Chatter: Secret Service Dilemmas and Training with Jon Wackrow

David Priess, Jonathon Wackrow
Thursday, June 30, 2022, 12:00 PM

In this episode of Chatter, David Priess sat down with Jonathan Wackrow to discuss his time as a US Secret Service special agent and how Secret Service experiences can help other institutions during an era of rising political violence.

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Working for the Secret Service comes with inherent dilemmas. One of them can arise if agents become partisan actors or allow themselves to even be perceived as such. We heard another one described in shocking terms during this week's testimony before the Jan. 6 committee: A protectee and the agents protecting him or her can disagree with the protectee about the latter's presence in a threatening situation or movement toward it.

It turns out a whole lot of training prepares agents for these contingencies--as well as more predictable ones like how to respond instantaneously to myriad threats. Many lessons emerge from the study of past service failures, up to and including presidential assassinations and attempts. And some others can shed light elsewhere, such as on personal security and safety of institutions from schools to churches.

Jonathan Wackrow knows about it all better than most. Before becoming COO and Global Head of Security for Teneo Risk and a law enforcement analyst for CNN, he worked for decades as a US Secret Service special agent. His work gave him experience in both sides of the organization's mission: investigations and protection, the latter including time on the details for the president and first lady.

Wackrow joined David Priess for a deep and wide discussion about how cable news networks cover tragedy, the challenges of providing insight on security incidents in real time, his path into the Secret Service, how agents are trained, the lessons learned from historical failures of presidential protection, his own experiences with security breaches during the Obama administration, the dangers of perceived or actual politicization in the service, the balance between protecting a president and allowing a president's desired movements, agents' duty to testify in criminal investigations involving their protectees, how Secret Service experiences can help other institutions during an era of rising political violence, the benefits and drawbacks of school active shooter drills, and more.

Chatter is a production of Lawfare and Goat Rodeo. This episode was produced and edited by Cara Shillenn of Goat Rodeo. Podcast theme by David Priess, featuring music created using Groovepad. See for privacy and opt-out information.

Among the works discussed in this episode:

The movie The Bodyguard

The movie In the LIne of Fire

The book Zero Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Secret Service by Carol Leonnig

The book The Devil Never Sleeps: Learning to Live in an Age of Disasters by Juliette Kayyem

David Priess is Director of Intelligence at Bedrock Learning, Inc. and a Senior Fellow at the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security. He served during the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations as a CIA officer and has written two books: “The President’s Book of Secrets,” about the top-secret President’s Daily Brief, and "How To Get Rid of a President," describing the ways American presidents have left office.
Jonathon Wackrow is the chief operating officer of Teneo Risk and formerly a long-serving special agent in the Secret Service.

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