"The Package"
February 8, 2011 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Inside the Secret Service. Sidebars: Radio Chatter and The Presidential Motorcade (Via)


* Life Magazine photo gallery: Inside the Secret Service (From 2009)

* National Geographic Documentary: Inside the US Secret Service (Film is from 2004, 92 minutes)
posted by zarq (43 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
For your convenience, here's a single-page version of the main article.
posted by zarq at 10:04 AM on February 8, 2011

Oh, and two assassination attempts, one on President George W. Bush and another on President Bill Clinton, are mentioned in the article, starting on this page, in the 8th paragraph.
posted by zarq at 10:07 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fun fictional version available here.
posted by chavenet at 10:14 AM on February 8, 2011

bodyguard porn
posted by clavdivs at 10:22 AM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I was amused at how much one of Bill Clinton's protection detail agents looks like Agent Booth from Bones. They are very serious looking guys, and they really do wear those earwigs.
posted by nomisxid at 10:25 AM on February 8, 2011

Fun fictional version available here.

Oh god, I read that as fan fictional and my brain froze because it's just not ready for the implications. I can handle Care Bear BDSM, I can handle Giant Squid/Hogwarts, but I don't think I can handle presidential RPF.
posted by kmz at 10:26 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can handle Care Bear BDSM

Care Bear BDSM... brings to mind a very considerate, supportive top and an enthusiastic, willing, yet sensitive bottom....

Okay, must use brain bleach now.
posted by hippybear at 10:31 AM on February 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

And word from the first black Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden.
posted by hortense at 10:33 AM on February 8, 2011

I have seen the video before, the best part is when the reporter asks for more information on the motorcade.
How thick is the steel, No answer.
What are the doors made of, No answer.
What kind of glass is it, No answer.

"We don't do any prone shooting" Crazy crazy people.
posted by Felex at 10:34 AM on February 8, 2011

D congressperson just shot a couple months ago during the first black presidency with race hate at a local maximum? Yes, this is definitely the time to run a story on how the Secret Service operates.
posted by DU at 10:38 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

This was a fascinating article. Of course, the bit that stuck out at me was: a locked vault full of disguises and fake-grass tarps for agents to hide beneath when on undercover assignments. There's something about the idea of fake-grass tarps that seems impossibly Hollywood.
posted by marginaliana at 10:39 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

President Clinton was my college graduation speaker, which happened when he was in office. There were all kinds of procedural hoops to go thru for the graduates -- get there X hours early, go thru a metal detector, etc. The bomb-sniffing dog who was going over stuff being rolled in was one of the happiest dogs I'd ever seen. The handler was all serious business.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:42 AM on February 8, 2011

They won't confirm or deny it, but one of those SUVs contains one of these.

I would doubt that. Talk about civilian casualties. Talk about a PR nightmare. Somebody fires a pistol from a crowd, and the response involves 7.62NATO at 6,000 rounds a minute?

Spray and Pray is very much *not* how the Secret Service works.

Q: What's the threat model here? If your posit is a Zerg Rush, where the entire crowd is running at the President with death in mind, then, and only then, is it useful. An M2HB would be almost as useful in beating a Zerg Rush back, and would be much more effective in stopping vehicles -- even lightly armored ones -- and would be much more useful in the far more likely case of a dozen hostiles running at you from a crowd -- and would be *vastly* more controllable. Round fired in the air *do not help*. Theoretically, this could protect against very low flying air attacks, but the M2HB would be able to do that as well, would be more likely to actually damage the attacker's aircraft, and would have a much better range. But a MANPAD would be a vastly better answer to the air threat, because you'd have to let the bad guy get far too close before a 7.62N or .50 BMG machine gun becomes effective -- and if they have those, they'll be able to shoot at you well before you could shoot back. Gravity is a bitch, you know.

I could see, in certain circumstances, something very big for anti-armor defense. But the answer to "the entire crowd will try to kill the President" isn't spray-and-pray, it's *don't go there and give them a chance.* Indeed, the correct answer to a potential armored threat really is Bigger and Meaner Armor -- but for, say, NYC, running around with an M1A2 is going to be a bit of an issue, but you could certainly have a couple of FGM-148 Javelins on a rooftop or in the back of one of the SUVs.

Note the weapons named in the article -- pistols, M5P machine guns. The Secret Service works at short range, and doesn't want rounds flying for a couple of kilometers. Because, you know, I think it would be considered a bit embarrassing if a SS guy cranked off a few rifle round to stop an assassin -- and one of them missed, flew through a wall, and killed another VIP they were trying to protect.

