Former Secret Service Agent Explains How to Protect a President

Credit: WIRED
Published 2 weeks ago - Duration: 13:18s

Former Secret Service Agent Explains How to Protect a President

Former Secret Service Agent Jonathan Wackrow, now managing director at Teneo Risk, explains how the Service protects the President and other VIPs.

Wackrow details the many steps required to ensure the safety of protectees, and describes how the Service has changed due to changing technology and lessons learned from historical events.

Wackrow served in the Presidential Protection Division in Washington, DC, and managed numerous high-level security operations in the U.S. and abroad.

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Former Secret Service Agent Explains How to Protect a President

[dramatic music]- The United States Secret Service,the protocols are born out of blood.[gun shots][crowd screams][banging]They may seem dramatic,but it's actually a necessary processto understand past incidents,failures and successes.- [Woman] God, oh my God!- To ensure that threatsare fully mitigatedfor future protectees.My name is JonathanWackrow, I spent 14 yearsin the U.S. Secret Serviceas a special agent.I joined the United States Secret Servicejust prior to nine, 11,I was assigned to theNew York Field Officeas a criminal investigator.And 2008, went to Washington,D.C.

Where I was assignedto the Secretary ofHomeland Security's detail,then just after theelection of President ObamaI went to the president's detailwhich allowed me the opportunityto plan and coordinate tripsboth domestically and abroadfor the President and First Lady.So the approach thatthe Secret Service takesis a very proactive advanced process,we think about three main areas.We think about what are we gonna doin a tactical or crisis situation?What are we gonna doin a medical situation?And what are we gonna doif we have to relocate this protectee?And those are the big three,there are subcategories to all of them,but every agent andofficer's constantly thinkingabout what am I going to do?What is my personal protection plan?And what is my plan for my protectee?We're never complacentbecause the moment thatwe become complacent,complacency kills and something happens.When the President goes to any location,the methodology is to set upconcentric rings of protectionaround where he's going to be.That starts with the inside of a building.The dais, if he's giving a speech,how do we build out asecurity program from there?First, we look at where thePresident's gonna stand.We try to mitigate any line ofsight issues that may occur,we wanna make sure thatthat environment is secure.I wanna be able to fortify my perimeter,I want access control.I wanna fully understandhow I mitigate everybodythat's coming into that environment,that's the metal detectors,that's the explosive detection,that is the utilizationof different technologyto ensure that we're alwaysputting the presidentin the most safe location,regardless of where it is.When a Secret Service Advanced Agentgoes into a location that the President,or any of our otherprotectees are gonna go into,they're looking at thatspace much differentlythan the average citizen.Everything from the HVAC,the air conditioning units,how does that affect my environment?Can someone introduce in an aerosol sprayfrom a clean air intake from the outside,and affect myself or the protectee?I'm looking at thelighting, who controls it?Can that room get dark real fast,and an attack it launched?How many entrances are there?Is there a set of stairs thatcan lead up from a basement?Is there an access wayinto the kitchen area?I wanna understand allof the access pointsinto that location.Once that room fills up with people,I wanna understand whatare the crowd dynamicsgonna be in that space?In the event that something happens,it could be something administrative,like a medical emergency, howis that crowd gonna react?What are they going to do?And what that crowd is going to do,is gonna be the oppositeto what I'm gonna do with my protectee'cause I wanna be able toquickly and effectivelyremove myself from that situation.Once that environment is established,how do we maintain it the entire durationthat the President's there?I'm looking at theperimeter of that location.That perimeter can be ourlocal law enforcement presencethat's now allowing us tokeep the general publicaway from this protective site,that moves out even further.We start looking at long-range issuesthat I need to address.I need aerial surveillance,I need the ability to understandwhat that airspace looks like above me,I need to understandif I'm near a terrainfeatures such as water,how do I mitigate the vulnerabilitythat's coming from that waterway?So do I need police boats out there?That starts to become that outer ring.So protective methodologyin these concentric rings,you wanna address those types of threatsas far out as possible.That's really the trade craft,and it comes down to experience.It comes down to constant training,and communication andawareness of your environment.[lady screams]Oftentimes, people look at the president,and they have blinders on.They don't even realizethat their own actionor what they're doingaround the president.- Oh, my gosh!- Here we see a young womanwho starts hugging thepresident and doesn't let go.She's not doing that out of malice,she's just starstruck thatthe President is there.The Secret Service has to be mindful thatthis isn't a threatthat's gonna take the President's life,but it is nettlesome,we have to address thisbecause it can cause a safety issuein the operating environmentfor the President.A lot of times the actionsthat Secret Service Agents takeare not even realized bythe people in the crowd.Here, we see a special agent in charge,and other agentscarefully removing the armof the individual away from the President.The President doesn'trealize what's happening,nor does the individual,but this is traderaft,this is what they train forand it happens right here.What we're seeing here, isthen candidate Trump speaking,someone aggressivelycomes towards the podium,Secret Service agent isimmediately up onto the stage,the shift comes up with them,they provide 360 degrees of cover.Once the threat is taken away,the President can go backto giving his speech.So as dynamically as a threat rises,they can also be mitigated just as fast.Social media is just instant information,and it can be factual or disinformation.That social media is a challengefor any protective construct,whether it's the SecretService, any government entity,or in private security, becauseinformation is dispersedand can go viral very quickly.