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Posted On by Hugo Reed
To many Americans, the security of the President is akin to National Security. The head of state is one of the finest vestiges of freedom and democracy. The White House has been home to all but one of the nation’s Presidents and as such it is regarded as one of the most secure buildings in the world. If the White House was an unpickable lock, it would be the HYT chain lock. Much in the same way one would expect Air Force One or Camp David to have extremely robust security. Presidential security encompasses the President, his family and his staff (which technically includes the Vice-President). As a constantly working and changing security system, presidential security did not just magically become the landmark of security that it is. The best way to continue to make something secure is to improve upon failures and weaknesses that past experiences have made evident to us. Even though the grand old house is a standard for top notch security, and the life expectancy of Presidents has greatly increased, Presidential security has had several downfalls over the years that have made it the well-oiled machine it is today.
When people think of the secret service, they are most likely bombarded with images that look similar to a scene from “The Matrix“: dark glasses, well-pressed suits, shiny shoes and faces that would be hard pressed to find a smile. If you ask a pool of completely random people in America what the function of the Secret Service is, 8 out of 10 people will tell you that their sole purpose is to protect current and past Presidents from harm. To some extent, this is true, however, at the time of their conception in 1865 the Secret Service was tasked with preventing and investigating counterfeiting that had plagued the nation at that time.
Protecting the President of the United States is a fairly recent concept, many of the earlier Presidents went everywhere unprotected for the most part. The first assassination attempt on a President was against Andrew Jackson (the shooter missed) but it wasn’t until after the deaths of President Lincoln, President Garfield and President McKinley (within a span of forty years) that the threat to the security of the President became a blip on the radar of congress.
The deaths of those Presidents essentially led to the birth of the Secret Service as we know it today. In 1901, congress charged the Secret Service with the additional mandate of protecting the President. Back then, the leader of the free world was a lot more free than he has been in the past few decades. The President was able to walk freely among people and socialize with them. He was also able to take a quiet stroll without being flanked by a dozen secret service agents. Apparently you can’t trust people to try and not kill someone that essential to the world, hence the birth of the secret service and the death of the personal freedom for the President. The secret service has undergone several evolutionary processes to make it what it is today (some of which will be discussed below) but today it is well established as an industry of its own. A far cry from what it used to be.
The Presidential vehicles have become a thing of legend over the years. They’re the functional embodiment of the Batmobile with the added bonus of seating more than two people. However, they didn’t always used to be this way, I mean sure, they were more advanced than the cars the average American citizen drove, but they were built more for mobile communication, not surviving attacks. All this changed on that sad day, the 22nd of November when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
The former President was in the seat of his 4-door Lincoln convertible with the top down. The car itself was not bulletproof, or bullet resistant, so the roof would have offered little to no protection. The car was ahead of it’s time, it was equipped with two telephones, hydraulic seats to elevate the present and a host of other cool additions. However, none of them were added for the sake of security. His assassination sparked the entire revamping of the secret service and led to them becoming a much stronger entity than before, however, it also highlighted the need for enhanced mobile security when the President was on the move. Fast forward several years later from the car that was dubbed “Death Car” to the car that is nicknamed “The Beast”.
“The Beast” is the vehicle of current President Obama. This Presidential limousine is a living legend, and there are very few details about it that the public is privy to (for good reason). However, what we do know, no matter how little, is pretty extraordinary. The doors of the vehicle are eight inches thick, and are equivalent to the weight of the door of a Boeing 757. The windows are 5 inches thick and are all made of bulletproof glass. The limousine also comes equipped with run-flat tires to keep the car in motion if it ever comes under attack. The base of the car is reinforced with steel plates to make it resistant to bomb blasts and IED’s. In case these did not sound awesome enough, the trunk of the car is rumored to be a blood bank that is fully stocked with the President’s blood type. In addition to all of this, the vehicle is equipped to put up one hell of a fight if it ever comes down to it.
The Presidential vehicle is replaced every 4 years and the older model is passed down to the Vice President or to foreign dignitaries upon their visits. Swapping out the cars after every Presidential Term is a good idea because every President faces unique threats they need to be equipped for. It also helps to make sure that the vehicle is retrofitted with the latest technology, to keep the current Head of State safe.
The President of the United States has always been a person of the people. It is part of what gives them that alluring charm. To be able to lead millions of people, you have to be able to relate to millions of people (and also be liked by them). The first few presidents were known to take long secluded walks and mingle with the common folk without a care to their safety, because back then the idea of harming a President was unfathomable. This may also be the case today, except there are years of history that refute the invulnerability of the president.
Take Abraham Lincoln, for instance, as a President, he was so accessible to the point that he found it considerably annoying to always entertain unwanted guests who wanted to talk or were attempting to solicit jobs. He considered passing laws to reduce the number of people that had access to the President and the White House , but he decided it would do more harm than good to alienate people from their President. Another prime example of this comes in the form of Andrew Jackson who was famous for hosting dinner parties and entertaining guests at the White House on numerous occasions. One of these parties got so out of hand that Jackson was reported to vacate the White House for a night and sleep in a hotel because the house was filled with drunken guests. It goes without saying that the President and the White House were much more available to the people in the past, however due to safety concerns this notion of Presidential freedom was done away with over a period of several years.
