Thursday, August 06, 2009

Secret Service 'Streched to Limit' By Huge Spike in Threats Against Obama, Book Says


Threats to Assassinate the President Soar By 400 Percent Since Taking Office, Averaging 30 Threats a Day; Most are Cranks, but All Must Be Investigated, Putting a Strain on an Understaffed Secret Service While Concerns Mount About Racist Hate Groups

Secret Service agents flanked President-elect Barack Obama as he arrived for meetings in Chicago. At the White House, President Bush, with wife Laura, thanked his staff after urging swift and smooth dealings with Obama's aides.

Barack Obama, photographed above with Secret Service agents in Chicago during the post-election transition last November, already was the most heavily-guarded presidential candidate in the nation's history during last year's campaign, prompted by an unprecedented spike in death threats against him -- many of which were likely motivated by racial animus. Since taking office in January, threats to assassinate the nation's first African-American president have soared by 400 percent, according to a new book by author Ronald Kessler, with the Secret Service dealing with an average of 30 death threats a day, all of which must be investigated -- putting a strain on the agency's resources. (Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP)


(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, August 6, 2009)

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SPECIAL REPORT
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By TOBY HARNDEN and ALEX SPILLIUS
London Daily Telegraph


Since Barack Obama took office six months ago, the rate of threats against the president has increased 400 percent from the 3,000 a year or so under former President George W. Bush, according to a newly-published book.

Ronald Kessler, author of In the President's Secret Service, reports that some threats to Obama, whose Secret Service codename is "Renegade," have been publicized, including an alleged plot by white supremacists in Tennessee late last year to rob a gun store, shoot 88 black people, decapitate another 14 and then assassinate the first black president in American history.

Most however, are kept under wraps because the Secret Service fears that revealing details of them would only increase the number of copycat attempts. Although most threats are not credible, each one has to be investigated meticulously.

'GLARING LOOPHOLES' IN SECURITY AT OBAMA'S INAUGURATION

According to the book, intelligence officials received information that people associated with the Somalia-based Islamist group al-Shabaab might try to disrupt Obama's inauguration in January, when the Secret Service co-ordinated at least 40,000 agents and officers from some 94 police, military and security agencies.

More than a dozen counter-sniper teams were stationed along the inauguration parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue and the criminal records of employees and hotel guests in nearby buildings were scrutinized.

Despite all this, there were glaring loopholes in the security. Kessler describes how more than 100 VIPs and major campaign donors were screened by metal detectors but then walked along a public pavement before boarding "secure" buses and were not checked again.

It could have been relatively simple for an assassin to have mingled with them in order to get close enough to shoot the new president.

SECRET SERVICE UNDERSTAFFED, AGENTS WORKING LONGER HOURS

After Obama was elected president, his two children -- Malia, 11, codenamed "Radiance" and Sasha, eight, codenamed "Rosebud" -- began receiving Secret Service protection. First Lady Michelle Obama is codenamed "Renaissance." The Secret Service also started to protect Vice President Joe Biden's children, grandchildren, and mother.

Instead of bringing in more agents -- instantly identifiable because of their bulky suits worn over bullet-proof jackets and their earpieces -- the Secret Service directed agents to work longer hours to cover the extra load and to miss firearms training, physical fitness sessions and tests.

"We have half the number of agents we need, but requests for more agents have fallen on deaf ears at headquarters," a Secret Service agent told Kessler. "Headquarters' mentality has always been, 'You can complete the mission with what you have. You're a USSS agent'."

With Biden's constant travel -- including his weekend commutes back to his home state of Delaware -- the burden has meant that all agents on the vice president's team have ceased training. According to Kessler, however, they fill in forms stating they have "taken and passed all tests, when they have not, creating a dishonest culture."

The Secret Service has increasingly cut corners after it was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security under Bush. Kessler said that when Biden threw the first pitch at the first Orioles home game of the 2009 season in Baltimore, the Secret Service did not screen any of the more than 40,000 fans, stunning his agents and the local Secret Service field office.

