Traditionally, Secretaries of State receive a personal protection detail from the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). However, Henry Kissinger eschewed the DS detail in favor of the Secret Service protection he had as the National Security Advisor at the White House. His wife Nancy, a brilliant and glamorous New York aristocrat who spent years as a top aide to future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, on the other hand, was very appreciative of the work and professionalism exhibited by her DSS agents and they were quite fond of her as well.
Bruce Tully, interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy beginning in July 2015, was one of the DSS agents assigned to Nancy Kissinger’s personal security detail. He offers a rare insider’s look into their lives, discusses his awkward first meeting with the regal Mrs. Kissinger, what it was like protecting her in the U.S. and abroad, as well as dealing with her sometimes cantankerous husband. (Photo: People Magazine)
Read Tully’s account about lending Kissinger money and other Moments on the famous Secretary.
“I was warned — if that’s the right word — that not many agents survived the Kissinger detail”
TULLY: I was in the Washington Field Office working domestic protection. We would protect foreign dignitaries visiting not only Washington but San Francisco, New Orleans, Miami and around the country, New York….
A few months into the Washington Field Office assignment there was an advertised opening for a position on Nancy Kissinger’s protective detail. And that was the biggest game in town at that time because we had lost protection of the Secretary temporarily because of Henry Kissinger’s affinity with the Secret Service and because he had a personal relationship with those members.
So we protected the spouse, which was a huge thing for us. There were only 12 Special Agents assigned. In fact, there were only some 200 DSS agents in the world at that time. There were 12 agents assigned to Nancy Kissinger for 24/7 operations.
When that opening came about, I really thought long and hard about it because I had just left the Secret Service, which was nothing but protection. I had worked shifts in the USSS in the street division and then the White House Protective Division and looking forward to doing investigations and some international travel and support of embassies under threats.
But when this opened up, it seemed frankly more and more like a natural thing to do, it’d be important work, exciting and a sought after protective detail for younger agents. So, I volunteered and within minutes it seemed I was selected.…I reported for duty in June 1976….
Henry Kissinger was a huge name. He had opened up China with Nixon, he was the broker of the peace talks with Vietnam and during the Watergate crisis he probably — with one or two others — was acting as the de facto President of the United States. This notoriety highlighted Mrs. Kissinger’s detail and kept us in the press clippings as well….This was our varsity team.
I was warned — if that’s the right word — that not many agents survived the Kissinger detail. And the reason for that is that there was a dedicated group of agents there who had a very similar background to myself…they were very much in control of the detail and who got on it. And to put it mildly, they didn’t suffer fools happily, gladly, or easily.
Nancy Kissinger was one of the most gracious, lovely women I ever met. She came from a very aristocratic family. The history is out there. But it was the nexus to Henry Kissinger too….She would frequently go to New York into Manhattan to visit friends and attend diplomatic functions with her husband, or go up to lower Upstate New York where her family was – and where she went, we went.
So I had to fly up to New York City on the morning shift. We used to commute to New York from Washington like we would commute across the street. We commuted to New York sometimes on a daily basis. So I would fly up to New York. And the shift leader at that time turned out to be a personal friend, Special Agent Dan McCarthy who was with the Montgomery County Police and at one time was a detective. He was the shift leader and I could have not have been broken in under a better man.
I got up there, radioed from the airport to Dan for a meet location. I cabbed into the city and then the “Hi, I’m Bruce Tully” with credentials in hand and how are you and so on….
You always had an agent in close proximity to the protectee. If you actually didn’t have eyes on them, you knew where they were because you always had to know where they were in case they called out for help or they needed something or you had to evacuate.
As you might imagine I had the initial butterflies now that I’m going to meet this famous person who I’m going to protect in New York City, where I was born. There’s only two of us at any given time in the world protecting her, sometimes three, but domestically there’s just two of us, so you’re very aware of that.
“Mrs. K then opened the door and came out and she was in a state of, well, trying on some things – you get the point”
Now, we were in a garment store in the garment district where she was trying on clothes. And McCarthy said, “She’s back in that room. So just go ahead and assume that post” and I’m saying to myself, “Be sharp.” So I said no problem, still thinking there are only two of us on site, with one New York DSS agent in a car out front.
