Countering Threats to the President

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

It’s fascinating and horrifying at the same time to read the recent news reports about the violent, intimidating turn the debate in the US over health care reform has taken. But that is not going to be the subject of this particular post per se, mainly because I have not picked up any European coverage of the same – yet, I’m sure. Arthur Touchot of Le Figaro instead gives us a bit of this flavor with a brief piece: Obama receives thirty death-threats daily. Touchot here draws mainly upon a book brought out just this month by Ronald Kessler entitled In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect. (Kessler is a former New York Times and Washington Post reporter who has written a number of other books such as The CIA at War – and in 2006 Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady, which I confess does hurt his credibility with me a tiny bit. But he’s clearly a James Bond fan.)

Yes, as Kessler reports in his new book for which he interviewed scads of Secret Service operatives, Barack Obama is on the receiving-end of about 30 death-threats per day, as opposed to the “only” nine per day that George W. Bush enjoyed. (Now, America is a country of some 300 million, but still . . . perhaps that is a tad much?) The main thrust of his message, as reported by Touchot, is fairly predictable: in these days of government cut-backs, the Secret Service also considers itself to be rather alarmingly starved of resources to be able to respond appropriately to this level of threat against the President’s person. They have only half the level of personnel that they consider necessary, and too often those agents who are on the job have to forego training in order to go investigate and/or guard against various new hazards. If they complain, then they are apparently met with a Marine-type, hoo-ha attitude from their superiors: “You can get it done, and with the resources you have, because you are a Secret Service Agent!” You are Clint Eastwood!

Touchot passes on something else that also isn’t very surprising, namely that Obama has stayed cool in the face of these threats, both on the campaign trail and as president. He then unfortunately feels the need to pad out his piece by reciting the Secret Service code-names for Obama and his brood: the President is “Renegade,” Michelle is “Renaissance,” and on down. Isn’t it obvious that, once revealed like this (and we all know that they were made public long ago), these “code-names” rather lose any functionality they ever had as tools to keep anyone eavesdropping on the Secret Service from knowing who they’re talking about? It’s clear that there must be some other reason for them, and for their repeated revelation, probably having to do with PR and Americans’ love for spy-thrillers and all appurtenances thereto. If the Ph.D. thesis about this phenomenon from some sociology student has not yet been written, I’m sure it will be forthcoming soon.

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