FEARS OF RACIALLY-MOTIVATED ATTACKS AGAINST OBAMA

Obama, who came under Secret Service protection in May 2007 -- earlier than any other presidential candidate -- was the most heavily-guarded presidential candidate in American history. Many of his supporters, particularly African-Americans, openly expressed worried that he would become a target for racist extremists.

But with his trademark coolness, Obama has always dismissed the notion of threats against his life. In April of last year, on the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Lither King's assassination, Obama implored his supporters to stop worrying. "I think anybody who decides to run for president recognizes that there are some risks involved," he said, "just like there are risks in anything."

That may be true, but the dangers associated with his particular career are higher than usual.

Four U.S. presidents have been assassinated –- Abraham Lincoln (1865), James A. Garfield (1881), William McKinley (1901) and John F. Kennedy (1963) -- whose younger brother Robert was on the verge of winning the Democratic nomination when he, too, was assassinated in 1968.

Eight more American presidents survived attempts on their lives: Andrew Jackson (1835), Theodore Roosevelt (1912), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933), Harry S. Truman (1950), Richard Nixon (1974), Jimmy Carter (1979), Ronald Reagan (1981) and Gerald Ford, who survived two assassination attempts in 1975.

And it is hard to imagine any Western politician more at risk than a black, liberal heir to the Kennedys, in a country with a continuing history of racial violence, far-right activism and a ready availability of weaponry.

TWO ALLEGED PLOTS AGAINST OBAMA BUSTED SO FAR

So, whenever an alleged plot emerges against Obama, there is a collective sharp intake of breath across the United States. Only two have been reported thus far –- the case in Memphis, Tennessee, and a less-detailed plan discovered during the Democratic convention in Denver last August.

The force that protects American presidents, vice presidents, presidential and vice-presidential candidates and foreign dignitaries is –- despite its name –- a constant and visible presence by Obama's side.

Burly, keen-faced and with weapons poorly hidden under their suits, the Secret Service agents assigned to Obama are always the first down the steps of the presidential jet, Air Force One, after it touches down, scanning for threats.

At least one accompanies Obama in his bullet-proof limousine, with other agents in cars in front and behind.

AN UNSPOKEN WORRY THAT WON'T GO AWAY: ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTS BY EXTREMISTS

Though the U.S. media is wary of discussing the issue, as if in fear of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, the feeling persists that someone will make a serious attempt on Obama's life.

The most likely source would be a right-wing hate group, or its sympathizers, such as the two young white men that were arrested in Tennessee, described by police as neo-Nazi skinheads.

There are dozens of extremist organizations across the United States that pursue an agenda of hatred, whether of immigrants, gays, Jews, Muslims or African-Americans. Some are small. Others, such as the American National Socialist Party, are larger and better organized, and have embraced the Internet as an organizing tool.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, claims that since the 1995 bombing of federal offices in Oklahoma, led by Timothy McVeigh, the radical right has produced some 60 terrorist plots.

These have included plans to bomb or burn government offices, banks, synagogues and mosques; and to assassinate police officers, judges, politicians and civil rights figures.

For African-Americans in particular, it is the memory of the murders in 1968 of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy –- a great champion of their cause –- that shadow Obama, despite the advances in race relations that both men were fighting for.

Like Obama, they represented hope and change for many who yearned for a more just society. The black community's nagging trepidation -- which is shared by millions of white supporters -- is not just for a man they care for deeply, but for welfare of the whole country.

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Volume IV, Number 58
Special Report Copyright 2009, Telegraph Media Group Ltd.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.







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2 comments:

Start Loving said...

Extremely important article! And what are we the sheeple going to do? We mount an immediate, urgent, unrelenting campaign demanding that the Secret Service be given the support they need to protect this great President. Now!

Anonymous said...

In the list of "hate groups" I didn't notice the Black Panthers. They may not want to kill B. Hussein Obama, but they are a hate group.

The secret service is staffed sufficiently. If it wasn't, there would be a CZAR appointed to fill more agent slots.