So this young wide-eyed new agent goes into this room. And it just so happened it was in the area where there are a great many fashion models trying on clothes. And if you know anything about modeling, models change clothes very frequently in a very few minutes. They have no idea of modesty because their idea is to change clothes and move along. They become invisible to everyone else.
So here is a kind of innocent, naïve, federal agent, former police officer, going into this room with women taking their clothes off in front of you. Yes. So your eyeballs pop out and you can’t believe this is happening, and I’m actually embarrassed. And they’re paying no pay attention to me, whatever.
But I can’t leave that room because Mrs. Kissinger is supposed to be back in that area. And so I try to move a little bit out of the way of them but still maintain a protective presence for Nancy Kissinger. They don’t teach this at the academy!
And I don’t think I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but Mrs. K then opened the door and came out and she was in a state of how should I say, well, trying on some things – you get the point.
And I said, “Oh. My. God.” I hadn’t met her yet and she looked at me and I looked at her. Oh boy. And she turned around and just went back into her room. And I then saw my entire career go up in smoke.
Well, I got on the radio, “McCarthy -Tully,”
“Tully-McCarthy, go ahead.”
I said, “Come in here, please, I need to see you immediately.”
So he comes in, “What’s the matter?” And I told him what happened, I’d just seen Mrs. Kissinger in kind of delicate situation. And he starts to laugh. He says, “Don’t worry about it, she does it all the time.”
So I felt kind of relieved. And then we’re standing post — I mean we’re there for about an hour and a half and we are pushing posts every half hour. We had a New York agent driver in the vehicle on the street for a quick move out.
After some time Mrs. Kissinger comes out of the room and Dan McCarthy and I are there and we start to move out of the store to the street. And as we’re walking to the car — and she’s looking very elegant, and she’s very tall, she’s taller than Dan and I, she’s almost six foot.
Dan stops and says, “Oh, Mrs. Kissinger, I’d like to introduce to you your new Special Agent, Bruce Tully.”
And I immediately became flushed and embarrassed but I said, “Mrs. Kissinger, so nice to meet you.” And she was very gracious, never mentioning, you know, that I’d already had that little episode and seen her. And that’s how we met….
“Threat of assassination is less of a threat for the Special Agent than it is for the protectee”
One of the first things you want to know when you’re assigned to any protective detail or embassy is what the threat profile is. What do we have to worry about?
At that time there was a pretty big threat on Henry himself by the Palestinians, Middle East, European threats…the Red Army faction….And domestically remember that President Ford was in office and we already had two assassination attempts by women, a new threat identification, one actually firing a shot. And one coming all too close with a .45.
I was promptly briefed that the biggest threat we faced for Nancy was a kidnapping threat. Whether credible or not, that’s what they believed. Protective intelligence said it was a way to get Henry — not to kill her, but to kidnap her. And that’s a very, very unique set of skills to protect a person from kidnapping. If you want to protect a person from assassination, that in itself is difficult because the bad guy has to do something to get through your perimeter of security — could be a sniper, whatever else.
But as paradoxical as this may seem, threat of assassination is less of a threat for the Special Agent than it is for the protectee. If you want to do a kidnap, you have to kill me to get to her. And that’s what you have to remember. You can’t take her unless you kill me and we’re dedicated to protect that person.
So our heightened awareness was always there, either from real imagined or otherwise, people on the street, because of her status. So having said that, we were very protective of her….This is natural. When you get into this line of work, you do assume a very protective mental state for the person. Now, even though you’re protecting a public figure, it is still a person and you can have an affinity for the person. And I liked Nancy Kissinger….
“Nancy would always look out for us”
The Kissinger detail was a very unique way to break into full-time federal agent protection. Because at that time, Henry Kissinger had the Secret Service and so had two operational details. When he first became Secretary there was a joint detail of Secret Service and Office of Security State Department people, and that frankly just didn’t work. One group didn’t like the other group. It was like cats and dogs.
The Secret Service had many more advance people, they just had so much more equipment and personnel to accompany the job. And we just simply didn’t have that at State at that time. I think the USSS detail leader at the time, whose name was Walter Bothe, who was a great guy, worked a deal with Treasury and State so that DS got Mrs. K and State paid for the whole operation.
When I got to the Mrs. K. detail, there was us versus them thinking. And it was very evident between their younger agents and our agents that they didn’t care for us. And that goes back, again, to when I was in the Secret Service Academy. The instructors would come in and say, there’s another outfit in town that does protection, it’s the State Department, and they frankly are just no good.