I'm sure snipers are in play, and they'll certainly have something like 7.62N or .50BMG rounds. But they're the very antithesis of spray and pray -- they're one round, one kill. A machine driven gatling gun is pretty much the exact opposite to the way the service works.
posted by eriko at 10:48 AM on February 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

I was waiting at a bus stop once before the motorcade was scheduled to drive by. The cops who closed off the side streets asked every single person at the bus stop if we were carrying nuclear or biological weapons and if they could search our bags. Sadly, I was the person out of a half-dozen who refused the search. And the bus never came, I had to catch a ride with a coworker.
posted by peeedro at 10:50 AM on February 8, 2011

What is that fellow holding in picture 14 of the life photo gallery?
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 10:53 AM on February 8, 2011

Stonestock Relentless: "What is that fellow holding in picture 14 of the life photo gallery?"

Looks like an FN P90.
posted by zarq at 10:59 AM on February 8, 2011

Stonestock: That's the Fabrique Nationale d'Herstal (FN) P90 submachine gun. It's a rather futuristic looking weapon that holds 50 rounds in a horizontally mounted magazine across the top of the weapon. It's also very compact, as you can tell, which is helpful in tight spots. The normal rounds it fires are not armor piercing, but the armor piercing rounds that are available for it are apparently very effective at doing so.

Manufacturer's info
posted by Mercaptan at 10:59 AM on February 8, 2011

Recommend: Standing Next to History by Joseph Petro.

The book is Petros account of his time in the Secret Service protecting figures like Kissinger, Ford, The Reagans, The Quayles, and Pope John Paul II
posted by mincus at 11:02 AM on February 8, 2011

The Secret Service: The Hidden History of an Engimatic Agency is also very good.
posted by mrbill at 11:18 AM on February 8, 2011

they also collate any publication that mentions "secret service". Research purposes i'm sure.
posted by clavdivs at 11:23 AM on February 8, 2011

This article is full of little gems:

"Spare: a vehicle identical to the one the president is riding in; a decoy that is also used to transport other VIPs"

Well, that's certainly one reason not to become a VIP...

"But there was at least one face in the small crowd that Ahmadinejad recognized immediately, that of a U.S. Secret Service CTU agent whom I’ll call Jack. A lean, compact man in his late 40s,..."

"... a locked vault full of disguises and fake-grass tarps for agents to hide beneath when on undercover assignments"

A form of "astroturfing" I wasn't familiar with. Plus I didn't think they'd take the term "undercover" quite so literally. Also, what if they have to be "undercover" where there's no grass. Like a hotel lobby. Do they have stacks of carpets to hide under? A couple of varieties of marble tiles? Some wood flooring? This is just weird. How often do they need to hide under fake grass? I think I'll check my lawn for strange human sized lumps when I get home tonight...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:32 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

They won't confirm or deny it, but one of those SUVs contains one of these.

For what it's worth, I saw Cheney's motorcade going back up to the VP's residence during the Bush years and it was accompanied by an SUV with the back window open (this was during late May/June) that contained a gun that looks very much like the one in the video. I've never seen an Obama or Biden motorcade with something similar, though both of these guys travel with at least two black suburbans before and one or two after the limo, in addition to the marked police cars and motorcycles.
posted by longdaysjourney at 11:35 AM on February 8, 2011

I think I'll check my lawn for strange human sized lumps when I get home tonight...

When I was a kid, living in Singapore, we went to see a military display exercise event. They had tanks and infantry running back and forth in front of some grandstand seating, explosions, helicopters whizzing by, all that you'd expect. About an hour into the show, they've cleared the immediate field and have an 'invading' force begin to enter the grounds from one side, at which point about 20-30 guys pop up from out of the ground where they'd been hiding the whole time. I was completely caught by surprise. There'd been no visible indicator of these hidey holes, and tanks had driven over them. I was impressed.
posted by nomisxid at 11:52 AM on February 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hairy Lobster: ""... a locked vault full of disguises and fake-grass tarps for agents to hide beneath when on undercover assignments"

A form of "astroturfing" I wasn't familiar with. Plus I didn't think they'd take the term "undercover" quite so literally. Also, what if they have to be "undercover" where there's no grass. Like a hotel lobby. Do they have stacks of carpets to hide under? A couple of varieties of marble tiles? Some wood flooring? This is just weird. How often do they need to hide under fake grass? I think I'll check my lawn for strange human sized lumps when I get home tonight..

