nobody knew everything that was going on at the Clinton White House.
Not even President Clinton's press guru, George Stephanopoulos. He wasn't there at night, and some of the best (or worst) moments happened after hours. People like George didn't hear and see what we did around the Executive Mansion, so my guess is they didn't know how Hillary battled her husband in the West Wing.
One morning in late summer 1995, I entered the White House to assume my post just outside the Oval Office—officially Secret Service Post E-6.
Things were stirring, and I wanted to know why.
Everyone on post that night, Secret Service agents (SAs), Secret Service Uniformed Division (UD) officers like myself, the housemen, and the ushers couldn't help but hear the First Couple arguing as sounds from their fracases traveled through the old building. Mrs. Clinton had a booming voice, and their yelling matches easily traversed the living quarters' private elevator, vents, and staircase. Many housemen eased away, but the SAs and UD couldn't leave their posts. This was especially a big argument that ended with a crash. SAs were obligated to respond and found its cause, a vase on the other side of the room. A houseman picked up the damage. The First Couple couldn't just sweep up and toss out the remains because everything in the White House is logged and recorded, befitting its role as a national landmark and a veritable museum.
I peeked into the curator's small, windowless ground-floor office across from the China Room and the Diplomatic Reception Room. It was cluttered with blueprints and history books on the every detail of the White House: fabrics, furniture, artifacts. Sure enough, there was a box containing a light blue vase smashed to bits. The rumors were true!
"Can I help you?"
The White House's official curator looked up from what she was reading, clearly annoyed and already tired of people checking out the box. "Can I help you, Officer?" she said again.
"No thanks," I said.
The president entered around nine. His arrival times fluctuated. I couldn't believe my eyes: a black eye! I was well accustomed to his allergy-prone, puffy eyes. But this was a shiner, a real, live, put-a-steak-on-it black eye. I was shocked. Minutes later, I popped into the office of Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary. Nancy Hernreich, his personal scheduler, was already there.
"What's the black mark on the president's face?" I asked.
I felt real tension.
"Oh, uh, he's allergic to coffee," said Nancy, turning toward her office.
"An allergy to coffee shows in just one eye?"
Betty smiled. She burrowed down into her work, chuckling, but looking busy. As I departed, I added, "I'm also allergic to the back of someone's hand."
I wanted to send a message. We knew what the mark was from, and it wasn't right. Surely the Clintons must realize how close we are to them, I thought, how deeply we feel about our responsibilities for their safety. Didn't they feel the same? It wasn't just that we protected them 24/7, but we were extremely loyal. We didn't do our job for the paychecks. Each man and woman protecting them had their reasons, but the Clintons were the focal point of every reason. What might happen if she had sucker-punched him? Or if that vase had hit its target? If his head hit a countertop corner, my entire life's work would have been for nothing.
Sure, seeing a president's black eye is strange but standing at my post I couldn't escape the sinking feeling that this didn't make sense. This wasn't how it was supposed to be. I loved my job and I believed in it, but I couldn't make sense of any of it.
It was a circus. Yet I never lost a sense of wonder and excitement. Even when the First Lady hollered and cursed and demanded firing thousands of people who protected her—and we spent more hours ensuring the Clintons' protection than we spent with our own families—I loved every minute of most every day. Law enforcement—protecting others—is my passion. Protecting a president is an incredible honor. How, I kept asking myself, did a kid from Ridley, Pennsylvania, ever get to the White House? I wanted to stay for the rest of my life.
Reality destroyed my dream—in ways I never imagined.
THE AIR FORCE SECURITY POLICE
I'm from Delco, a.k.a. Delaware County, Pennsylvania, born of Irish and Lebanese ancestry, but American through and through. O'Byrne even became Byrne so as to not sound too Irish. The concept of "America first" is in my blood.
My ancestors traveled here for a better life and succeeded in no small part thanks to my father's ability to shake off the bad times and be the strongest survivor of them all. He was a great soul. He aimed to do right and act morally, to have his children live better than he did. That's my idea of the American dream.
