Monday April 16, 2012
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I have no idea what happened, or didn't happen, in Cartagena last week when at least 11 Secret Service Agents were suddenly sent home and replaced by a different team.
You've read the headlines: "Agents Procure Prostitutes While Waiting for Obama" or words to a like effect.
A hundred years ago I did a few advance trips for Vice President Quayle. You can argue, and successfully, that the whole notion of putting about 100 people in place up to two weeks ahead of a visit by a President isn't so much presidential as it is as it is imperial, but that's a discussion for another day.
This is not something President Obama invented. I'm not sure when it started but it was the Presidential advance staff that arranged events at which Franklin Delano Roosevelt was appearing such that the public couldn't easily see that he was unable to walk due to having contracted polio.
Was that a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know because 1939 is not the same as 2012. The press knew perfectly well that FDR was (as they said at the time) crippled, but they didn't report it. Today there would not be a Presidential event that didn't include people - children especially - within the frame sitting in wheel chairs.
In 2012, not only would everyone know the President was handicapped, but it would be turned into an asset.
There are three principal aspects to a Presidential advance operation: Politics, Policy, and Security.
The Security is the province of the United States Secret Service which was established on July 5, 1865.
Until March 1, 2003 when it was transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service was a subsidiary of the Department of Treasury. It still has primary responsibility for currency scams including counterfeiting and credit card fraud.
Politics and policy are the province (how's that for alliteration?) of the White House. Oh, wait! This is better:
Politics and policy are the principal province of Presidential personnel.
There is a small Office of Presidential Advance. Most of the other people who go out in advance of a Presidential visit are federal employees from other organizations or, as in my case, volunteers who think its cool.
Advance operations also include military personnel. There are Air Force meteorologists and Air Force One coordinators. There are also, depending upon the venue, other branches of the military involved. WACA - the White House Communications Agency - staff are typically Army technicians.
Local people are involved in domestic trips. These are the people who arrange for, and sometimes drive, the vehicles in the long motorcade that include local VIPs.
Hotel managers are involved because elevators need to be reserved, floors need to be blocked off, and room service has to be adapted to the needs of the White House staff and the travelling press.
If the President is speaking at an event, then the people who are in charge of the event have to be included as well as the managers of the venue.
The point is, a lot of people are not only brought into the process, but are thrilled to be a part of it.
In my youth, I helped out on major GOP dinners in Washington. One year we were expecting about 3,500 guests and the entertainment was to be Lee Greenwood.
I happed to be flipping through the channels a few days in advance of the event and saw Mr. Greenwood singing "I'm Proud to be an American" to a group of senior citizens, each of whom had a little American flag he or she was waving in time to the music.
I went into the office the next day and convinced the director of the event to allow me to buy 3,500 little American flags.
On the day of the dinner, the volunteers were putting out the menus, the gift bags and � the little American flags.
The lead Secret Service agent sought me out to tell me that the flags had to go.
They were on pointed sticks and the pointed sticks could be used as a weapon.
I suggested this was a dinner. A dinner includes such items as KNIVES AND FORKS!
The Agent saw the wisdom of my position and asked me not to mention our conversation which I have not done until now.
I don't know what the Secret Service Agents that got sent home did or didn't do. I DO know that they are sworn to protect the life of the President (or anyone else they are assigned to) and I don't want that job.
They are, generally speaking, young men with guns in a foreign country. If they strayed and it had no effect on Presidential security, it is something less than a grave national issue.
Give them the equivalent of a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap to the back of the head and send them back to work.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to the official Secret Service history page; a very pretty Mullfoto from the Berkshires this past weekend and a Catchy Caption of the Day that should make you think.
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