They're likely talking about Gilly Suits...
posted by Xoder at 12:08 PM on February 8, 2011

dick cheney and a chain gun just fits.
posted by clavdivs at 12:29 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's a modular plug on the chain gun for Cheney's heart pump.
posted by Burhanistan

It took me a full 10 seconds to make sure that there wasn't a Lynch/Dune joke in there somewhere.
posted by COBRA! at 12:47 PM on February 8, 2011

When I worked on Jesse Jackson's security detail during the 1996 DNC, we had to work with two Secret Service agents and inspect every single balloon that was dropped on the last day, for pipe bombs, dangerous chemicals, etc., It was strange working with a couple of golfer-looking dudes who were armed to the teeth (compared to our little pea shooter .38s). Super nice guys though.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:43 PM on February 8, 2011

They won't confirm or deny it, but one of those SUVs contains one of these.

I would doubt that.

Nope, I've seen it first hand. That motorcade is very, very serious, a little scary, and pretty friggin cool. I would say that they carry some serious small automatic weapons on them, and the truck mounted 6,000 round a minute behemoth is for like Anwar Sadat-type coordinated assassination deals, with groups of people.

One of the shows I work hosted Obama while he was still a candidate. They locked the studio the morning of the show and searched it top to bottom. We were kicked out, so we wandered over to another studio a few blocks away to visit with the crew. To get back, we took a private bus that the network runs between all their studios, which are located within a few long NYC blocks of each other.

I was with the outside prop person for the show I was working on, and we ran into the outside prop woman for one of the soaps. She was pretty well encumbered, with a big shopping bag and two boxes.

My friend was razzing her a little, and eventually asked what was in the boxes. "A bomb and some random explosives," she answered.

He visibly jumped in his seat. "That's not funny, don't you know who's on the show today??" he asked, his eyes wide. She had no idea, but opened the boxes to reveal a prop bomb and some random prop explosives, just like she said. It was the real (fake) deal, 5 or 6 sticks of "dynamite," the timer, wires, batteries, the whole bit.

She started to panic about how she was going to get her stuff in the building. The soap's studio was right across the hall from the morning show, and they needed that bomb on that day...the next day, in fact, they blew up a set in the studio. But the secret service was stationed on every floor, covering the elevators and stairs. When you deal with them, they come in waves....first the advance team a day or two before, then tighter and way more no-shit looking details follow, until the president's personal team arrives with him.

She was afraid she was going to get shot just trying to bring this thing into the building, but we managed to sneak her in another entrance , where she held the bomb in her office until our show was over and Obama had left the building. Anticlimactic, but shit if I don't get a laugh every time I think of the look on my friend's face when she answered his question with "a bomb."
posted by nevercalm at 1:49 PM on February 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

Interestingly, I noticed that they always seem to keep their arms bent and their hands sort of hovering over their navels. I did a little research and found that it's a martial arts technique, from Crav Maga.

I'll be working on a show that is hosting Michelle Obama tomorrow morning. I've never been around a sitting FLOTUS, it'll be interesting to see how heavy her security is. The Secret Service has already been in twice already, and I expect tomorrow morning they'll be out early. We all run around with multiple knives and multi-tools, it's always fun to catch them watching you and thinking about how much insane firepower they have on them, enough to turn one into a pink mist pretty quickly.
posted by nevercalm at 1:58 PM on February 8, 2011

I remember reading about a Hollywood award show that the Bush daughters attended. At the after-party, an actor with a reptile brain asked their own security about the two "little guys" with the president's daughters. Apparently said actor had a couple of behemoths as security. One of the behemoths said, "those are the two guys in this room that absolutely no one would dare to fuck with. That's who they are."

I was working at the ND state capital when Bush Sr. visited and we talked to some of the advance team. SS are nice enough guys but they take their job VERY SERIOUSLY.
posted by Ber at 2:33 PM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Joe Biden has visited my wife's office a couple of times. What nevercalm said about the Secret Service coming in waves is very true. They show up several days before hand and case the joint, plan their getaway strategies, go through personnel files, whatever. Then more people come and ask you to install blinds on every window, check out the HVAC system.

On the day of his arrival, employees couldn't park in the parking lot. They had to park a couple of blocks down the street and either walk or get shuttled to the building. One of the VP's handlers came up to my wife about 20 minutes before his arrival and said "Ok, so the last thing, and this is really the most important thing, is that if there are 20 people in the room, there can only be 19 chairs. We can't have any empty chairs in the room, got it?"

