During the 2008 Primary season Barack Obama visited the IU campus and made an appearance at the "Little 500" bike race, the school's signature event as depicted in the film Breaking Away. I prefer to call it Drinking & Biking week, as it is essentially seven days of the campus looking like Bon Jovi's tour bus circa 1986. Obama paid a visit to a portion of this event and boldly waded into a crowd of several thousand balls-drunk 18 through 20 year-olds. At the time I had the same feeling that I had on Tuesday as I saw the crowd of 2,000,000+ strewn about Washington: man, the Secret Service's job blows.

The Secret Service (which I will abbreviate "SS" regardless of the unsavory historical associations with that pairing) spent its first 150 years as part of the Treasury Department, joining Homeland Security only in 2003. Their job was and remains overwhelmingly focused on busting counterfeiters. The figure of the SS agent is stereotyped and quite recognizable – sunglasses, earpiece, lapel pins (which are changed hourly to make identification of fake SS agents easy), dark suits, and folded hands. It leads most Americans to believe that they are the President's private guard; in reality they're probably better described as the private army of the United States Dollar. Their task of protecting the President is a 20th Century invention and it occupies only a fraction of its personnel. And to my way of thinking it is one of the worst jobs imaginable.

The simple fact is that there's very, very little that the SS can do to protect any of its various VIP charges. Watching Obama wade into a group of 5,000 drunk kids or parade before 2,000,000 people and every window in Washington makes it very obvious that protecting the President is like trying to bail out a ship with a bucket – the only thing to do is pray that the water never comes. If it does, well, there's not much to be done.

There just isn't a way for the Secret Service to secure every window, every person, every sewer cover, and every car that will come near enough to the President to do him harm. And let's not even talk about what happens when he goes overseas; trying to secure the President in Central Africa has to involve phenomenal amounts of prayer and finger-crossing. The best defense they have is preventive – discovering and interrupting individuals or groups who may want to harm the President before anything happens. Aside from that, history has shown that the President is vulnerable and there are always a handful of crackpots out there who set their warped sights on attacking him. I'd love to think that the new President and all who succeed him will avoid that problem. The odds are not in his favor, though. Every recent President has had one or more serious brushes with death and only remarkable luck saved a few of them.

Reagan was hit by a bullet that missed all vital organs. Bush Senior was targeted with a huge explosive device that was only discovered at the last moment by Kuwaiti police. A guy walked right up to the White House and opened fire on Clinton with a WWII-era semi-automatic rifle, getting off 29 shots. And, in an incident that received almost no media coverage but saved him from death only by incredible luck, a man had no trouble tossing a hand grenade at George W. Bush in Tblisi in 2005. The pin was removed but a strip of cloth used to disguise the grenade kept it from detonating. He was saved by a scrap of fabric.

I'm afraid for Obama, as I'm sure the Secret Service are as well. There are so many lunatics out there and his election seems to push all of the rage buttons with the bunker dwelling, tax protesting, gun hoarding Militia crowd – black, liberal, foreign-sounding name, Secret Muslim, popular, committed to multinational organizations and diplomacy, and likely to govern in a way that infuriates the US Out of UN Now crowd to no end. I tip my hat to the Secret Service for undertaking the daunting and thankless task of staring down the world's lunatics. Four of the first 43 Presidents have been victims of assassins. That is both horrifying and, when you really stop to think about it, miraculous.

6 thoughts on “IT'S NO SECRET”

  • I had a brush with the Secret Service when I was in college working as a bouncer in college bar. An off-duty co-worker and his girlfriend were in the bar about 9 on a Tuesday night. The only other two guys were stragers who sat with windbreakers on sipping some beers while minding their own business.

    When my inebriated, off-duty coworker went to the bathroom, his girl starting talking/flirting with the two strangers. Coworker comes back, words are exchanged and the next thing I know I am pulling a guy off a barstool and breaking up a potential fight.

    The guy I grab tells me "You made a mistake, I'm a cop," to which I reply, "You're not a cop till I see a badge." He promptly reaches in his pocket, pulls out a wallet and flashes something in my face. I ask to look more closely and he hands it to me. The shield read "Department of the Treasury" at the top and "United States Secret Service" at the bottom.

    I apologized profusely and was escorting him back to the bar and placed my hand on the small of his back when I felt his handgun. Meanwhile, my manager is kicking my coworker out of the bar and firing him as he protests about them hitting on his girl.

    Both guys could have ended my life right there. I'm not a big fan of the police typically, but applauded these guys for showing a lot of restraint. They didn't so much as lift a finger.

    Turns out they were on their way to the Cities from Chicago for a Bush rally and proceeded to tell us a lot of stories of busting PLO counterfeiting rings in Chicago…

  • Hey, do they actually jump off and transfer the bike while it is in motion like in the movie Breaking Away? That looked so dangerous to me.

    I too am afraid of a possible assassination…not because of fear of unrest but actually because I very much hope that he is president until 2017. When you saw the Obama/Beyonce show at the inaugural ball, can you tell me that you did not think it is the new century's version of the Kennedys and Marilyn Monroe? Completely breathtaking.

  • I had the pleasure to meet a couple Secret Service officers during the 97 Inauguration. BK makes a good point – get them going, and they will tell you some fascinating stories.

    As for worse jobs, have you ever met members of the Capitol Police force? 535 members of congress to protect and fewer resources, and always having to wonder if some redneck Congressman from Kentucky decided to bring his concealed weapon into a committee meeting.

  • Wow, how serendipitous. I just got done watching "To Live and Die in LA" mere minutes before reading this. An 80's flick where William Peterson (AKA Gil Grissom of CSI) plays a secret service agent who goes haywire trying to catch a counterfeiter played by Willem Dafoe. I can't think of any other movie that depicted the SS in this light, as the employees of the Treasury, protecting our money.

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