TIME White House

Former Reagan Aide Says He Saw a Gun in the President’s Briefcase

president ronald reagan budget summit
The Washington Post/Getty Images From left: Senator Howard Baker, President Ronald Reagan, Speaker of the House Thomas (Tip) O'Neill, Congressman Jim Wright, and Edwin Meese talk during a Budget Summit in Washington on April 28, 1982.

Ronald Reagan’s longtime executive assistant and right-hand man, Jim Kuhn, says he remembers once seeing a handgun in the President’s briefcase.

Kuhn’s memory confirms a claim relayed to thriller novelist Brad Meltzer by two Secret Service agents that Reagan carried a pistol when he was president. “A .38,” Meltzer wrote in a June blog post for the New York Daily News. “Reagan used to hide it in his briefcase and take it on Air Force One.”

Kuhn said that for several years during the Reagan presidency he regularly went into the President’s briefcase to retrieve or place papers. “I saw the gun one time in his briefcase, one single time,” Kuhn said. “And that was it.”

Other administration officials and historians have been skeptical of the suggestion that Reagan traveled as president with a gun in his briefcase. David C. Fischer, who worked closely with Reagan before his election and became his special assistant during his first term, told TIME, “I never saw a gun in his briefcase.” Ken Duberstein, Reagan’s former chief of staff, said he had “no reason to believe” the claim was true.

Lou Cannon, a journalist who covered Reagan as a reporter and has written five books about him, also said he could not confirm the claim. “It’s so off the wall that I don’t what to say,” he said. “I think it’s a fantasy, at best.”

David Woodward, the author of “Ronald Reagan: A Biography,” added that he’d never seen any evidence that Reagan regularly carried a weapon. “It’s the kind of thing you would have heard of,” he said.Similarly, H.W. Brands, whose new biography of Reagan is out this year, told TIME, “I’ll believe the evidence when I see it.”

Stories of Reagan carrying a weapon at different points in his life have appeared in several books, including Garry Wills’ Reagan’s America: Innocents At Home and Edmund Morris’ Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, both published 15 years ago.

Morris wrote that Reagan acquired a gun after college in the 1930s. “It is a fact … that RR did acquire a 1934 Walther PPK .380 pocket-sized police pistol early in his stay in Des Moines and kept it lovingly the rest of his life,” Morris wrote in a footnote in his book published in 2000, which used unusual narrative techniques for a historical work, including a fictional narrator. “He even toted it in his briefcase as President.”

Ronald Kessler’s In The President’s Secret Service, published in 2009, repeats a version of the story. During a campaign trip before becoming president, a Secret Service “agent noticed that [Reagan] was wearing a pistol and asked what that was for,” Kessler writes. “‘Well, just in case you guys can’t do the job, I can help out,’ Reagan replied. Reagan confided to one agent that on his first presidential trip to the Soviet Union in May 1988, he had carried a gun in his briefcase,” according to Kessler.

Robert Dallek, a historian and the author of Ronald Reagan: The Politics of Symbolism, published in 1984, reports that in the late 1940s, when Reagan was active in labor negotiations as a leader of the Screen Actors Guild, he received threats of violence. He later began carrying a weapon provided by police, Dallek says.

“Thereafter, I mounted the holstered gun religiously every morning and took it off the last thing at night,” Dallek quotes Reagan as saying. “I learned how much a person gets to lean on hardware like that. After ten months of wearing it, it took a real effort of will to discard it.”

Nicole Mainor, a spokeswoman for the Secret Service, said she had no information to provide about the claim that Reagan carried a gun. “The Secret Service cannot confirm the information referenced in your inquiry,” she told TIME.

Kuhn, who said Reagan owned a gun when he was governor of California, worked closely with Reagan from 1976 to 1989, and eventually become his executive assistant.

