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It's Hard to Protect the President

By    |   Saturday, 20 June 2015 02:56 PM

It’s hard to protect the president. That’s not an excuse; it’s a reality. I write thrillers for a living and have done research with members of the CIA, FBI, Secret Service and even U.S. presidents. What have I learned? Some things just can’t be protected against.

Remember when George W. Bush was sitting in the White House and almost choked on a pretzel? In the weeks following, the Secret Service did a vast months-long investigation about how to stop something like that from ever happening again. And do you know what their solution was? A small button that looks like a doorbell. They installed a push-button alarm system in the residence of the White House, as well as an alarm that he can knock over on his desk if something goes wrong. If a president feels like he’s getting sick, he pushes the button. But it still doesn’t stop someone from choking on a pretzel.

Sounds like a flaw, doesn’t it? We pounce when a mistake happens. When there’s an agent who’s drunk, or sending texts of his junk, or a real lapse in security, there’s no excuse. But we also need to remember that there are hundreds of success stories every day that we’ll never hear about. One of my favorites? This:

When the Secret Service wants to do a private investigation at the White House, they'll sometimes announce a "renovation" of an old room. That way, they can get the First Family out of the house, and no one’s the wiser. You’ll note that nearly every recent president to have passed through the White House has renovated a room. President Obama renovated the Treaty Room; Bush renovated the Briefing Room; Clinton gave us a new Music Room. As an agent told me: you won’t believe what’s been done under the guise of ‘home improvements.’

Best of all, the well-known agencies aren’t the only ones looking out for the president. Want to know who else the government calls in a crisis? A Great Patriot. Back in the 1980s, when the hostages came back from Iran, a Great Patriot put them all up at the posh Greenbrier resort, so they could finally have a place to privately relax as well as meet with State Department medical teams. More recently, after one of the CIA’s annual retreats, a Great Patriot flew the top CIA chiefs to a small town so they could have their own private meetings and an off-the-book vacation. Sometimes, Patriots are former members of the government. Other times, they’re simply regular citizens who step up when they’re needed.

Of course, no matter who’s doing the job, when it comes to threat assessments, the hardest part is that it’s so easy to get things wrong. During the Cold War, when the Russians had their nukes aimed at us — and ours at them — one of the exact bull’s-eyes for their missiles was actually a small shack, a little hot dog stand, in the center courtyard of the Pentagon. It’s called the Courtyard Café. Of course, it’s no surprise the Russians were aiming at the Pentagon, but for years, we wanted to know: Why were they aiming at that little shack?

It’s because on all their satellites, every single day, they’d see our top generals going in and out of that building. In and out, in and out. Moscow spent millions studying it, eventually deciding it was the entrance to an underground briefing area below the Pentagon. But all these years later, you know the real reason those generals kept heading for that shack? Because that old café had cheap coffee and the best hot dogs.

Tricky, right? It’s even trickier, every day, for the folks entrusted with keeping our leaders safe.

Brad Meltzer is a bestselling novelist and host of Lost History on the History Channel. His newest thriller, The President’s Shadow, is on sale now at bookstores everywhere.

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It's hard to protect the President.That's not an excuse; it's a reality.I write thrillers for a living and have done research with members of the CIA, FBI, Secret Service and even U.S. Presidents.What have I learned?Some things just can't be protected against. Remember...
brad meltzer, hard, to, protect, president
Saturday, 20 June 2015 02:56 PM
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