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Ronald Kessler

Ronald Kessler
A photograph of Ronald Kessler.
Ronald Kessler in 2005.
Born (1943-12-31) December 31, 1943
New York, New York, USA
Occupation Journalist, author
Language English
Period 1964 - present
Subject Intelligence, current affairs
Children 2

Literature portal

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.


  • Personal life 1
  • Journalism 2
    • Early career 2.1
    • Washington Post 2.2
    • Author 2.3
    • 2.4 Articles
    • Criticism 2.5
  • Books 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Personal life

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.[1]


Early career

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).[1]

Washington Post

In 1970 Kessler joined the 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.[3][4] He was also named a Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian magazine that year.[5] 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.[4][6] 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.[7]


Since leaving the Washington Post, Kessler has authored 20 nonfiction books on intelligence and current affairs. Seven of his books reached the hardcover nonfiction Palm Beach, Florida; and Inside the White House (1995), a behind-the-scenes expose of presidencies from Lyndon B. Johnson to Bill Clinton.."[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] 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." [11] 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." [12]

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 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.[35] For his Newsmax columns, Kessler won the first Robert Novak Journalist of the Year Award.[36]

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.[37] The Secret Service confirmed the third intrusion "following a report by Ronald Kessler, a journalist who writes for", 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."[38]

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".[39] 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.[40] Newsmax posted a clarification while standing by the story, suggesting that perhaps the sermon occurred on a different day in July.[39] Shortly after the controversy broke, Kessler confirmed to TPM that he attempted to remove information documenting it from his WorldHeritage biography.[41]

In December 2008, Kessler wrote a column debunking claims that Obama was not born in the U.S.[42] He also wrote an article reporting that intelligence officials are impressed by how Obama takes intelligence briefings.[43]


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 “ 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.[44]

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:[45] 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, 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, said, "His [Kessler's] book quotes both flattering and unflattering observations about presidents of both parties."[15]

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,[46] 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.[47] 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.[48][49] 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.[50] 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."[51]


  • The Life Insurance Game. Henry Holt & Co. 1985.  
  • The Richest Man in the World: The Story of  
  • Spy vs. Spy: Stalking Soviet Spies in America. Pocket. 1989.  
  • Moscow Station: How the  
  • The Spy in the Russian Club: How  
  • Escape from the  
  • The  
  • Inside the CIA: Revealing the Secrets of the World’s Most Powerful Spy Agency. Pocket Books. 1994.  
  • Inside the White House: The Hidden Lives of the Modern Presidents and the Secrets of the World’s Most Powerful Institution. Pocket. 1996.  
  • The Sins of the Father:  
  • Inside  
  • The Season: Inside  
  • The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI. St. Martin's Paperbacks. 2003.  
  • The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror. St. Martin's Griffin. 2004.  
  • A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of  
  • The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack. Crown. 2007.  
  • The Secrets of the FBI. Crown. 2011.  
  • The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents. Crown Forum. 2014.  