It seemed to me then that I had to be careful not to drink the Kool-Aid they were serving and to keep an open mind. So it was natural the USSS rookies didn’t like that organization. My job then, and as new agents coming on, was to make friends with these guys, if you could, and at the very least not have any animosity. And we worked that way. And we pretty much worked independent of each other.
What was good for us was that if you worked Nancy Kissinger, when you worked the joint move with Secret Service when she traveled with the Secretary, Nancy would always look out for us. Henry Kissinger could yell at his Secret Service agents, and did so, be terrible with his Secret Service agents, and was. But he really couldn’t touch us. We were protected by Nancy….
“Tell the blank-blank-blank-blank-blank-blank-blank where to go””
The Kissingers were going to be moving. Towards the end of the term they were going to be moving from Dumbarton Street in Georgetown to another residence. And Henry Kissinger didn’t want to move and he certainly didn’t want to do any packing. The Secretary was supposed to be home on one Sunday night somewhere around five p.m. to help Mrs. Kissinger pack. And the Secretary made it very clear, we found out, that he didn’t want to pack, he didn’t want any part of moving. This was not his job.
So Mrs. Kissinger, who we’re with on a 1500 – 2300 shift, is becoming more and more agitated because she’s doing the packing. We were downstairs in the command post when she called down that she wanted to go out and walk the dog.
Now, they had a dog named Tyler, it was a golden Lab that was given to them by President Ford from a litter of his dog, Liberty, who I had previously ‘met’ on a Sunday morning while at the White House – another story for another time. Anyway, it’s time to walk the dog, so the agents go out and walk with Mrs. Kissinger who walks the dog. That’s how that works.
So we’re out walking Mrs. Kissinger, and she of course — and she’s venting to us about — about how her husband isn’t there to assist her with the packing. And we’re trying to be very professional, yes ma’am, yes ma’am, walking down the street.
And as we’re walking, we’re looking for bad guys, because that’s what you do, front and back and all around, and the dog was a very nice dog but very unruly. It used to come down to the command post and eat our lunch when we weren’t looking there, as Labradors would do. But so we’re listening to all this and after a while we get back to the house.
As we just get in, it’s still just the three of us in the house and I guess the other agent was downstairs. And I was in the kitchen because Mrs. Kissinger asked me to come up to help her move something. And you know what? You do that. Because that’s how close you are in this detail.
So she goes upstairs a moment to the bedroom area on the third floor, and as I’m in the kitchen, the phone rings and it was a drop line from the Secretary. We had a secure line to the President, had drop lines to State, you’d just pick it up and it’d ring. So the phone rang directly from the Secretary’s office to the house.
And the phone is ringing and I saw it was the Secretary and so I called up to Mrs. Kissinger, I said, “Mrs. Kissinger, it’s the Secretary”
And she yelled back down, “Mr. Tully, will you please answer it?”
Now, you answer it, because, you know, it’s the Secretary of State and she asks you to do it.
So in my very best diplomatic voice I said, “Special Agent Tully, sir, may I help you?” And it was Henry. He was taken aback because an agent picked up the phone, he’s trying to call his wife.
So, after a pause, “Vehr is Nahn-cee?”
So I said, “One moment, please, sir.” I put my hand over the receiver and I yelled upstairs, I said, “Ma’am, it’s the Secretary for you.”
I won’t tell you the precise language she used. But she said something to the effect that, “Tell the blank-blank-blank-blank-blank-blank-blank where to go.”
And so — and this is now a true test to whether you’re a diplomat or not. And so he hadn’t heard this, I hope. I take my hand off the receiver, and say “I’m sorry, Mr. Secretary, but Mrs. Kissinger isn’t available right now. Perhaps you could call later, thank you” and hung up.
I went immediately downstairs looking at my watch waiting for the midnight shift to come on. In fact, the Secretary still wasn’t home when I was pushed – agent-speak for getting relieved on post. So those are the kinds of things you deal with.
You know, to be very frank, you become a mediator sometimes too and they kind of don’t teach you this, either….
“Cancun’s a lovely place to work but not when you’re working in a jacket and tie in 100% humidity and at midnight”
We would travel with Mrs. Kissinger everywhere, of course. One of the most challenging trips I ever took with her — there were two actually challenging trips — the first trip was to South America, it was my first trip abroad. And I was the midnight shift leader.
