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2008 Race Stretches Secret Service's Resources, Budget

Tuesday, 19 Aug 2008 08:35 PM

By Ronald Kessler

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The 2008 presidential race — some might call it a marathon — has taken its toll on the Secret Service’s budget, the director of the agency tells Newsmax in an exclusive interview.

In fact, the elite federal law enforcement agency, whose duties include protecting the president, the vice president, their families, other dignitaries and leading presidential candidates, has seen its financial resources stretched as the intense political campaign continues.

Mark Sullivan, director of the Secret Service, tells Newsmax the agency is spending $38,000 a day per candidate in extra travel expenses and overtime pay for agents and Uniformed Division officers.

“The campaign has been longer than what we have historically seen, but I think that our people have reacted to it very, very well,” Sullivan says. “I’ve been very proud of the way they’ve reacted to it.”

So far, the Secret Service has protected the candidates on 1,500 trips, each with three to eight stops. More than 1.7 million people have passed through 2,200 Secret Service magnetometers at 1,500 venues, according to Sullivan.

Last month, the Secret Service asked for an emergency funding supplement of $9.5 million to cover unexpected costs of protecting the candidates, in addition to the $106.7 million already budgeted. That includes airline tickets for agents and advance personnel, rental cars, meals, and overtime.

“The hours are tough,” Sullivan says. “If it was an easy job, anybody could do it. Our people have really reacted in an extraordinary manner. They’ve been enthusiastic, they’ve been very creative, and they’ve done a really nice job.”

Meet the Director

Like all recent Secret Service directors, Sullivan came up through the ranks. A native of Arlington, Mass., Sullivan began his Secret Service career in 1983 as an agent assigned to the Detroit field office. After briefly serving as deputy director, Sullivan was sworn in as director on May 31, 2006, by President Bush.

Once part of the Treasury Department, the Secret Service now answers to the Department of Homeland Security. The agency’s headquarters is a nondescript, unmarked office building on H Street at Ninth Street in Washington.

Recently, Newsmax sat down with Sullivan in his eighth-floor corner office.

When Sullivan talks about growing up in “Aah-lington” and playing “haah-ky,” he reveals his Boston “pahk-the-cah-in-Hahvad-yahd” accent and roots. An avid sportsmen, Sullivan’s ice hockey team beats the FBI’s team every year, he says with pride.

The FBI is apparently so frustrated by Sullivan and his Secret Service team that the Bureau’s director, Robert Mueller, jokingly accuses Sullivan of hiring agents based on hockey talent. Sullivan says he thought that was pretty funny until he was studying an actual Secret Service recruit’s resume and saw the words “born in Ontario” and “former professional hockey player.”

In all seriousness, he adds, “Off the ice, we have great respect for, and an excellent relationship with, the FBI.”

The traces of Boston Irish accent fade quickly when Sullivan starts to talk about the job. Beyond its mammoth protection duties, the Secret Service has 2,200 working investigations going into financial crimes like counterfeiting, credit card, and computer-related fraud. As he speaks, his brow rises and furrows over his large wide-set brown eyes, and it stays furrowed in a persistent intensity.

He leans forward in his chair, his meaty hands slapping his knees for emphasis. His legs are crossed, his calves massive from all the years of skating.

Given the demands of this year’s presidential race, preventing another assassination is more challenging than ever. But Sullivan has the same “can do” spirit of his agents.

Referring to protecting the candidates, he says, “We’re going to do it the best way we know how to do it,” Sullivan says..

A Presidential Race Like No Other

The Secret Service began planning for the 2008 presidential campaign on Jan. 1, 2005. Later, it began asking most of its 3,200 agents for their preferences on types of candidate-protection assignments. For example, agents can ask to join a general protection shift, operations and logistics, or advance team details. The campaign also requires the support of 1,200 Uniformed Division officers.

By law, the Secret Service provides protection of major presidential and vice presidential candidates and their spouses. Many believe the Secret Service arbitrarily decides which candidates get protection. But that is not the case. The secretary of homeland security determines who the major candidates are after consulting with an advisory committee consisting of the speaker and minority leader of the House, the majority and minority leaders of the Senate, and one additional member selected by the other members of the committee.

The secretary of homeland security decides when to begin protection of candidates. Protection of spouses begins 120 days before the general election, unless authorized before that by DHS or by executive order.

At one point, based on the public record, the Secret Service counted 15 possible candidates. As it turned out, three presidential candidates have received protection. As a former first lady, Sen. Hillary Clinton already had Secret Service protection. Sen. Barack Obama began receiving protection on May 3, 2007, 18 months before any primary votes were to be cast. And Sen. John McCain joined the roster this past spring. In contrast, in the 2004 election, John Kerry and John Edwards began receiving protection in February 2004, eight months before the general election.

The decision to protect Obama early stemmed from real worries that the first serious African-American candidate for president could face danger. The Secret Service says Obama never received a specific threat against his life before his Secret Service detail was assigned. But agents on the Secret Service’s Internet Threat Desk discovered a number of vaguely threatening and nasty comments about Obama on the Web. Many of the comments appeared on white supremacist Web sites.

Earlier this month, the Secret Service arrested Raymond H. Geisel in Miami after he made a threat against Obama in a training class for bail bondsmen. A member of the class heard Geisel say, “If he gets elected, I’ll assassinate him myself.”

When arrested, he had a loaded 9-millimeter handgun, knives, dozens of rounds of ammunition, body armor, a machete, and military-style fatigues in his hotel room. He was charged with threatening a presidential candidate, a federal offense.

Protecting Obama has also demanded resources for the Secret Service because he has been drawing enormous crowds. All around the Service has noted an increase in turnouts at campaign events.

“The type of crowds we see in the earlier time frame of the campaign are larger than historically we’ve seen for that time frame,” Sullivan says.

McCain did not initially request protection and claimed he did not need it. After a congressional hearing on April 7 revealed that he was not under protection, McCain asked to receive it. Reportedly. McCain was urged by both his staff and members of Congress to accept Secret Service protection. He relented, and round-the-clock Secret Service protection began on April 27.

Adding to pressure on the Secret Service is the fact that candidates are taking more overseas trips. Obama took a six-day trip to Jordan, Israel, Germany, France, and Great Britain. Before that, he went to Afghanistan and Iraq. McCain traveled to Canada, Columbia, and Mexico.

Pamela Kessler contributed to this article. Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
e-mail. Go here now.

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