Inside Secret Service
Editors Note: Most of our understanding of Secret Service work comes from Hollywood. Few of us have ever met a Secret Service Agent, or maybe you have and don’t know it. “Inside the Secret Service-A Former Agent’s Stories” is about life as a Secret Service agent. Our contributor is still a Federal Agent but with a different agency, therefore we have chosen not to reveal his name. These are stories of real life experiences from a Concord resident who spent several years as a Secret Service agent. This is his story…
It was Memorial weekend 2005. As our small motorcade made its way south on highway 101 from Sonoma County back to the hotel by the San Francisco International Airport. I was the Lead and Motorcade Agent, and was riding in the front seat of the lead car, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) cruiser driven by my friend, CHP Sergeant Mike Walker. Mike and I had worked several motorcades together over the years. Tall, lanky, blond hair and mustache, Mike was gentle, easy going, and always had a smile on his face. He had a great sense of humor and we always had some good laughs. This day, would be no exception. My Field Office Supervisor was riding in the rear seat. He was also a good guy with a good sense of humor, luckily.
I received a call on the radio from the Detail Leader (DL) who was riding in the limo. He advised that our protectee, Fujian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, was inquiring if it was possible to make a detour through San Francisco to see some of the cities famous sights. We were used to protectees requesting impromptu motorcade tours of San Francisco. With five or more vehicles, we usually had full intersection control provided by the PD so that the motorcade stayed intact and would continually be in motion. Our motorcade was at six vehicles. This included the lead and tail CHP and four other vehicles of which three were Secret Service with lights and sirens. Navigating city streets shouldn’t be too difficult. Since this was a low level, low profile dignitary, with no known adverse intelligence, we weren’t too concerned about stopping at intersections. The problem was that the tour request was made as we were approaching Sausalito, which gave us about two minutes to come up with a route and no time to contact SFPD for a traffic report. But, given the circumstances, we were okay with it. I radioed the DL informing we would accommodate, exiting the freeway after crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.
At Ghirardelli Square, traffic came to a stop. After sitting through two street light cycles, we altered our route, navigating away from the waterfront. This didn’t help. Traffic was horrible. After again coming to a stop, I summonsed a SFPD officer over to our vehicle. He was walking parallel to us on the sidewalk for about three blocks and had a puzzled look on his face as he approached.
“Who are you guys? Where’re you going?” he asked. I told him saying we had a dignitary who requested a last-minute tour of the city, but now we were just trying to get back to the freeway. I asked the officer about the traffic.
“It’s the Carnival Parade. Half the city’s shut down,” he said.
With that, I radioed the DL of the situation and we began working our way away out. Unfortunately, we worked our way into the Tenderloin District. Things that usually only happen at night in shady areas elsewhere, are present 24/7 in the Tenderloin. Now, in stop-and-go traffic, our protectee was about to witness an area not listed in any tour guides and take in sights he would never see from any tour bus.
Visually everything that could go wrong, did. It started with an array of prostitutes and cross-dressers on the first block. (Hardly Lombard Street). We chuckled in our car, as there wasn’t a thing we could do, but cringe. We slowly rolled into the second block, where two scuzzy looking guys were conducting a drug deal, oblivious to the law enforcement vehicles next to them. Our chuckles turned to giggles as we wondered how our protectee was enjoying his “tour.” We then starting joking as to what the next block would have in store. We soon found out; a guy urinating on a light post. Our protectee had an unobstructed view as these things were taking place in broad daylight, just feet from the limo. We all had tears in our eyes now and wondered how things could possibly get worse. Just then, a taxi cut in front of our motorcade and a little guy jumped out with nothing on but a cowboy hat and a pair of bottomless chaps. He wiggled his naked little fanny all the way up the street. At this point, Mike, my supervisor, and I, were laughing so hard we were crying and could hardly speak. Sometimes you just have to laugh. There was absolute radio silence in the motorcade as I imagine the same reaction was happening in all the vehicles, except in the limo where the poor DL and agent driver were probably biting their lips trying to remain professional and not laugh in front of the protectee. We later heard that was the case. The next day the Prime Minister and his entourage flew home having no words to offer of our tour of beautiful San Francisco. Whenever I saw Mike over the next several months, we’d laugh about our special tour.
Early New Year’s morning, 2006, I received a phone call from a CHP friend with whom I had also worked numerous motorcades. Surprised to hear from him I answered saying, “John! Happy New Years, bud!” He said hello, but his voice was very solemn.
“I have some bad news. Mike Walker was killed last night,” John said. I immediately felt numb.
“Oh my God. Oh God no. What happened?” Tears welled in my eyes as John told me how Mike, now a lieutenant recently assigned to CHP/Santa Cruz, was assisting a disabled motorist in the rain on Highway 17 when a vehicle took a curve too fast, losing control, striking a Caltrans truck which was parked behind Mike’s cruiser. The impact pushed the Caltrans truck into Mike. Mike passed an hour later, around 11:00 p.m. Images of Mike’s gentle smiling face filled my head. As a lieutenant, Mike normally wouldn’t be on the road. But, Mike, being the caring, unselfish man he was, was covering for some young officers he’d given the night off so they could spend New Year’s Eve with friends. Mike left behind a wife and two young girls.
I cherish my memories of Mike and the wonderful times we shared. I will never forget our tears of laughter during our last motorcade together. Nor will I forget the tears I cried when I received the New Year’s morning 2006 phone call telling me my friend was gone.