- - Monday, May 4, 2020

If you find it difficult to imagine jovial Joe Biden sexually assaulting his former Senate staffer Tara Reade as she has alleged, consider what Secret Service agents encountered while protecting him as vice president.

Both at the vice president’s residence in Washington, D.C., and at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, Mr. Biden routinely swam naked in front of female Secret Service agents, offending them. They signed up to take a bullet for the president — not to see Joe Biden naked.

Mr. Biden’s disrespect for the women on his Secret Service detail, as revealed in my book “The First Family Detail,” displays inordinate privilege and arrogance. But far more shocking, Secret Service agents told me that when Mr. Biden regularly went to his home outside Wilmington, he would insist that the military aide with the nuclear football remain in a vehicle at least a mile behind his. 

This was part of Mr. Biden’s insistence on projecting his “regular Joe” image, the face he projected to the public. He did not want to be seen with a long official motorcade. But in the meantime, Mr. Biden put the country at risk of being wiped out in a nuclear attack.

The nuclear football is a leather-covered titanium business case that weighs 40 pounds. Secured with a cipher lock, it contains a variety of secure phone capabilities and options for launching nuclear strikes that the president or — in the event he is taken out or incapacitated — the vice president may authorize.

Because what is called the Sealed Authentication System is so highly classified, all of the information that has appeared in the press about it has been wrong. Contrary to the lore, the football itself does not operate like an ATM, with the president or vice president inserting the authenticator card and punching in launch codes to authorize a strike.

Instead, along with options that are written out, the nuclear football contains a secure phone to open up communications with the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon. During a conference call, the president or vice president reads the codes from his authenticator card to verify his identity. Military leaders and White House national security advisers then brief the president or vice president on the nature of the threat and the options for retaliating.

Since the president or vice president would likely have 15 minutes or less to respond to an impending attack from a country like China, Russia or North Korea before the United States could be obliterated by nuclear-tipped missiles, the military aide who carries the satchel is supposed to accompany each of the two leaders wherever they go. In motorcades, the military aide travels in the vehicle directly behind the president’s or vice president’s limo.

But as soon as Mr. Biden — code-named Celtic — took office in January 2009, he laid down a rule: Instead of the usual retinue of at least 15 vehicles preceded by a police escort in his motorcade, whenever he was in Delaware, where he has his longtime home, he wanted a Secret Service motorcade of two — the limousine or Suburban he rides in plus a follow-up Suburban behind him with agents.

Since the vice president and his wife, Jill, often traveled to their home in Greenville outside of Wilmington as many as several times a week, that put the country at risk, potentially unable to retaliate against a nuclear attack whenever the second-in-command hit the road for a haircut, a party, a speaking engagement, or a golf game at one of two his favorite country clubs.

Even in normal traffic, in the event of an attack, by the time the military aide caught up with Mr. Biden, it would be too late.

“You’ve separated vital assets from the vice president in Wilmington when he’s motorcading around,” an agent told me when Mr. Biden was vice president. “We are told, ‘Don’t come near us, don’t let us see you, the vice president doesn’t want to see you.’”

Secret Service agents believe Mr. Biden insisted on only two vehicles in his motorcade in Delaware because he wanted to maintain his image back home as a regular Joe. Thus, according to agents, Mr. Biden seemed to care more about his image than carrying out the only significant responsibility required of him as vice president: To launch retaliatory strikes in the event of a nuclear attack if the president had been assassinated or was unable to do so.

Mr. Biden has vigorously denied Tara Reade’s allegations. But so far, Miss Reade’s brother, two friends and a former neighbor have said she told them back then various details of Mr. Biden’s alleged assault.

When evaluating her claims, it is useful to keep in mind that Mr. Biden’s actions as reported by Secret Service agents indicate that, in contrast to his regular Joe image, the former vice president has a second face, one that apparently thinks he can get away with anything.

• Ronald Kessler, a former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal investigative reporter, is The New York Times bestselling author of “The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents.”

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