Dan McCarthy came up, he says, “Bruce, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that you’re the shift leader. The bad news is you’re working midnights.” And I had to hopscotch with another agent ahead of the main party all the way down to Mexico to Bolivia to Colombia to Argentina to Chile. And that’s a long, long way to travel.
In those days, by the way, we traveled in jacket and tie with your diplomatic passport. It was a gentleman’s way to travel. It was a long way. And I remember in particular working midnights, which I never liked or got used to.
The advance agent who was down there frankly didn’t do a very good job, didn’t last too long with us and capitulated to the Secret Service on what we would do or not do. And even though the USSS had more manpower and I had only two people, me and another guy, working midnights, he gave us up for postings that we had a stand.
Normally when you work, you would work a half-hour on or a half-hour off for one post. But because of his failing to push back to the Service and because of the amount of work we did without a break and in very harsh conditions, we always got the outside posts while they were inside in the AC and it was very harsh, hot and humid and bugs. I got terribly ill. And you still had to work as you were it. No backup.
And on the way back on this trip, what we did what was called an RON, remain over night, in Cancun. Now you would think Cancun’s a lovely place to work but not when you’re working in a jacket and tie in 100% humidity and at midnight. And I was terribly sick.
Mrs. Kissinger found out I was sick, a day-shift DS agent told her. Hearing this, she insisted that I be relieved. The US medical doctor, the RMO, regional medical doctor who traveled with us, checked me out and he said, “You’re one sick guy.” Whatever it was, it was very, very debilitating.
It was so bad they actually bumped someone off the Secretary’s airplane, the white top and blue USAF KC 707 so I could get on that plane and go directly back to Andrews Air Force Base with them. So she took care of you that way. I never forgot her kindness.
“My bullet pouch unsnapped and six .357 Magnum bullets fell all over the floor and now everyone’s looking”
Another trip I went where I meet Marlene Eagleburger — they traveled together — was to South Africa. We traveled to Kenya and then South Africa. And that was a very exciting trip for me because I was now the daytime shift leader with a full shift of agents and you’re there to protect Nancy, and of course Mrs. Eagleburger too. I had met Larry Eagleburger at that time, who I guess was the Under Secretary for Management [later Deputy Secretary and then briefly Secretary of State]. And he was Henry’s right-hand man. Nancy would go to him for everything.
Mrs. Eagleburger was very protective of Nancy Kissinger, which I appreciated. So we made sure everything worked right. But we went separate of the Secretary, which frankly I liked because now we were on our own. We were away from that circus with the Secretary and the Secret Service and the press. We were operating our own.
Each country we went to gave us pretty good support. I remember when we landed in Nairobi we had a RON there and then we took a private aircraft, a King Air to a safari lodge called Kikar Lodge, which was out in the fields and it was a tremendous experience.
But also now you’re all by yourself, out here with the Masai warriors and Nancy Kissinger, and it’s wild. I mean, it’s going to sound funny, but there’s lions, tigers, zebras, elephants, wild boar, and it’s pretty wild then. And while there wasn’t a terrorist incident to worry about then, there were criminals, poachers, and the wild. And I remember in particular I was at this lodge and Nancy and Mrs. Eagleburger went to the pool. And this agent goes too.
Now, here you are, you’re armed to the teeth. And I’ve got my S&W [Smith and Wesson] model 19 .357 Magnum with extra bullets right here in your dump belt pouch. If needed, you’d dump the shells into your hand and load. I was wearing one of these safari hats that I bought in a hotel, and you look like something right out of the movies.
And I’m wearing a safari jacket over everything, because you’ve got your radio and your gun. We were short manpower as usual, so it’s just me at the pool trying to blend in with everybody in their bathing suits and giving Mrs. Kissinger and Mrs. Eagleburger some space.
As you might imagine, Mrs. Kissinger looks around and she needs something, she calls, “Oh Mr. Tully, could you come here a moment?” And of course, I’m sitting in a chair like this and I’m trying to get up and be very discreet.
As I start to get up, my bullet pouch unsnapped and what that means is six .357 Magnum bullets fell all over the floor and now everyone’s looking. Now, that may not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s a big deal to me.
