Ronald Kessler in 2005.
December 31, 1943 |
New York, New York, USA
|Period||1964 - present|
|Subject||Intelligence, current affairs|
Ronald Borek Kessler (born December 31, 1943) is an American journalist and author of 20 non-fiction books about the U.S. Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Seven of his books have appeared on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Kessler was born in New York City and grew up in Belmont, Massachusetts. He attended Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts from 1962 to 1964 before embarking on a career in journalism. Kessler is married and has two children.
Kessler began his career in 1964 as a reporter with the Worcester Telegram, followed by three years as an investigative reporter and editorial writer with the Boston Herald. A series he wrote while there was instrumental in the installation of a better plaque commemorating the location of Boston's Pre-Revolutionary-War Liberty Tree. In 1968, he joined the Wall Street Journal as a reporter in the New York bureau. During these years, his reporting won awards from the American Political Science Association (public affairs reporting award, 1965), United Press International (1967) and the Associated Press (Sevellon Brown Memorial award, 1967).
In 1970 Kessler joined the Washington Post as an investigative reporter and continued in that position until 1985. In 1972, he won a George Polk Memorial award for Community Service because of two series of articles he wrote—one on conflicts of interest and mismanagement at Washington area non-profit hospitals, and a second series exposing kickbacks among lawyers, title insurance companies, realtors, and lenders in connection with real estate settlements, inflating the cost of buying homes. He was also named a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine that year. In 1979, Kessler won a second Polk Award, this one for National Reporting for a series of articles exposing corruption in the General Services Administration; he won even though his editor, Ben Bradlee, had not submitted his stories for consideration. Kessler's Washington Post stories reporting that Lena Ferguson had been denied membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) because she is black led to her acceptance by the DAR and widespread changes in its policies to increase membership by blacks.
Since leaving the Washington Post, Kessler has authored 20 nonfiction books on intelligence and current affairs. Seven of his books reached the hardcover nonfiction New York Times Best Seller list: The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents (2014),The Secrets of the FBI (2011), In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect (2009), described by USA Today as "the inside scoop on those stern-faced guys who protect the president," Laura Bush (2006), a biography of the first lady; A Matter of Character (2004), an admiring look at George W. Bush's presidency;The Season: Inside Palm Beach and America's Richest Society (1999), an investigative report on the lives of multi-billionaires in Palm Beach, Florida; and Inside the White House (1995), a behind-the-scenes expose of presidencies from Lyndon B. Johnson to Bill Clinton.."
Kessler’s book, The FBI: Inside the World’s Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency, led to the dismissal of William S. Sessions as FBI director over his abuses. In his book The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI, Kessler presented the first credible evidence that Bob Woodward’s and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate source dubbed Deep Throat was FBI official W. Mark Felt. The book said that Woodward paid a secret visit to Felt in California and had his limousine park ten blocks away from Felt’s home so as not to attract attention. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show said Kessler's The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack is a "very interesting look inside the FBI and CIA, which I think is unprecedented."  The Washington Times said of the book, "Ronald Kessler is a veteran Washington-based investigative journalist on national security. His unparalleled access to top players in America's counterterrorism campaign allowed him a rare glimpse into their tradecraft, making The Terrorist Watch a riveting account." 
Kessler's book, In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect, was described by USA Today as a "fascinating exposé... high-energy read... amusing, saucy, often disturbing anecdotes about the VIPs the Secret Service has protected and still protects... [accounts come] directly from current and retired agents (most identified by name, to Kessler's credit)... Balancing the sordid tales are the kinder stories of presidential humanity... [Kessler is a] respected journalist and former Washington Post reporter... an insightful and entertaining story." Newsweek said of the book, "Kessler’s such a skilled storyteller, you almost forget this is dead-serious nonfiction... An afterword reveals new details about Kessler’s discovery of a third uninvited intruder during last year’s White House State Dinner... The behind-the-scenes anecdotes are delightful, but Kessler has a bigger point to make, one concerning why the under-appreciated Secret Service deserves better leadership." FactCheck.org said, “His [Kessler’s] book quotes both flattering and unflattering observations about presidents of both parties.”
