Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 3, Page 26
Summer 1993
Alumni Profile: In the line of fire

     "Security," said an attendee at the recent American Society of
Newspaper Editors' annual conference in Annapolis, Md., "is incredible."
President Clinton was on his way to the U.S. Naval Academy, where he would
deliver his first major foreign policy address before the newspaper
editors. Secret Service agents, betrayed by earnest expressions and the
microphone wires in their ears, were evident throughout the hall.
     Richard K. Rathmell Jr., Delaware '70, was one of the Secret Service
agents on hand that April day. As assistant special agent-in-charge, he was
one of two supervisors for the many (the exact number is classified) Secret
Service agents guarding the president. Preparations for the 90-minute
appearance took days, Rathmell says, and the tight security is typical for
a presidential visit.
     Rathmell joined the now 2,000-plus agents of the U.S. Secret Service
in 1972. Only then the agency didn't have quite so many employees. "We've
gone through periods of growth," he says. "After President Kennedy was
assassinated, we hired several hundred agents, so that within a few years,
the agency doubled in size." Since then, the U.S. Secret Service, a part of
the Treasury Department, has experienced a few more growth spurts.
     "In 1968, when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, that's when we started
to protect presidential candidates," Rathmell says. "In the early '70s, we
added visiting foreign heads of state (to the ranks of those protected).
And in 1984, there was a lot of computer fraud, so we picked up a new
jurisdiction there."
     Secret Service agents may be best known as the imposing figures
surrounding the president and other dignitaries, but Rathmell says the
agency serves other, less well-known roles as well. "We're typically known
for protection, but we actually have more agents in investigations," he
     Of course, Secret Service agents explore threats against the president
and other high officeholders, but they also probe financial fraud involving
credit cards, electronic money transfers and counterfeit funds, Rathmell
says. In fact, Secret Service agents generally begin their careers as
investigators in one of the agency's field offices, serving as bodyguards
only when the president or other officials come to town, he says.
     After completing a degree in business while putting in four years with
the University's Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), Rathmell served two
years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He then joined the Secret Service,
carrying out investigations in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., before
moving to Washington, D.C., to guard Vice President Walter Mondale and Vice
President George Bush. After supervising the field office in Detroit for a
few years, he returned to the nation's capital to guard then-President Bush
the day before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. He remains in Washington
today, guarding President Clinton.
     Some of the facts of life in the Secret Service, according to
        * The requisites for being an agent include-good eyesight
          (correctable to 20/20, at worst), good aim (they must be
          sharpshooters, as proven by monthly shooting tests) and good
          physical condition (fit enough to pass quarterly training tests).
        * The job's demands reach beyond the agents themselves. "It's not a
          9 to 5 job. Sometimes, you might just work 50 hours a week;
          sometimes, you might work three weeks without a day off. There's
          a lot of travel, a lot of stress. It takes an understanding
        * Planning is key. "The periods of real danger are not constant.
          You go through periods as a presidential bodyguard when you
          definitely feel your adrenaline is built up, but a lot of it is
          just preparation." Before any proposed presidential trip, agents
          map out emergency plans, including such grim details as who would
          grab a gun pointed at the president and who would grab the

     While Rathmell acknowledges that his primary duty while on the
president's detail is to be prepared to give up his life for the commander
in chief, Rathmell downplays the idea that his job makes him a patriot or a
hero. "It's something you don't really dwell on, but you do your job," he
says. If the president were attacked on his watch, Rathmell says, "I know
everyone around me would be working like me to keep him safe."
     And, exciting as it's been, after years as a presidential bodyguard,
Rathmell is preparing to return to investigatory work and "a more normal
life," though he says that the world of Secret Service investigations is by
no means boring. Some of the most memorable events in his 21 years in the
Secret Service occurred while he was serving in agency field offices,
Rathmell says.
     In 1985, Rathmell and colleagues uncovered a Sikh Indian plot to kill
Rajiv Gandhi, the prime minister of India whose mother, Indira, had been
assassinated the year before. A month-long, around-the-clock investigation
with Canadian officials convinced the agents that an attempt would be made
on the leader's life when he visited the United States, and arrests were
made before his visit.
     In another case, Rathmell recalls capturing Stevie Vento, a member of
Philadelphia's organized crime scene, after chasing him down two city
blocks for selling counterfeit cash. "I didn't realize it was him 'til I
caught him," Rathmell says.
     Vento, who had been arrested for assaulting a police officer and for
drug-related offenses, tried and failed to escape from prison. "I remember
laughing when he tried a helicopter escape and got caught by the FBI,"
Rathmell says.
                                        -Stephen M. Steenkamer, Delaware '92