Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan: Assessing the Impact of Assassination Attempts on the Organizational Culture of the U.S. Secret Service

Briana D. Bowen


The U.S. Secret Service (USSS), one of the most elite security agencies in the world, is charged with protecting the President of the United States at any cost. Three American presidents fell to assassins' bullets before the USSS was assigned the role of presidential protection; one more would later be slain despite USSS protection. This study examines the organizational culture of the USSS, employing the methodology of cultural topography (CTOPS) to identify the agency's norms, values, identity, and perceptual lens. We review three of the most impactful twentieth-century assassination attempts—two failed, one successful—and their formative effect on USSS organizational culture. Beginning with the lesser-known plot to assassinate Harry Truman, we examine the permanent authorization of the Presidential Protective Division. We apply our main focus to the assassination of John Kennedy, the USSS's darkest hour and still its most powerful motivator. Lastly, we review the attack on Ronald Reagan and the development of the modern USSS security apparatus. Our final profile of USSS organizational culture gives insight into the agency's strengths and weaknesses and highlights the emergent challenges of the 21st century.


Faculty Mentor

Jeannie L. Johnson

Departmental Honors Advisor

Veronica Ward

Capstone Committee Member

Nicholas Morrison