My father served as an Air Force mechanic in Japan during Korea. He could fix a rock if it was broken. My brother John was born in 1956, then Lynn, then lil' Gary, and finally Anita. Those were the days! We played, teased, biked, fought, and ran up and down the neighborhood with the rest of the kids playing sports in the streets—never indoors. If you were indoors, you were interrupting Mom, being antisocial, or just plain up to no good. Outside, a whole neighborhood of families looked after each another.
Following the post-Vietnam reduction of forces, we set out for Newport News, Virginia, where the Navy was creating a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. My father received a fully paid education in nuclear engineering.
The South was a big change for us, yet in typically southern fashion the neighborhood was welcoming and full of all-round good people.
My siblings and I feared that if we did wrong, we'd send a message that we took my parents for granted. When I repeated first grade, I felt as if I was letting my parents down. Most people, my father included, thought I was lazy, though I worked hard at sports and in the garage. In seventh grade I was diagnosed with significant attention deficit disorder and dyslexia. For me, sports were a no-brainer, but academics were a lost cause. Still, my parents set an example of hard work and decent behavior that never left me. A hotshot life never impressed them. They never let anyone look down their noses at us.
There's something more important, though, than academics or sports. Character is everything. Down the street from us lived an airman. Whenever he came home, his wife and kids ran to him. Confidence, purpose, and respect emanated from his blue uniform.
When high school ended my friends marched off to college, but I knew higher education wasn't my move. I signed with the Air Force, hoping to see the world and feed my adventurous spirit with girls, guns, and things that go BOOM! I was full of piss and vinegar.
I thought I was immortal.
The Air Force recruiter's questions got to me. I deeply hated terrorism—it boiled my blood. Air Force Security Police (AFSP) seemed the right fit; I hadn't been west of Pittsburgh. I wanted to protect others and see the world. If America was going to prioritize air superiority, our airpower needed superior security.
In January 1982 I enlisted for less than $12,000 a year, but I was itching to go. A decade earlier Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces had targeted America's air supremacy via brazen sapper missions, assassinations, and bombings. Terrorists kidnapped NATO general James Dozier, torturing him for weeks before Italian SWAT teams rescued him. The Munich Olympic massacre in 1972 proved it was best to stop an attack rather than react to it.
I had an awful habit of laughing and smiling under pressure. When conflict arises, it's healthy to keep a level head and a light mood, but not during training at Lackland Air Force Base: You get smoked. Laughing equals pain.
Air Force basic training wasn't like the Army's or the other branches. Our style was sit-ups, push-ups, and calisthenics so rigorous we couldn't stand it. We learned that a respect for the chain of command builds confidence. It creates a cohesive unit, like a marriage. That's what Basic was designed to do. How much it sucked depended on how fast a person adjusted.
I adjusted quickly but called my parents every chance I could. I didn't mind the physicality or the stress, but the homesickness was awful. I never imagined what loneliness and isolation from my family would bring. My parents sensed it. Every recruit suffers a devastating epiphany: Enlist to fight for the freedom of others and you forfeit your own. You feel a strange guilt, a mourning for your former self.
My father, in his usual blunt style, shaped me up: "Gary, you wanted this, and I told you it was going to be like this."
He was right. I needed to take his advice to "rub some dirt on it" and move on.
Our technical instructors (TIs—the Air Force's version of drill instructors) explained that even as untested "slick-sleeve" airmen, we were all leaders. When leaders did their duty, the potential for pain was less. I absorbed the lesson into my soul. If I didn't ensure my weapon was clear of any rounds or if I neglected its proper handling, a good guy could eat a bullet. Hence the military wisdom: There's nothing friendly about friendly fire. If rigging wasn't rigged correctly, it failed and people died. If we didn't eat correctly, people died. Didn't drink correctly—people died. Didn't wear our uniform correctly—people died. That was the military mentality: Don't make your bed correctly, and pain ensues. Why? Because! If you thought any duty could be shirked, you didn't see the big or even the little picture, and people were going to die.