"But the Secret Service checked all the chairs, all the drawers, they're fine aren't they? Do you really need us to lock up a bunch of office chairs in an empty office?"

"Yes! If he sees an empty chair, he'll stand up on it, and once he starts talking while standing on a chair, he'll never stop. We've got a tight schedule, and we don't have any time budgeted for an impromptu inspirational chair monologue. NO EMPTY CHAIRS!"

And that's the story of the last time my wife got to meet Joe Biden.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:36 PM on February 8, 2011 [24 favorites]

What, no mention of the procedure at Rosalind and how Toby Ziegler didn't want to use a tent?

Oh wait. Reality. Right. That.

Still awesome. Perhaps even awesomer.
posted by sonika at 3:39 PM on February 8, 2011

I love shit like this. Recommending Protecting the President By Dennis McCarthy.
posted by marxchivist at 5:03 PM on February 8, 2011

My other protecting the President story goes like this: a friend of a friend arranged a private White House tour for me to join. My friend was dating a guy who was a career employee in the White House flower shop, his partner was the point man on the White House Christmas decorations where they have like 100 volunteers come in for a week and make the place pretty. This was 2005, in the second term of GW Bush who the flower shop unanimously despised because of George and Laura's juvenile tastes in decorations.

We were invited to an after-hours tour to see the holiday decorations. Our florist friend was cashing in his tenure to lead a private tour for friends and family. It was an eclectic group consisting of me and my girlfriend, a handful of DC drag queens, Betty Currie and her garden club, and a pocket parrot named Polly.

Late in the evening, we walked down a set of stairs on the side of the building and got to see the dungeon that is the flower shop, we passed by the subterranean White House kitchen, then as the hallway opened up into a loading dock-like area alarm klaxons rang and lights flashed. There was a desk in the hallway, behind it was a pimply-faced kid in an Air Force Uniform.

Airman Pimply-Face jumped up and cartoonishly moved in several directions at once. There was a phone on the wall that he wanted to grab, there was a very large binder on desk that he started flipping though, there was a set of controls on the wall that he looked at and pushed a few buttons on, and he also tried to squirm out from his little desk to either stop our party or to run away in panic. Finally, Airman Pimply-Face was saved from his indecision when the phone on the wall rung.

After a moment on the phone, Airman Pimply-Face informed us that our party had set off the radiation sensors. He asked if somebody had recently been treated with a medical radiation therapy. A little lady from the garden club sheepishly owned up to some recent radiation therapy.

The klaxons were silenced. Our tour continued in peace.
posted by peeedro at 5:54 PM on February 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

According to the motorcade graphic the counter-assault team has the charmingly adolescent codename Hawkeye Renegade.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:22 PM on February 8, 2011

I'm sure snipers are in play, and they'll certainly have something like 7.62N or .50BMG rounds. But they're the very antithesis of spray and pray -- they're one round, one kill.

I worked on a case involving occasional members of the president's security detail. I won't disclose the agency, but the counter-sniper team our guys made up was one uzi and one high-power scoped rifle.

There are multiple transport scenarios involving the President. Some involve motorcades and there are two different helicopter transport scenarios, the standard West Lawn and the less-common ellipse. In the case I had to go through a year's worth of motorcade documents, not just for the President, but for all sorts of dignitaries. There are tons of them. My old office was right on the route from the White House to the Washington Hilton on Connecticut ave. There were at least five a week on that route.

A fascinating article.

Also, unless someone who has personally witnessed some sort of monster cannon in a truck, you can bet you have no idea.

The personal presidential protection clearance (not an informational clearance) is called Yankee White. Its the hardest clearance to get, bar none.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:07 PM on February 8, 2011

But I would think they have a last resort defense, especially against hostile helicopters or fortified/armored vehicles that broke through the perimeter.

Its nearly impossible to fly an unauthorized aircraft within 5 miles of the President, and any unauthorized gunship would be spotted on radar long before the President was reached, resulting in him or her taking cover.

Note that I live under a mile from the White House and I have seen fixed-wing aircraft over fly the District exactly once in 14 years, when two Navy F/A-18s escorted Bush back from Camp David right after 9/11. We were so shocked and frightened that we thought it was another attack and ran inside to turn on the TV. But then we saw them--they preceded the helicopters, circled screaming right over Mt. Pleasant, and then pulled in behind the helicopters.

Note that three identical Marine One helicopters fly when the President flies by heliocopter.