On April 14, 2012, Kessler broke the story that the Secret Service had removed and sent home agents assigned to protect President Obama during his trip to Cartagena, Colombia, because they had been involved in hiring prostitutes there.
Kessler's book The Secrets of the FBI presents revelations about the Russian spy swap, Marilyn Monroe's death, Vince Foster’s suicide, the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound, and J. Edgar Hoover’s sexual orientation. For the first time, it tells how the FBI caught spy Robert Hanssen in its midst and how secret teams of FBI agents break into homes, offices, and embassies to plant bugging devices without getting caught and shot as burglars.
On November 9, 2012, Kessler broke the story that an FBI investigation led to the resignation of David H. Petraeus as CIA director. The concern was that Petraeus had put himself in a compromised position, opening himself to potential blackmail by foreign intelligence services. Kessler's subsequent story on Nov. 11 said an FBI source had told him on Oct. 10 that agents on the case were outraged because they were told by senior officials that the FBI was going to hold their findings in limbo until after the election, when Petraeus would be told to resign. The day after the election, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of National Intelligence, told the CIA director to resign.
Kessler's latest book is The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents. The book debuted at #4 on the hardcover nonfiction New York Times Best Seller list. In the book Kessler reports that Vice President Joe Biden enjoys skinny dipping, offending female agents, and that being assigned to his detail is considered by agents to be the second worst protective assignment in the Secret Service after being assigned to Hillary Clinton's detail. 
Citing Kessler’s two Secret Service books exposing the agency's laxness and corner cutting, SmartBlog on Leadership said, “One person [Ronald Kessler] was warning of the decline of the [Secret Service and its lapses and failures] well before the Salahis crashed a state dinner in 2009; well before the 2012 prostitute scandal in Colombia; before a knife-wielding man gained entrance to the White House last year; and before the recent episode in which drunk agents drove their car up to the White House and interrupted an active bomb investigation.” 
Kessler writes Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Time, and Politico opinion pieces, including “Surveillance: An American Success Story” on Politico, "Reform the Secret Service" in the Washington Post, and "The Real Joe McCarthy," which attacked efforts by some conservative writers to vindicate the late Senator Joseph McCarthy, in the Wall Street Journal.
After National Public Radio (NPR) fired Juan Williams as a news analyst, Kessler wrote "The Juan Williams I Know". Based on his book The Secrets of the FBI, Kessler wrote “Russia Tried to Swap Spies Hanssen, Ames”. In a Time magazine opinion piece, Kessler wrote “The Secret Service Thinks We Are Fools” after the White House intrusion based on his book The First Family Detail.
From 2006 to 2012, Kessler was chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax, a conservative website and magazine. He wrote the Washington Insider column, and his stories for Newsmax included interviews with President Bush, Donald Trump, Sam Donaldson, Andy Card, CIA Director Michael Hayden, Mitt Romney, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Vice President Dick Cheney, Jim Cramer, Deborah Norville, Dana Perino, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Brian Lamb, Juan Williams, Edwin Meese III, Condoleezza Rice, and Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan. For his Newsmax columns, Kessler won the first Robert Novak Journalist of the Year Award.
On January 4, 2010, Kessler wrote a Newsmax article revealing that the Secret Service allowed a third uninvited guest to attend President Obama’s state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh besides party crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi on Nov. 24, 2009. The Secret Service confirmed the third intrusion "following a report by Ronald Kessler, a journalist who writes for Newsmax.com", the Washington Post said. "Kessler reported that the agency discovered the third crasher after examining surveillance video of arriving guests and found one tuxedoed man who did not match any name on the guest list."
In an article for Newsmax, on March 16, 2008, Kessler incorrectly reported, based on a previous Newsmax story by a freelance writer, that Senator Barack Obama attended a service at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ on July 22, 2007, during which Rev. Jeremiah Wright gave a sermon that blamed world suffering on "white arrogance". The Obama campaign denied that Obama had attended the church on the day that sermon was delivered and other reporters discovered that Obama was in fact in transit to Miami, Florida on that day. Newsmax posted a clarification while standing by the story, suggesting that perhaps the sermon occurred on a different day in July. Shortly after the controversy broke, Kessler confirmed to TPM that he attempted to remove information documenting it from his Wikipedia biography.