For years during Reagan’s presidency, he and the president were together “constantly,” often seven days a week, at Camp David, in the Oval Office, upstairs in the residence, Kuhn told TIME. “I was always in and out of [Reagan’s] briefcase,” making sure the president had the right documents and papers for various meetings, Kuhn said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story—headlined “Secret Service, Historians Call Reagan Gun Claim Bogus”—inaccurately described the views of a Secret Service spokeswoman and Ronald Reagan’s former assistant Jim Kuhn. The spokeswoman, Nicole Mainor, does not contest Brad Meltzer’s claim that he learned of the gun from Secret Service agents. Kuhn does not contest the notion that Reagan carried a gun. TIME regrets the errors.

TIME White House

The White House Really Doesn’t Want You Jumping Over Its Fence

A tall security fence stands in front of the White House on Nov. 4, 2014 in Washington.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images A tall security fence stands in front of the White House on Nov. 4, 2014 in Washington.

A new layer of spikes will be added to deter climbers and intruders

A second layer of spikes will be added to the top of the fence surrounding the White House starting Friday, officials with the National Park Service and Secret Service said, in a temporary bid to deter future would-be climbers after several incidents in the past year.

A proposal that was submitted to the National Capital Planing Commission and approved Thursday states that “pencil point” spikes will be affixed to the current fence along the complex’s north and south sides and jut out, according to the Associated Press. Additional long-term solutions will continue to be reviewed.

The changes to White House security were presented as a result of two incidents where intruders got across the fence, namely one last September when a fence-jumper was able to hop over the barrier and run well into the White House before being subdued, prompting an evacuation and highlighting internal issues within the Secret Service.

TIME politics

See Photos From a Secret Service Fitness Test in the 1960s

On the 150th anniversary of the agency’s creation, a look at how agents stayed sharp for duty

In what may be one of the biggest coincidences in presidential history, Abraham Lincoln signed legislation creating the Secret Service on April 14, 1865, just hours before he was assassinated. But the agency he created wouldn’t have done much to save him had they been around sooner. The original purpose of the United States Secret Service was to tackle the country’s burgeoning counterfeit money problem.

By the time LIFE covered the Secret Service more than a century later, it had taken on a dual mission–protecting the country’s currency and protecting the President, other high-ranking officials and their families from bodily harm.

In 1968, five years after the assassination of President Kennedy, and in the month after Martin Luther King’s death and before Robert Kennedy’s, LIFE dispatched photographer Stan Wayman to shoot the men as they practiced their shooting. In this monthly qualification test, which agents had to pass in addition to biannual physical exams, agents were tested in marksmanship, motorcade etiquette, defensive combat and life-saving techniques.

Agents practiced shooting at the National Arboretum, which was, according to notes accompanying the photographs, “one of the few places in the District isolated enough to shoot guns without passers-by thinking another riot is taking place.” “Another” here refers to the six days of rioting that took place in Washington after King’s death the previous month. But everything that took place on this spring day was just a drill, and the few tourists who did spot the agents “were sadly disappointed to find out the president wasn’t along for the work out.”

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

TIME White House

No Counterfeits: The History of the Secret Service

G8 Leaders Arrive At Prestwick Airport
Bruno Vincent—Getty Images A secret service agent stands before the arrival of U.S. President George W. Bush at Prestwick Airport July 6, 2005 in Prestwick, Scotland.

Abraham Lincoln established the agency 150 years ago, on the very day he was shot

Considering the Civil War had ended only a few days earlier, April 14, 1865, was a normal day in the White House. President Abraham Lincoln read his newspapers, ate his breakfast, met with his cabinet. He also signed a piece of legislation authorizing a government agency that would gain its fame for protecting the President of the United States. Ironically, Lincoln’s authorization of the United States Secret Service would be one of his last official acts—that evening, he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth while watching Our American Cousin in Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Even if Lincoln had authorized the Secret Service earlier, it’s doubtful it could have prevented his assassination Though the job performance of Lincoln’s bodyguards will remain a subject of eternal debate, it was unthinkable that an actor in a play would try to murder the President. And though presidential security tightened after Lincoln’s death, the Secret Service he authorized wasn’t originally intended to guard the president at all. In fact, it had a much more mundane mission: investigate and stop counterfeit money.

