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1979: Attack Prompts Better Senate Security

[IMGCAP(1)]Among Roll Call’s top headlines in 1979 were Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) close call with a disturbed woman and the stepped-up security in the Senate buildings that resulted from the encounter.

One week after a 38-year-old Boston woman entered Kennedy’s office and injured a member of the Senator’s Secret Service detail, the Rules Committee decided to install 40 metal detectors at the entrances of the Senate office buildings.

Roll Call reported that Melody Miller, a Kennedy campaign spokeswoman, witnessed the Nov. 28 altercation in the Senator’s office.

The attacker “was incoherent and loud and the agent tried to take care of the situation. It was then she pulled the knife. He was cut and there was no serious wound,” Miller said.

An aide added that Kennedy was there that day, but the altercation happened several doors away from the Senator’s private office.

Although no one was severely injured in the incident, the Rules Committee authorized Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Nordy Hoffman to install the detectors for the safety of the Senators and staffers.

According to Inspector Gilbert Abernathy of the Capitol Police, the first round of metal detectors were installed in 1976 as part of a program to phase in the security measures in key areas.

“Current situations may have acted as a catalyst in moving the process along a little faster,” Abernathy said.

Coincidentally, just one month prior to the incident in Kennedy’s office, the Senator was “assigned four Secret Service agents to provide him with around-the-clock protection.”

According to a Kennedy aide, Tom Southwick, the Senator’s protection came on the heels of numerous threats to his life.

This protection was unheard of for non-presidential candidates; however, Kennedy began to receive threats “since he began sounding like a presidential candidate,” and was therefore assigned a detail.

Federal agents “were first assigned to protecting Presidential candidates in 1968 following the assassination of Robert Kennedy.”

Roll Call reported that President Jimmy Carter issued the special protection for the Massachusetts Senator in an effort to prevent another Kennedy tragedy.

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