In December 2008, Kessler wrote a column debunking claims that Obama was not born in the U.S. He also wrote an article reporting that intelligence officials are impressed by how Obama takes intelligence briefings.
Kessler's writings have been criticized in publications such as the Washington Post and The Week for overt partisanship and a lack of journalistic rigor.
Every book ever written has mistakes. But experts are supposed to get the main things right, and reporters generally follow through when someone tells them something. Too often, Kessler seems to have listened to his sources, written their words down, and then simply printed as fact their allegations or observations without checking on them.—Marc Ambinder, The Week, August 6, 2014
But in a note to The Week, Kessler disputed Marc Ambinder’s claims of inaccuracy, including Ambinder’s only significant claim that Vice President Joe Biden has not spent a million dollars of taxpayer funds to take personal trips on Air Force Two back and forth between Washington and his home in Wilmington. The publication agreed to update Ambinder’s article, saying that “...author Ronald Kessler provided The Week with documentation from the Air Force about Vice President Biden's travel” and linked to the Air Force’s letter responding to Kessler’s Freedom of Information Act request with the official record of Biden’s trips back and forth between Washington and Wilmington listed in Kessler’s book The First Family Detail.
Noting Kessler's extraordinary access to the then Secret Service Director, Mark Sullivan, during the writing of In The President's Secret Service, James Bamford wrote in a review in the Washington Post that:
...in light of an odd decision by the current director, Mark Sullivan, the motto should be changed to "Have You Heard This One?" During the Bush administration, hoping for some good, ego-enhancing publicity, Sullivan broke with his agency's long-standing policy of absolute silence and allowed Ronald Kessler to get an earful. The chief Washington correspondent for Newsmax.com, which bills itself as "the #1 conservative news agency online," Kessler had written very positive books about CIA Director George Tenet, first lady Laura Bush and President George W. Bush, and Sullivan was probably hoping for the same treatment. Hearing that Sullivan had given Kessler his blessing, scores of current and former agents -- Kessler claims more than 100 -- agreed to talk to him. But rather than use that wealth of information to write a serious book examining the inner workings of the long-veiled agency or the new challenges of protecting the first black president, the author simply milked the agents for the juiciest gossip he could get and mixed it with a rambling list of their complaints.—James Bamford, The Washington Post, August 23, 2009
However, in reviewing Kessler’s book In the President's Secret Service, FactCheck.org said, "His [Kessler's] book quotes both flattering and unflattering observations about presidents of both parties."
A September 30, 2014 Politico piece by Kessler on Secret Service blunders, including allowing a knife-wielding intruder to race into the White House and failing to detect gun shots at the White House until four days later, was criticized by Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo for allegedly implying that because he had not taken steps to correct the problems within the agency by replacing the director, President Obama would be at fault if the Secret Service's security breakdowns led to his own assassination. A subsequent editor's note called that a misinterpretation. The reference in question said, "Agents tell me that it’s a miracle an assassination has not already occurred. Sadly, given Obama’s colossal lack of management judgment, that calamity may be the only catalyst that will reform the Secret Service."
According to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA torture and the report itself as reported in the New York Times, Kessler's book, The CIA at War, "included inaccurate claims about the effectiveness of CIA interrogations" provided by the CIA to Kessler and New York Times reporter Douglas Jehl, such as the claim that the arrests of terrorist suspects were based on information from interrogations of other terrorists under torture. The report said this rationale was used to justify the use of torture. In a comment to the New York Times, Kessler said he corroborated what he was told with the FBI, and he called the Senate report discredited because it was written only by Democratic lawmakers and did not include interviews with many of the main players. Subsequently, John Brennan, President Obama’s appointee as CIA director, said that while no one knows whether the information could have been obtained otherwise, "Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives."
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