By 1865, up to one-third or even one-half of American money in circulation was fake. This was partly due to an old system of relying on state banks to produce money using approved designs and paper provided by the Federal Government. But though the country adopted a national currency in 1863, federal dollars were as easy to counterfeit as state-produced ones. Spurred by the daredevil escape of counterfeiter Pete McCartney, who eluded federal guards and was rumored to have produced as much as $100,000 in faux cash, Lincoln called a commission to figure out a fix for the fake money problem. Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch came up with a solution—a “regular permanent force whose job it [would] be to put these counterfeiters out of business.”

At first, the Secret Service focused on money, but in 1867 its mission was broadened to include “detecting persons perpetrating fraud against the government.” Over the years, despite a lack of statutory funding, the Secret Service assumed more and more responsibility, gaining recognition as a distinct organization and being given badges and commissions. After the assassination of William McKinley, in 1901, Congress requested that the Secret Service protect the President himself.

Though the Secret Service has long been charged with protecting the President and presidents-elect, it isn’t always beloved by officials. Theodore Roosevelt called it a “very small but very necessary thorn in the flesh,” but assumed the Secret Service would “not be the least use” if there were a serious attempt on his life. General George Patton called the Service “a bunch of cheap detectives, always smelling of drink.” And John F. Kennedy, whom the Secret Service called “Lancer,” was impatient with the Secret Service, preferring motorcades and intimate crowd interaction to carefully monitored public appearances. More recently, it’s been a rocky few years for the Secret Service, with scandals related to car crashes, drones, and prostitution. This week, the agency made news for allowing a child to breach a barricade—the second time in under a year that a rogue toddler has made it onto the grounds of the White House.

But for every Secret Service debacle, there’s been a close call. The agency has foiled repeated presidential threats, from a plot to assassinate Grover Cleveland to a recent plot against President Obama. And though they have sometimes characterized themselves as “babysitters[s] with a gun,” the agency does much more, from arranging housing to observing official protocol.

And lest you think that Secret Service agents are just burly guys in suits—they still chase down counterfeiters. Recently, the agency has been on the case of counterfeiters circulating fake $100 bills in Rochester, N.Y.

TIME politics

Secret Service Officer Arrested for Destruction of Property

His identity has not yet been released

A secret service officer has been arrested in Washington, D.C. and charged with destruction of property.

The man, who works in the Foreign Missions Branch, has not yet been publicly named, Reuters reports. He has been placed on administrative leave, and his security clearance has been suspended.

The arrest is the latest of many embarrassments for the Secret Service, from allowing someone breach the entrance to the White House to two agents crashing a car into a security barrier.


TIME Secret Service

Top Republican Watchdog Slams Secret Service Director Pick

Joseph Clancy
Susan Walsh—AP Acting Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, in 2014.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz says they should have picked someone from outside the agency.

A top Republican critic of former Secret Service director Julia Pierson is not pleased with the Obama Administration’s pick to be her successor.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz said Wednesday that the appointment of acting director Joseph Clancy contradicts the recommendation of an independent panel created by the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of the embarrassing White House fence-jumping incident in September. Clancy’s appointment over Sean Joyce, a former deputy director of the F.B.I, extends the agency’s 150-year history of being led by a Secret Service agent, according to the New York Times.

“Only a director from outside the Service, removed from organizational traditions and personal relationships, will be able to do the honest top-to-bottom reassessment this will require,” argued the report, which was released in mid-December.

Chaffetz said in a statement that it was “disappointing” the President “ignored” the panel’s recommendations.

“The panel made it crystal clear that only a director from outside the agency would meet the needs of the agency today—someone with a fresh perspective, free from allegiances and without ties to what has consistently been described as a ‘good old boys network,'” he said. “The good men and women of the Secret Service are screaming for a fresh start. At this moment in time, the Secret Service would best be served by a transformative and dynamic leader from outside the agency.”

