Protection of Obama poses unique protective security and specifically protective intelligence
challenges unique to the protection of any other President.
As we’ve previously discussed, the presidential campaign trail presents a host of [link
onal_wisdom ] challenges for the United States Secret Service (USSS) protective detail
assigned to cover the Presidential candidates. Due to the nature of modern presidential
campaigns, the candidates’ schedules are packed with events that often start at breakfast
and that continue long after dinner. Candidates will also hopscotch across the country,
often visiting several cities in a day, and sometimes they will also visit multiple venues in
In the last weeks leading up to the election, Barack Obama’s campaign would hit several
different cities in one day, meaning that several teams of advance agents would be
deployed around the country at any given time. For example, Obama visited Jacksonville,
FL, Charoltte NC and Manassas Park VA on Nov. 3. Campaign managers often adjust
itineraries on the on the fly to meet the needs of the campaign.
This tempo forces protection agents to constantly work in new environments with very
little time to plan and implement security measures. Wherever Obama traveled during
the campaign, secret service agents would send an advance team to scout airports and
motorcade routes, plan security for campaign sites, conduct liaison with local police and
keep tabs on any persons of interest during the visit. The advance agents are
supplemented by teams of extra agents to help secure sites, dog handlers and explosive
ordnance disposal technicians to check for explosive devices, and uniformed officers to
help control access to sites, man metal detectors, and provide counter sniper support.
Due to the nature of political campaigns, once a candidate such as Obama lands and
safely arrives at an event location, there is frequently tremendous exposure to the public.
Not just on stage behind a podium, but as the candidate works the crowd, shaking hands,
kissing babies and talking to voters. As seen during the May 1972 attempted
assassination of George Wallace, and the attempted attacks of Presidents Ford and
Reagan, it is during these times of close interaction with the public that a VIP is at the
highest risk. Assassins can use the crowd for camouflage and quickly get a close shot at
the VIP, leaving little time for agents to respond to a threat. Because of this, working the
crowd is a difficult task and one protection agents hate. Fortunately, for the Obama
protective detail, with the election period over, they will find themselves in these kinds
of situations less frequently.
Finally, there is the issue of the USSS being stretched very thin due to the nature of an
election season. The USSS is charged with protecting former presidents and first ladies
as well, of course, as the first family and the vice-president. But during an election
season, the presidential and vice presidential candidates are also assigned a security
detail. In Obama’s case, due to the perceived threat against him, a detail equivalent to a
full presidential protection team was assigned to him. Such a high level of protection is
unprecedented for a presidential candidate, and it helped stretch the USSS very thin.
Now that the election is over, Obama 's schedule will be greatly simplified, and it will
take far less manpower to cover him. Obama will certainly have some travel, but the
majority of this time will likely be spent between between Chicago and Washington D.C.
This will allow the USSS agents protecting him to catch a breather and to establish a
more secure, stable perimeter around the president-elect. The coverage of John McCain
will also go away, freeing up even more bodies.
Not to detract from the professionalism of the USSS, those guys do a great job, but they
are human, and the strain of the campaign takes its toll on them. Now that the campaign
is over, the transition period will allow the agents can now rest and regain their focus -- at
least until the next serious headache they will face during the inauguration ceremony and
There is always an array of threats directed against the President of the United States.
However, now that Obama has sealed his presidency, his unique circumstances as the
first African American man to win the Presidency will mean that he and his protective
team will face set of threats never before faced by a President.
The President of the United States has always been under the threat of assassination.
Four presidents in the history of the US have been assassinated; Abraham Lincoln, James
Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy. But assassination attempts are far
more frequent and, in fact, every president since Richard Nixon has been the target of an
assassination – some more threatening than others.
US Presidents have always been a target for assassinations due to the tremendous amount
of power and symbolism of the office they have. Barack Obama will be no different, but in
addition to bearing the title of president, Obama will also be the first black president – a
fact that introduces a whole new, more serious threat matrix. We already saw two plots
to assassinate Obama broken up during his election campaign with several more currently
under investigation. The biggest threat that Obama faces is from the white supremacist
groups, some of which believe a black president should be assassinated.
During his campaign, Obama was the named target in several cases that, while attracting
some press, didn’t amount to much. Authorities announced in late August that three
Colorado men had been arrested after police found illegal weapons and
methamphetamine on the three men. During interrogation, federal agents learned of
threats to then Senator Obama. One of the men wore a swastika ring, indicating a
possible link to the neo-nazi movement. In the end, though, the three men were indicted
on drugs and weapons charges as the US attorney overseeing the case cited insufficient
evidence to charge the men on conspiring to do bodily harm to a presidential candidate.