It wasn't our job to understand the big picture. We weren't drafted; we chose this. When my TI showed us videos of planes falling off aircraft carriers and giant buck-ups that took lives, I absorbed the truth. In this life, small actions had severe consequences. A lightbulb flickered on inside me; the TI sounded word-for-word like my father.
I always reminded myself of my oath:
I, Gary J. Byrne, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
The Air Force's act-first mentality turned me on. You couldn't go wrong as long as you acted. Do nothing, and you were f—ed. No matter the question, the answer was act, take initiative! If under fire, the answer was to take cover or fire back, but never hesitate or stand still. We were always encouraged to do first, ask questions later.
But before and afterward, asking questions and thinking were the name of the game. This was a fighting man's game. A good fighting man is a thinking man, but when he faces conflict, training kicks in and thinking comes second. Everyone who has experienced violence personally knows the military truism, "No plan survives contact with the enemy." Conviction and character do.
Education was very different in the military, and I responded to it like a sponge. Many of my grade and high school teachers were gems who really tried to help me, but I never grasped what schoolroom education could lead to. Military teaching wasn't just about lecturing and grading; it was about ensuring lessons were learned. Success was defined not by letter grades but by results: Mess up and someone dies.
I learned that I had incredible muscle memory, spatial orientation, and hand-eye coordination. While most people's IQs nosedive during fight-or-flight scenarios, I kept my cool. My fingers never got fudgy under pressure; I kept both my gross and fine motor skills, never got tunnel vision, or lost situational awareness. I couldn't do calculus, but thankfully I wasn't calling in air strikes. My new mission was to enforce the law and protect myself doing it via a variety of weapons, the most important my brain.
Following Basic and Technical School, I eagerly awaited my first deployment to Murtad Air Base, just outside Ankara, Turkey. Our mission included securing our equipment from the host country. Murtad was a nuclear-capable base. During the Cold War, America had placed nukes in Turkey as a first-strike capability against Russia. Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy withdrew them as part of a joint deescalation. Arriving at Murtad, I learned that AFSP there had caught rogue Turkish officers trying to push an American F-104 Starfighter with a loaded nuke onto the flight line so they could steal a nuke and bomb Greece. Many Turks bitter about the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–22 wanted a flash point to ignite a new war. I believe this was secretly why JFK took the nukes out of Turkey in 1962. Turks simply hate Greeks. We joked to each other, "Hey, if you're not careful, I'll tell the Turks you're Greek!"
In central Turkey I expected a scene from Lawrence of Arabia with large open desert, but it was moonlike. I often thought of Neil Armstrong's "One small step for man…" Terrain featured sharp mountain ranges dotted with shrunken trees. The heat was unbearable. Turkey felt particularly eerie on several bus rides with the mountains literally on fire in the distance. The Turks were just clearing brush after their harvest, but it looked like a vision of hell.
Turks lived up to my expectations as hardened warriors, but I hated their methods. Often I was ordered, "Officer, stand down!" as Turkish superior officers brutally pummeled and beat subordinates. My anxiousness for action paled beside their desire for full-blown war.
International tensions escalated when in September 1983 a Russian fighter mistook a commercial plane for a U.S. AWACS probing Russian airspace. When the Soviet Su-15 interceptor intentionally downed Korean Air Lines flight 007, killing the 269 souls on board, we scrambled into high alert.
We once received "don't drink the water" orders. Supposedly someone put arsenic in our water. I was glad someone in the military checked these things. Every bit of protocol is built on trial and error. We showered with well water for a while but that seemed dicey. We got all our fluids from bottled Diet Coke—the only safe drink.
In my thirteen months in Turkey, I grasped we were allies only because we shared a common enemy. Allies are not friends, nor are they ever to be trusted farther than can be verified. From the Turks I learned to take nothing for granted in terms of security; the enemy could just as well be within our gates as on the horizon.