Pierson, the first female Secret Service director, resigned on Oct. 1, a day after a poor performance before Chaffetz’s committee and revelations that an armed security contractor with an arrest record was improperly screened and allowed onto an elevator with the President. A last straw for Pierson was that she did not inform Obama of the security breach.

Chaffetz wished the best for Clancy even if he disagreed with the appointment. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight committee, said he was also ready to work with the new director.

“Joe Clancy has taken strong action over the past several months to begin righting the ship at the Secret Service, he has been extremely responsive to Congress, and his decisive leadership has already resulted in major changes,” said Cummings. “I look forward to working with him closely over the next year to ensure that the Secret Service gets what it needs to fulfill its critical mission.”

TIME White House

Drone That Crashed at White House Was Quadcopter

Drone Quadcopter
Getty Images

A drone that crashed on the White House grounds Monday, causing a brief lockdown, was a two-foot wide remote-controlled quadcopter that is sold in stores, officials said.

According to a Secret Service spokesman, a uniformed division officer stationed on the South Grounds of the complex “heard and observed” the device flying at a low altitude, before it crashed on the southeast side of the 18-acre secure zone around the executive mansion shortly after 3 a.m. Monday. The incident triggered a lockdown of the White House and nearby buildings, as officials scrambled to study the device and ensure it did not pose a threat.

According to Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary, an individual called the agency Monday morning after seeing news reports of the crash to report that they had been in control of the quadcopter. “The individual has been interviewed by Secret Service agents and been fully cooperative,” he said. “Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device. This investigation continues as the Secret Service conducts corroborative interviews, forensic examinations and reviews all other investigative leads.”

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were in India when the incident occurred. It is not clear whether other family members were present.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest confirmed that a device had been recovered. “There is a device that has been recovered by the Secret Service at the White House,” he said in a press briefing in New Delhi early Monday. “Early indications are that it does not pose any sort of ongoing threat right now to anybody at the White House.”

The crash follows several high-profile security breaches at the White House that have shaken the Secret Service, including an incident last year when a disturbed man armed with a knife jumped a fence and managed to enter the mansion before being apprehended by officers. Obama subsequently asked the agency’s director to step aside, and her interim replacement has taken steps to reform its top leadership.

Under longstanding Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, no unmanned aerial system may be flown in the 12-13 mile area around Washington Reagan National Airport, which includes airspace over the White House, Pentagon, Naval Observatory and the Central Intelligence Agency.

The proliferation of small drones is posing new challenges not just at sensitive government facilities, but around the country, as cheap systems equipped with cameras pose new privacy concerns and reports of close encounters with private and commercial aircraft rise.

The Secret Service released a photo of the device Monday afternoon, identifying it as a member of the popular DJI Phantom line of quadcopters which retail for several hundred dollars online. It was not immediately clear whether the device was equipped with a camera, or whether it was recording during its flight.

United States Secret Service
TIME White House

4 Officials Dismissed in Secret Service Shake-Up

A tall security fence stands in front of the White House on Nov. 4, 2014 in Washington.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images A tall security fence stands in front of the White House on Nov. 4, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

Acting director Joseph Clancy has told the four top-level officials they will be reassigned within the agency

Four top officials at the U.S. Secret Service are being dismissed from their posts, NBC News confirmed Wednesday.

The Washington Post first reported the shake-up, which comes after much scrutiny following lapses in security in the agency that protects the President and his family.

Secret Service sources tell NBC News that acting director Joseph Clancy has told the four top-level officials they will be removed from their current positions. A senior Administration official adds that the four individuals are being reassigned within the agency. No timeline has been announced.

“Change is necessary to gain a fresh perspective on …

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME White House

White House Fence Must Be Raised ‘Immediately,’ Report Says

White House Security Secret Service
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images The White House is seen behind a fence on Oct. 3, 2014 in Washington.

An independent review into the practices of the U.S. Secret Service following several high-profile security breaches this year faults the agency for failing to maintain high training and accountability standards.

