CSO Perspectives (Pro) 2.28.22
Ep 5557 | 2.28.22

Bonus material: Cyber sand table series: 2014 OPM hack.


Rick Howard: Hey, everybody. Rick here. When I was working on the OPM Sand Table episode, I got a little carried away with some of the background research and history of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. I thought the material was fascinating, but it had nothing to do with the OPM breach and made the episode really long, so we cut it out of the episode. But if you're a history nerd and want to hear some amazing trivia about Robert Todd Lincoln, President Lincoln's son, and how he appears to be the center of gravity for three of the four U.S. presidential assassinations, I humbly present the "CSO Perspectives'" first-ever bonus episode. Enjoy.


Rick Howard: For you, old-timers out there, you're listening to the theme song to an early 1960s cartoon called "Mr. Peabody's Improbable History" that I watched on endless reruns when I was a kid. 

Rick Howard: Well, Sherman, let's set the date to 1883 in the United States and the passage of the Pendleton Act. According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, or CRS, that's where the OPM origin story begins. This act tried to transform the hiring of federal workers from the spoils system to a system of choosing employees based on merit. 

Rick Howard: Fifty years before, U.S. President Andrew Jackson, the famous victorious commander against the British in the Battle of New Orleans and the infamous instigator of the Trail of Tears for the Cherokee Nation, began what we all refer to now as the spoils system. He operationalized at the federal level the famous saying, to the victor belong the spoils. When he became president, he fired about 10% of the federal workforce and replaced them with people who supported him in his presidential campaign. From then on, each incoming president would do the same, dismissing thousands of government workers and replacing them with members from their own party. 

Rick Howard: Fast forward through 40-odd years of the spoils system to July 2, 1881, when a mentally disturbed man, Charles J. Guiteau - and my French is just awful - who thought he deserved a federal job because of his qualifications but didn't get it, assassinated President James Garfield at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, D.C. According to my editor John Petrik, quote, "even local postmasters were presidential appointees. Mr. Guiteau's nose was out of joint because he didn't land what today would probably be described as a GS-11 job," end quote. When Garfield finally died from infection several weeks later, he had only been in office for 200 days, but the public outcry to reform the spoils system grew louder because of it, and Congress passed the Pendleton Act in 1883, two years later. 

Rick Howard: One side note that has absolutely nothing to do with OPM - I just think this is fascinating, and I guarantee you that you'll be sharing this story at dinner parties from now on - is that there have been exactly four U.S. presidential assassinations - President Lincoln in 1865 - and you're listening to the opening bars from the most excellent Spielberg movie, "Lincoln" - President Garfield in 1881, President McKinley in 1901 and President Kennedy in 1963. 

Rick Howard: Here's the kicker. President Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, was in the general vicinity of three of them. For his father, President Lincoln, he attended the deathbed. He was the secretary of war for President Garfield and witnessed President Garfield's attack in the Washington, D.C., train station. I mean, he actually saw it happen. And finally, President McKinley invited Robert Todd Lincoln as his guest to attend the Pan-American Exposition back in the day when world's fairs were still a thing. When Robert Todd Lincoln arrived at the Buffalo train station this time, he learned of the president's death just moments before. 

Rick Howard: Because of all that, Sarah Vowell, the author who told this story in her book "Assassination Vacation," gave Robert Todd Lincoln two nicknames - Assassination Cameo Three-Peat and Tod, spelled T-O-D like Tod, which is the German word for death. 

Rick Howard: And if that wasn't enough, hold on to your hat. This will frost your hair. You probably know that John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Lincoln. But you probably don't know that Booth's brother, Edwin Booth - one of the best Shakespearean actors of the day, by the way - saved Robert Todd Lincoln's life in Jersey City during the Civil War, when Todd fell onto a train track in front of an approaching train. How weird is that? But I digress.