  1. ^ a b "Ronald Kessler".  
  2. ^ "Ronald Kessler Biography".  
  3. ^ "Scandal Series Wins Prize".  
  4. ^ a b McBee, Susanna (February 12, 1979). "Reporter Is Cited For GSA Articles".  
  5. ^ "Past Washingtonians of the Year".  
  6. ^ Hershey, Edward. "A History of Journalistic Integrity, Superb Reporting and Protecting the Public: The George Polk Awards in Journalism".  
  7. ^ Washington Post, March 12, 1984, page A1; April 18, 1984, page C1; April 5, 1984, page C3; March 27, 1985, page A22.
  8. ^ USA Today, May 7. 2009, page 5D
  9. ^ Washington Post, June 19, 1993, page A1; Washington Post, July 20, 1993, page A1.
  10. ^ Washington Times, June 2, 2005, page A11; New York Post, June 3, 2005, page 14; Washington Post, December 20, 2008, page A1.
  11. ^ "Ronald Kessler" The Daily Show, March 12, 2008, retrieved April 24, 2009.
  12. ^ Washington Times, December 18, 2007, page A15
  13. ^ USA Today, August 18, 2009, final edition, page 3D
  14. ^ "In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect".  
  15. ^ a b Kessler, Ronald. "Secret Service Tattletales?".  
  16. ^ Washington Post, April 14, 2012, page A18
  17. ^ "The Secrets of the FBI by Ronald Kessler" (Press release).  
  18. ^ "FBI secret ops help prevent new 9/11: Author".  
  19. ^ Kessler, Ronald (November 9, 2012). "FBI Investigation Led to Petraeus Resignation".  
  20. ^ Kessler, Ronald (November 13, 2012). "FBI Suppressed Petraeus Scandal to Protect President".  
  21. ^ [= "New York Times Best Seller list"] . August 16, 2014. Retrieved August 16, 2014. 
  22. ^ Payne, Sebastian. "Joe Biden, just a regular guy who goes skinny dipping". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2 August 2014. 
  23. ^ Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  24. ^ Retrieved October 4, 2015. 
  25. ^ Yarin, Dave. "The Leadership Lessons from the Secret Service’s Struggles". Retrieved 14 April 2015. 
  26. ^ Kessler, Ronald (August 25, 2015). "Donald Trump’s No. 1 Cheerleader".  
  27. ^ "Fry Lecture Series Brings Ronald Kessler to Franklin Pierce University" (Press release). February 24, 2014. Retrieved March 7, 2014. 
  28. ^ Kessler, Ronald (August 23, 2013). "Surveillance: An American Success Story".  
  29. ^ Kessler, Ronald (April 22, 2008). "The Real Joe McCarthy".  
  30. ^ Kessler, Ronald (March 15, 2015). "Reform the Secret Service url=".  
  31. ^ Kessler, Ronald (October 25, 2010). "The Juan Williams I Know". Newsmax
  32. ^ Kessler, Ronald (August 1, 2011).“Russia Tried to Swap Spies Hanssen, Ames”. “Newsmax”.
  33. ^ Kessler, Ronald (September 23, 2014). "The Secret Service Thinks we Are Fools".  
  34. ^ "Ronald Kessler Joins Newsmax".  
  35. ^ "Washington Insider with Ronald Kessler Archive".  
  36. ^ "Newsmax's Kessler Wins Top CPAC Journalist Award".  
  37. ^ Kessler, Ronald (January 4, 2010). "Secret Service Let Third Intruder Into White House".  
  38. ^  
  39. ^ a b Kessler, Ronald (March 16, 2008). "Obama Attended Hate America Sermon". Newsmax. Archived from the original on March 24, 2008. Retrieved March 17, 2008. 
  40. ^ "Schedule Puts Obama in Miami During July '07 Wright Sermon".  
  41. ^ Sargent, Greg (March 17, 2008). "Newsmax's Kessler Scrubs Reference To His Obama Factual Blunder From His Wiki Page".  
  42. ^ Kessler, Ronald (December 8, 2008), "Obama Was Born in the United States", Newsmax
  43. ^ Kessler, Ronald (December 11, 2008), "Obama is Quick Study in Intelligence Briefings", Newsmax
  44. ^  
  45. ^ "'"James Bamford Reviews Ronald Kessler's 'In the President's Secret Service. 
  46. ^  
  47. ^  
  48. ^ The Senate Committee’s Report on the CIA’s Use of Torture, New York Times, December 9, 2014
  49. ^ 7 Key Points From the C.I.A. Torture Report, By JEREMY ASHKENAS, HANNAH FAIRFIELD, JOSH KELLER and PAUL VOLPE, New York Times, December 9, 2014
  50. ^ 7 Report Says C.I.A. Used Media Leaks to Advantage, New York Times, December 9, 2014
  51. ^ ABC News. "CIA Pushes Back on Assertion That It Overstated Intelligence From Detention Program". ABC News. 

External links

  • Kessler's personal website
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on In the President's Secret Service
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on The Terrorist Watch
  • Appearances on C-SPAN
    • , September 12, 1993.The FBI: Inside the World's Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency interview with Kessler on Booknotes
    • interview with Kessler, April 5, 2015In Depth
From 2006 to 2012, Kessler was chief Washington correspondent of

After National Public Radio (NPR) fired Juan Williams as a news analyst, Kessler wrote "The Juan Williams I Know".[31] Based on his book The Secrets of the FBI, Kessler wrote “Russia Tried to Swap Spies Hanssen, Ames”.[32] 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.[33]

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.[28][29][30]


"Ron Kessler...has enjoyed a reputation for solid reporting over the past four decades," Lloyd Grove wrote in his column in The Daily Beast.[26] Franklin Pierce University awarded Kessler the Marlin Fitzwater Medallion for excellence as a prolific author, journalist, and communicator.[27]

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.” [25]

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.[21] 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. [22] The book also reveals that the Secret Service covered up the fact that President Ronald Reagan’s White House staff overruled the Secret Service to let unscreened spectators get close to Reagan as he left the Washington Hilton, allowing John W. Hinckley, Jr. to shoot the president.[23] The New York Post called the book “a compelling look at the intrepid personnel who shield America’s presidents and their families—and those whom they guard. Kessler writes flatteringly and critically about people in both parties.” [24]

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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[17][18]

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.[16]


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