The executive summary of the classified report details recommendations for the beleaguered agency, which allowed a mentally disturbed man armed with a knife to enter the Executive Mansion, but also notes broad shortcomings to its readiness and training capabilities. On a practical level, it called for raising the fence surrounding the White House immediately following the security breach.

“We recognize all of the competing considerations that may go into questions regarding the fence, but believe that protection of the President and the White House must be the higher priority,” the report states. “As the Executive Branch, Congress, and the Service itself have all recognized, the fence must be addressed immediately.”

The report suggests that raising the fence at least “four or five feet would be materially helpful,” adding that it should be redesigned to eliminate horizontal bars and to potentially curve outward at the top to deter would-be fence-climbers and to give officers more time to respond to a would-be threat. The fence should be replaced around the entire 18-acre complex, not just along Pennsylvania Avenue, where most of the incidents have occurred, the report states.

Prepared by two former Justice Department officials and two former White House aides at the request of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the report faults the department for failing to maintain adequate training standards. The Presidential Protective Division’s so-called “fourth shift,” which is supposed to allow the specialized agents charged with protecting the president to spend two weeks of every eight in training, has “diminished far below acceptable levels,” along with training for the agency’s Uniformed Division, which protects the White House complex. According to the report, apart from basic firearms and career training, the average agent received just 42 hours of training in fiscal year 2013, while the average uniformed division officer received under 25 minutes of training in the entire year.

“The panel’s recommendations are astute, thorough and fair,” Johnson said in a statement, saying Acting Director Joe Clancy has already implemented some of the recommendations.

The report details staffing shortfalls at the White House, where agents and officers have been assigned long duty tours and extended overtime shifts. “Rather than invest in systems to manage the organization more effectively and accurately predict its needs, the Service simply adds more overtime for existing personnel,” the report states, saying the two divisions are “stretched beyond their limits.” “Rather than sending its agents and officers to training, it keeps them at their posts.”

The panel calls on Congress and the Executive Branch to free up money to immediately hire 85 special agents and 200 Uniformed Division officers to allow for more time to be devoted to training, with a further review to determine whether any more are needed.

The report calls on the next director to come from outside the Secret Service, a shift that it says is needed to inject new leadership to address a culture of unaccountability. “The next director of the Secret Service should be a strong leader from outside the agency who has a protective, law enforcement, or military background and who can drive cultural change in the organization and move the Secret Service forward into a new era: The need to change, reinvigorate, and question long-held assumptions-from within the agency itself-is too critical now for the next director to be an insider,” the report states.

The new director must “must build a new budget from the ground up by defining its mission, determining what it will take to achieve it, and asking for that,” rather than working off what it believes it can get through the budget process. The panel says new steps must be taken to ensure that agency leadership and managers are open to suggestions and criticism of department practices by agents and officers in the field, and to ensure that the Secret Services’ disciplinary processes are followed and enforced in a fair and consistent fashion.

TIME Crime

White House Fence Jumper Found Mentally Fit to Stand Trial

New River Regional Jail booking photo of Omar Gonzalez
Handout—Reuters Alleged White House fence jumper Omar Gonzalez, 42, is shown in this New River Regional Jail booking photo released on September 23, 2014.

The jumper successfully reached the Executive Mansion and ran through multiple rooms, leading to the Secret Service director's resignation and prompting a huge security review within the storied agency

A U.S. Army veteran accused of jumping the White House fence and racing into the executive mansion in September has been found competent to stand trial.

Omar J. Gonzalez, who served in Iraq, was indicted Sept. 30 and again on Oct. 16. on multiple charges, including federal counts, the Washington Post reports. A judge had ordered a mental health evaluation for him in October.

Gonzalez is accused of climbing the north fence at the White House on Sept. 19 and dashing into the mansion, where he ran through several rooms before being apprehended by the Secret Service. Authorities found a folding knife in his pocket, as well as a machete, two hatchets and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in his car.

[The Washington Post]

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