On a warm September evening in New York City, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad slowly walked down the staircase of his official plane, idling in a remote corner of John F. Kennedy International Airport. Waiting to greet him were a gaggle of invited (and carefully screened) journalists, U.S. consular officials, and the like. But there was at least one face in the small crowd that Ahmadinejad recognized immediately, that of a U.S. Secret Service agent whom I’ll call Jack. (For security reasons, the service prefers not to publicize the names of its agents working on protective details.) A lean, compact man in his late 40s, Jack wore what passes for a uniform in the Secret Service: dark suit with a slight, artificial paunch around the middle (the result of gun, radio, handcuffs, and badge), light-blue shirt, and red tie. This was Jack’s third stint as a senior agent on the Iran detail, but his first as detail leader. He was the man charged by the U.S. government with ensuring the safety of arguably the nation’s most public enemy.
Jack does not consider Ahmadinejad a friend, and he is somewhat uncomfortable being one of the few Americans the Iranian leader has gotten to know firsthand. (Ahmadinejad had grown so fond of Jack’s predecessor as detail leader— an agent since promoted to a more senior position—that he’d called him by his first name, asked after his children, and even, upon arriving and departing the country, given him formal kisses on each cheek.) But Jack was nonetheless proud of the job with which he had been entrusted: protecting the life of a man with a bull’s-eye on his back, and getting him door-to-door for six days, from limo to hotel to high-level meeting, as safely and expeditiously as possible.