Next stop: Langley, Virginia, and the Elite Gate Section. Military bases are like cities complete with every aspect of urban crime, such as bank robberies, shady characters, sexual assaults, DUIs, prostitution, drugs, smuggling, contraband, trafficking, career criminals, disgruntled troublemakers, murder, suicide, and so much more. But military crime was "camouflaged." Military style, hierarchy, and outright ego entered every aspect of life, especially crime and corruption. Beyond that, we had an occasional spy, aircraft collision, crash, mechanical failure; we guarded President Ronald Reagan's Air Force One when it touched down, experienced international incidents, and identified potential flash points. I saw NASA aircraft fly into lightning storms to test how new aircraft handled extreme natural occurrences. Those pilots had balls of steel—or whatever else is nonconductive.
As police we took arrests very seriously. They were dangerous. An arrest can destroy a person's constitutional rights. So I knew I'd better have a good reason every time. We worried about being overly cautious and ruining a life unnecessarily, but we also worried that playing it cool could ruin an innocent life. It was a thin line, and we did our best to read people.
Many career criminals have the ability to cry on demand. Some are convincing, some are pathetic, but no cop can predict the future. Most of the time we were dealing with an honestly good person merely reaching for his wallet, but other times… There was wide room for discretion. We were human, too. We did our best to keep our own character in check while reading someone else's, balancing constitutional freedoms with the sanctity of life.
The first time I got physical on the job followed a base bank robbery—yes, on a military base! We shut down every exit. Some guy freaked out about traffic exited his car and threatened me. I went with my gut, put my gun back in my booth, and punched him right in the chest, knocking him to the ground. I was racked with doubt. Had I used enough force? Or too little? Oh, shit, I thought, I'm in for it now. But a written commendation backed my play. It meant the world that my superiors trusted my instincts and discretion. Cops fight two battles: the actual one and one against a desk jockey's second-guessing—no one likes the latter. Second-guessing someone else's split-second decisions in hindsight is coward's work.
During this time of "peace," Russian bombers and U.S. bombers routinely patrolled each other's coasts fully loaded with nuclear ordnance. Each side border-checked the other by dispatching fighters to keep the bomber in international airspace. Military police monitored runways to ensure they were clear for the fighters to border-check the Russian bombers as they flew by.
On May 30, 1983, while I served at Langley, President Reagan convened an economic summit at nearby Williamsburg, Virginia, meeting with such world leaders as Britain's Margaret Thatcher, West Germany's Helmut Kohl, and France's François Mitterrand. It was my first chance to see the Secret Service in action, and it was a great thrill. The Klaxon sirens blared, the threat alarms signaling everyone to get the fighters in the air.
But today something was different. The aircrews and pilots were spooked. We turned up our radios.
"Russian bombers five miles off the coast!"
At the same time Reagan's economic summit remained too close for comfort at Williamsburg.
Our fighters took off, full afterburners pushing them so hard and fast that my buddy Levi was catapulted off the ground and trapped in an irrigation ditch next to the taxiway. Jets took off like rockets. We anxiously awaited their safe return but also wanted word that the Russian bombers had been checked and that we were all safe. We held our breath and asked: Was this war?
We cheered our jets' return. Our pilots uncorked their helmets and climbed down.
"Holy shit, the freaking gun port is open and it's all charred. He fired his cannons!" someone said.
"No, I didn't! You didn't see shit!" the frazzled pilot shouted.
I knew better. I knew when a silver hull had its gun port closed and clear and when it returned open and covered in scorched soot.
"He's fired a missile!" I said, noticing that this returning fighter had only three of the four he had departed with. Yes, a U.S. Air Force pilot had launched a missile directly at a Soviet bomber—an act that could have triggered World War III!
"No, it didn't! I took off that way," the airman retorted as he climbed down the ladder.
"Yeah, sure," I mumbled nervously. "Why take four air-to-airs when you can take three?"
- On Sale
- Jun 28, 2016
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Center Street