A final fun fact--the Secret Service's pensions are paid by the DC government, resulting in double-dippers, Special Agents crowded out of Secret Service promotions switching to federal service for a second pension.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:19 PM on February 8, 2011

Xoder: " They're likely talking about Gilly Suits..."

Gilllllyyyyy? Did you do this?

I read somewhere how the agents are also trained to keep their hands in a certain place (waist height, I believe, out in front) to enable quick action. Anyone know more?
posted by IndigoRain at 12:19 AM on February 9, 2011

I almost got ran over by our Belgian Prime Minister once. He was by himself in his car and apologized to me.
posted by LVdB at 12:21 AM on February 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

In case anyone is curious about the photo mentioned in this sentence:
"The good news: the perceived threat was shut down quickly and smoothly. And a lucky New York Post photographer had taken a stunning photograph of the incident: agent and policeman, weapons drawn, standing over the prone photographer. "
Via How I was almost shot for being a ‘suicide bomber’

the article is written by the almost-shot paparazzi, and also has a photo.
posted by olya at 1:30 PM on February 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I read somewhere how the agents are also trained to keep their hands in a certain place (waist height, I believe, out in front) to enable quick action. Anyone know more?

Yup, it's Krav Maga, a martial arts technique. I linked more to it here.

So we had Michelle Obama in our studio today. As usual, the USSS was very, very professional and very easy to work with. We all carry knives and multitools, and as I was searched today, I said to the agent "I have at least 3 knives on me right now, do you want me to put them away?" He simply replied "I know you all need them to do your job, but please don't take them out while she's on stage." We have a lot of moves to make around guests every day, and they seemed to take that completely in stride. We told them exactly what we were doing, they checked out equipment and dollies, and OK'd us.

Other quick things:
-Before the show, we test out any effects, light cues, etcetc that we use during the show. At one point, we turned on a snow machine which was right over the agents head. It's a little loud, and it shoots a soapy, floaty snow analogue in a 15 foot long swath. He didn't whirl around or do anything crazy, but he definitely reacted. After he assessed what was going on, he walked over to the director and said "do you have anything else that's going to do something like that?"

-We use beach balls during one segment of the show. One of the USSS agents came over to me and said, very deadpan "you're not going to have these out here during her segment, correct?"

-I and my multiple knives were out on stage, maybe 4 feet behind FLOTUS. I was standing with my hands folded in front of me, and at some point switched to have them clasped behind me. I saw at least 5 heads turn very quickly.

-I happened to be crossing in front of the door of the studio as they were bringing her in. The lead agent in the team stopped me dead in my tracks and sent me in the other direction with one finger on my forearm. I couldn't believe it.

-I was assigned my own personal agent, as I had a cue to shoot a fire extinguisher off from the catwalk over the lighting grid. I literally told her every move I was going to make. She looked like she was still in HS.
posted by nevercalm at 2:55 PM on February 9, 2011 [5 favorites]

the article is written by the almost-shot paparazzi, and also has a photo.

Wow, he comes across as a complete dick.
posted by mrbill at 6:55 PM on February 9, 2011

I was in DC a couple of years ago and we were walking to a restaurant when Bush's motorcade came by; it was impressive. They cleared the sidewalks, shut down the traffic on the cross streets, first one police car with lights and siren on, then another, another, and next thing you know it was like a parade. As soon as the last police car passed everything was back to normal. One detail I haven't seen mentioned was the helicopter circling overhead, with a searchlight constantly scanning rooftops and such (I assume). Later that week the G20 was going on and there were motorcades criss-crossing the city all the time. It was interesting to compare the security details for different leaders. Japan and Russia had security details similar to Bush's; Argentina, on the other hand, only rated a couple of police cars in front and in back of the official limo. We saw the Brazilian motorcade several times in the space of a couple of hours and speculated that they had either gotten lost or were giving a bunch of the other attendees rides back to their respective hotels.

From the Life article:
"Most people duck when they hear gunshots. . . But Secret Service agents need to do just the opposite. . . When shots are fired, we're trained to pull our weapon, stand up straight, and return fire. Instead of protecting ourselves, we turn ourselves into a larger target. That's one reason why all of our weapons training is done standing up. We don't do any prone shooting."
Definitely badasses.

I appreciate the need to protect the president, but I wonder how much the isolation from everyday life affects them and their policy decisions; it would be better for us as a democracy if the president occasionally had to say "excuse me" for cutting someone off in traffic, as is apparently the case in Belgium.

And I agree the papparazzo is a dick.
posted by TedW at 7:17 AM on February 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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