As I’m starting to go to see Mrs. Kissinger, I’m picking up the bullets, trying to put them in my pocket and I walk up to Mrs. Kissinger with the hat and the whole bit with the zebra skin around it, and she looks and she says to Mrs. Eagleburger, “See? I told you. Mr. Tully looks just like Stuart Granger,” which was a movie star in one of these big African movies. And I’m starting to blush now.
Then she said, “Well, Mr. Tully, we’re going to dinner,” and off we went. So you had those little moments like that where you’re trying to be very good and professional, and she’s there.
The trips were great because she was very gracious and very good to work with and we looked after her. We are also there not just to protect the person but to protect her from embarrassment as well and because she could be ill. We wanted to make sure she was always all right. She would look to us if she was feeling ill or a problem.
In a motorcade or a very big occasion, at a state dinner or a palace, whatever, we would have to get up and move — taking her– not pick her up literally but be there and escort her out back to her room, wherever, to take care of her. We became very, very protective of her. And you wanted to do it. She was very gracious about it.
““Because I thought you were CIA. And if you were, I was going to kill you.””
We had a very interesting situation with the South Africans. We flew into Pretoria and Johannesburg and then Cape Town. And they gave us their own [Lockheed] JetStar aircraft to fly Mrs. Kissinger to Cape Town.
Our advance agent, Mike Woods, was also on the plane with the South African BOSS agent, Bureau of State Security. We’re on the JetStar and Nancy Kissinger’s up in the front and the agents and staff are in the back, and it’s very plush. And this situation is something we never considered before.
As I’m on the JetStar, and it’s about a two, three-hour flight, I kind of remember going from upper South Africa to Cape Town. And I remember the BOSS agent, the Bureau of State Security agent, being rather officious and not very friendly, a little gruff. And you just let it go, it’s the way it’s going to be. We knew they were efficient but because there was apartheid and all types of other problems they were very tough and they could be very vicious….
I got up and I went back to the restroom. And when I left the restroom, he got up right away and went into the restroom. And I’m thinking, “Well, that’s odd.” And then just before we landed, everyone got up to go to the restroom, because agents are always looking to go to the bathroom when you can or to get something to eat when you can, because you’ll never know when you’re able to do that. Especially when you’re short-staffed, because you can’t leave the protectee.
No matter where I went on this trip, the BOSS agent would always kind of look at me very oddly. And you just kind of blow that off, because you’re doing your job, and it was a good trip. And there was very good security in South Africa.
We put Mrs. Kissinger and the Secretary on their plane,…a SAM aircraft, Special Air Missions U.S. Air Force, to go home on. And then we were about to go back to the States by ourselves on Pan Am.
But that night, as typically you would do, there used to be something that the embassy or the consulates would throw, because you had embassy support, called the Wheels-Up Party. So a Wheels-Up Party is where everyone gets together, they let their hair down, have a drink, relax, have something to eat and celebrate a successful trip.
We invited [the BOSS agents] and they came. And they got to know us. And I said to the guy, “You know, I’m just very curious, why were you so gruff? You’ve got to know me. And why this kind of behavior?”
And without missing a beat — and he had had, by the way, more than a couple of drinks, and in agent-speak, a few cans of loud mouth — he said, “Because I thought you were CIA. And if you were, I was going to kill you.” That’s what he said.
I said, “Well, I’m glad you found out I wasn’t CIA…”…and a few other diplomatic choice words.
So now you had to learn those “new” threats, too, because a lot of security services around the world looked at us as spies and espionage agents because the James Bond movies were big. Remember there was a James Bond movie, Goldfinger, where James Bond is in a JetStar and goes to the back to change clothes and there is a little peephole to have a clandestine peek of what’s up. I can only imagine this BOSS fellow saw the movie a few too many times and played the role out.
But they weren’t very sophisticated either and while they were very good in their assistance to us and thorough, they could be very reckless.
And then comes the very difficult time on Inauguration Day when you’re going to say goodbye to your protectee and move on to a new one. And that was a whole new thing because we were now assuming protection of the new Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, within minutes.
I was on the last day shift of the last day with another agent and I got a phone call at noon when the new President was sworn in from my detail leader. He says, “OK, drop the detail, just leave.”
I said, “What do you mean, drop the detail?”
He said, “Yeah, leave.”
“I’m not leaving.”
So what I did was I hung up on him and I picked up the house phone and then I went upstairs. I said, “Mrs. Kissinger, it’s been a pleasure, but we’ve been ordered to go.”
And you could see she was a little unhappy.