In an interview with Judy Woodruff, Robert MacNeil, and Jim Lehrer, the three discussed just how easy it was to get close to President’s several years ago. They were each on hand to cover the Kennedy assassination, and were covering the news when the attempted Reagan assassination took place. The developing trend had been that there was no real barrier between the President and the average American citizen, which essentially made it easy to harm a President. Reagan’s assassination attempt should never have happened because the secret service and the government had a martyr in the form of JFK to learn from. Today the President’s security is in a league all of its own and this can be attributed to technological advancements as well as learning from the past.
However, with each flaw that is discovered it is revamped to make it even better than before. For instance, in 2009, there were a few security breaches at the State dinner that allowed uninvited guests and gatecrashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi to mingle and take pictures with the President. The Salahi’s made it past 2 security checkpoints where the security was lax to say the least. They were not even checked for their ID’s, it was until later that the Secret Service realized they had crashed the party. If they had done so with the intent to harm the President he would have been left vulnerable and exposed. Now, to even get within breathing distance of the President, you have to pass rigorous background checks and other security measures. He is entirely off limits without the proper security clearance, at the very least you will be patted down first. There are many key things that the average homeowner can learn from Presidential security when they are assessing their own home security.
The White House has had it’s fair share of renovations that date back more than 50 years. During this time, one of the only things that have remained constant is its symbolism. To the American people and a host of foreign nationals, the White House is the pragmatic pillar of democracy. Needless to say, it is one of the best-guarded places in the country (besides Fort Knox and Area 51). The White House has seen some wear and tear, do not let its regal white veneer fool you.
The construction of the White House was completed in 1800, and John Adams was the first President to take up residence in it. In the war of 1812, the White House was burned by British Troops and then entirely reconstructed (with the same exterior) a few years later. The grounds of the White House have withstood numerous instances of unlawful entry and is constantly being modified to make sure a repeat of the same offenses never occurs again.
In 1974, Marshall Fields crashed his car through the gates of the White House and drove up the North portico. In response to this, the White House perimeter gate which was made of wrought iron was taken down and reinforced gates were mounted. In 2015, the gates and the fence were modified with mounted spikes as a temporary solution to deter people from climbing over them. The area of the fence was also increased in 1990 to prevent bombs that were detonated outside from reaching the house.
The aerial space above the White House has been designated as a No Fly Zone. In addition to that, the U.S Capitol and major sections of Washington, D. C. have been given a similar designation. There have been numerous instances of people flying aircraft towards the White House in an attempt to harm the President. There were two instances in 1974 which were thwarted by the police in conjunction with the Secret Service. Also, in 1994, a pilot crashed into the south lawn just shy of hitting the house itself. No one on the White House property was injured, although the pilot did not survive the crash. The White House (and most of Washington, D.C) is under the blanket protection of a squad of fighter jets that are ready to engage if the need arises. They are backed by helicopters that routinely chase away planes that mistakenly enter the No Fly Zone.
The White House has many security installations, most of which you learn about only as rumors. However, some of the confirmed security installations are bulletproof windows (all of them, which is over 100 windows), infrared sensors, a radar system, concrete barriers and an air filtration system to keep the White House safe in case of a chemical attack.
Air Travel is one of the fastest forms of travel, and also one of the most dangerous. When it was made a staple of the Presidency, it reshaped the nature of diplomacy, and made it an afterthought for Presidents to travel between different countries. The first President to fly on a plane while in office was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943 when he attended the Casablanca Conference. The idea of a dedicated presidential aircraft was instituted in the 1930’s but was not implemented until years later.
A lot of people (myself included) misconstrue the name Air Force One with the plane that belongs to the President. “Air Force One” is actually a call sign to identify any plane that the President is one while it is in the air. The idea for the President’s own plane was birthed out of the concern that commercial air travel was not the safest way for the President to travel, as it left him to exposed to his enemies. In addition to exposure, commercial planes were not good at detecting and adequately avoiding threats. The need for increased diplomatic efforts outside of the country was vital in propelling the creation of the Presidential plane.
Much like the Presidential automobiles, the Presidential Planes are decked out with nothing but the best. The “Air Force One” aircraft has been dubbed the flying oval office and it is made to make sure the President can continue operations while airborne.
Air Force One is very likely the most secure plane in the world. It comes equipped with a mid-air refueling probe that ensures that the plane never has to land, in addition to this there are electronic countermeasures that jam the enemy’s radar and scrambles infrared missiles. The body of the plane itself is crafted to withstand a nuclear bomb blast from the ground.
Presidential Security is an ever evolving machine that constantly switches out parts to make them better and far more advanced. We hope that we have seen an end to tragic situations that cause drastic changes, but since that depends heavily on human nature, we’ll just keep our fingers crossed for now. There is a lot that can be gained from paying attention to the security protocols that are observed for the President, and also some other crazy security plans that other organizations employ. Individuals can apply these lessons to their home/office security. It helps to learn from old mistakes and to maximize security to cover all bases because even the slightest slip up can cause a lot of damage and loss.
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