On October 22, two young men from Tennessee and Arkansas conspired to go on a
crime-spree that would end with an attempt on Barack Obama’s life. The plan was
outlandish from the start and included robbing a gun store, killing 88 and beheading 14
blacks (both numbers significant to the white supremacist movement) and then
performing their coup de grace on the presidential candidate dressed in white tuxedos and
top-hats. As it was, the two were scared off by dogs during an attempted home burglary,
shot a window out of a nearby church and drew neo-nazi symbols on their car in sidewalk
chalk. They had met to discuss their plans on a website associated with white
supremacists and skinheads and, while their plan hardly got off of the ground, the two
showed a high level of enthusiasm for their mission that certainly could be replicated
within the white supremacist movement.
Barack Obama follows an unfortunate history of assassinations of prominent black
leaders in the US like Medgar Evers, Malcom X and Martin Luther King Junior – Ever’s
assassin was a member of the Ku Klux Klan while King’s assasin (James Earl Ray) at the
least harbored racist sentiments.
The potential threat
There are three general schools of thought amongst white supremacy groups on how to
view the election of Barack Obama:
The first school of thought is that someone should (or will) threaten Obama because of
his race since his election to the office of president will cause outrage amongst white
supremacists. While making such a statement publicly is grounds for arrest, plenty of
white supremacist blogs and message boards talk of the inevitability of an attack on
Obama in a very suggestive way. They believe that such an attack would enflame racial
tensions and that riots would ensue along the lines of those after Martin Luther King’s
assassination in 1968. Such violence would be viewed as positive in their minds, as open
combat between whites and blacks would bring their ideology to the forefront.
The second school, and perhaps the most widely echoed dogma within the white
supremacist movement, believes that an Obama presidency is actually good for their
movement since it will serve as a wake-up call to white America. Once European
descended whites realize how far they have fallen and that a black man has been elected
to the most powerful office in the country, goes the argument, they will flock to join
white supremacist groups in an attempt to reassert their power. An Obama presidency,
they argue, is then good for the white supremacists as it would swell their membership
rolls, giving them more influence and publicity. Former Louisiana state representative,
Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke supports this line, as does fellow white
supremacist leader Tom Metzger.
This school of thought is bolstered by the argument that the other candidates weren’t
going to be any better since they were all under the influence of the even more despised
Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG) – an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews are
pulling the strings behind a US puppet government. At least Obama, in their opinion, is
not under the heavy influence of jewish interests.
A third school of thought is that the US government (which is secretly controlled by the
ZOG) is plotting to attack Obama themselves and that they will seek to place the blame
for the assassination on white supremacists and use the assassinations as an excuse
to clamp down on white supremacist hate speech as well as gun ownership.
However, the US secret service is much more adept at countering groups conspiracies
than lone wolf actors. Lone wolfs are very, very difficult to uncover, especially if they remain
isolated and don't tell anybody of their plans. Groups are much easier to track as their
movements are more noticeable and their operational security is hampered by the fact
that the silence of all members is required in order for the group to stay clandestine. The
money trail is also a give-away for groups, as outside organizations will often fund their
operations, helping them buy equipment and supplies in preparation for an attack.
Considering this, white supremacy groups are under very tight surveillance by US federal
law enforcement agencies and scrutiny of their activities will only increase as Obama
comes into office. It would be very difficult for even a small group to operate under the
radar of the not just the USSS, but the ATF, FBI, CIA and NSA as well – all of which
will have their ear to the ground in an effort to protect the president.
The lone wolf, in the end, poses the most potent threat to president-elect Obama, or any
president for that matter. The lone wolf’s ability to act alone, to not share his intentions,
activities or whereabouts with anyone else, makes it very difficult for law enforcement
agencies to identify a threat before it is too late. But the lone wolf would also have to be
very smart and have some access to resources like weapons and vehicles – characteristics
severely lacking in the previous two cases we have seen against Obama.
The real threat emerges when intent and capability are joined. White supremacists have
the intent but, so far, not the capability. The capability would have to come from a highly
motivated, well-trained individual who could act alone in order to avoid detection.
Considering the ties that figures within the white supremacy movement like David Duke
have ties to hostile foreign countries like Russia and Iran, a scenario comes up in which a
foreign country could secretly fund and train a low-level member or simply a
sympathizer of the white-supremacist movement to carry out an assassination. Framing a
member of the white-supremacy movement would provide cover for the foreign country
and simultaneously provide a support network for the operative while he was preparing
for a strike.
Hostile nations such as Russia have been linked to previous assassinations in the past. Lee
Harvey Oswald’s trip to the Soviet embassy in Mexico and his link to known KGB assassin
Valery Kostikov. Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated RFK, was trying to raise awareness
for the Palestinian issue. James Earl Ray also fled to Europe after he assassintated MLK
where he was apprehended with a false Canadian passport and large amounts of money.
Assassinating a president is always a serious matter and causes instability in the US and
the world. But given the especially delicate balance that the US, Russia and countries of
the middle east are engaged in right now, an assassination would create instability in the
US, thus destabilizing US foreign policy. Domestically, the assassination of the
country’s first black president would risk devastating race relations. The groups that
stands to benefit most from hostile relations between whites and blacks is none other than
the white supremacy movement.