[planes engines roars]There are times that the Secret Service,in conjunction with themilitary and the White House,take the President on a classified trip.Previously, that action was much easier,we can go under the cover of darkness,we could deploy a low profileprotective methodologywhere we're not going around with lights,and sirens, and a big police motorcade.Problem with social media today iseverything becomes public.So the example of thepresident going over to Iraq,the disclosure of that became publicwhen Air Force One was seenover the United Kingdom.And someone took a pictureof it, posted it online,and instantaneously, every news servicearound the world realizedthe President was in the air.And then trying to trackthat aircraft becomes easier,and now we have the President's locationon a classified mission.You can just think abouthow dangerous that isfor the United States Secret Service,the military, and the President himself.Social media is a challenge,not for just understandingwhere our protectees are.It's also a new pathway for threats,and social media hasbecome this superhighwayfor making threats against protectees.But everything threat that comesinto the Secret Servicehas to be investigated.The pathway of socialmedia doesn't change that'cause now messagescome in every single daythat are either direct or veiled threatsthat have to be investigated the same way.The means, opportunity, intentfor somebody to causeharm to our protectee.[loud sirens]The threat environment is verydynamic and unpredictable,Secret Service is mindful of that,so we have to constantlylook back and say,"How do we improve?"How do we get better?"Yes, we came out of thatenvironment, nothing happened."But is there something thatwe could have done better?"- [Announcer] Withpolice [muffled speech],and here is the Presidentof the United States.- If you look back at theKennedy assassination,no one had thought thatsomeone would try to shootthe president from a long-range,as they were traveling in a motorcade.Think about how difficultthat shot is to makeit's a moving target, it'ssmall from a distance.So when the Secret Service atthat time was looking at it,they were always mindfulthat there is a probabilitythat an event like that could happen,but the likelihood was pretty smallfor that high-impact situation.Well, calculation was wrong.So on this day in Dallas,we saw some thingsthat worked really well.We saw that Secret ServiceAgents that are located here,and here, are able toquickly react to anythingthat may affect thePresident or the First Lady.What's different here thistime, as compared to todayis the motorcade routeitself, how it's secured.Back then on either side ofthe motorcade, as you'll see,the crowd can get very close.So at any moment, someonecould step into the crowdand block that motorcade.Today, based upon what we know,we ensure that all presidential motorcadeshave some sort of barrier,and are posted by law enforcementto ensure that threats can't come,and cross across infront of the motorcade.Additionally, what we'reseeing in this angle is,is a great view of thePresident and the First Lady,you'll never see that today, why?Because after this tragicday in American history,the Secret Service learneda very vital lesson,never to allow the Presidentof the United Statesto ride in an open air vehicle.The Secret Service wouldrather have the presidentin an armored vehicle away from the publicwhere they're not engaging,thus reducing the risk.[faint chatter]However, that's just notfeasible in today's environment.So what we have to do is,we have to stage engagementbetween the President andthe public very carefully.Here we see a video of President Obamafrom the inaugurationgetting out of this limo.This is a carefully coordinated event,where they had a veryspecific security constructbuilt around it to ensure, eventhough they are in open airand in the public, all threadswithin all concentricrings are being mitigated.Our protective methodology hasn't changed,we're providing 360 degrees of coverage.We're seeing the crowdsare completely separated by barricades.So we will not have a surgeonto the motorcade route,there's also policepostings here, here, here,every seven feet there was another memberof the law enforcementor military communitythat was providingsecurity for this event.Every agent in this imagehas a very specific role,they're there to immediately respondto the President or the First Lady,and immediately bringthem back to the limousinefor protection in the eventof a crisis situation.As you'll see, we haveagents that are flankedon the left and right hand sideswho are there to address the threats,if anyone was to immediatelycome over the barricade.The supervisors are in close proximity,and they're there to cover and evacuatethese protectees and get them to safety.Here we see in September 1975,president Ford leaving ahotel in San Francisco.Just after leaving the hotel,President Ford's walkingtowards his vehicle,at the same moment anassailant across the street,Sarah Jane Moore fired a weapon.[crowd screaming]The Secret Service, takingthe emergency action drillthat they had trainedfor, took the presidentand covered and evacuated him.We're seeing the absoluteright things here being doneby the Secret Service Agents.The President is here,they're covering him.They're putting him down behind the armor,they're trying to get him into the limo,but a fateful lesson was learned,the limousine door was not open.Ever since this day,every time the Presidentis near a limousine, neararmor that door is openbecause that's our safe haven.Another lesson the Secret Service learnedwas the day that President Reaganleft the Washington Hilton, and was shot.In the moments that theassassination attempt had occurred,all the agents that you'reseeing here and hereare starting to face the protectee.The lesson learned from President Fordthat we saw earlier,this limo door is open.One of the key elementsof a Secret Service Agent,is putting yourself betweenthe threat and the protectee.Here we saw our Secret ServiceAgent make themselves big,they absorb the threat, inthis instance of firearm.This action alone savedthe President's lifebecause it allowed for President Reaganto be put right into the limo.We mitigated a potential loss of lifeby instituting a policybecause of President Fordalways to have the limo door open.Imagine the tragicscenario that we'd be inif this door was not open at that time,or the Secret Service Agentdidn't react the way that they did.As we have seen, the protectivemodel evolves over time,the Secret Service is always tryingto evolve and get better.They're reassessing everyaction that they takeon every single trip toensure a more holisticand secure environment for the protectees.One thing that hasn't changed is thatour protectees always remain a target.But how is the threat changed?What are the differenttactics that have used?They've become more dynamicbecause our mandate is protection,we have to put ourselvesbetween the threat and the protectee.And that means that wehave to stand up tallwhen there's gunfire,we have to go address the threat head-on,we have to become thestop-the-barrier between that threatwhether it's a sharp edgedweapon, a gun, doesn't matter.We have to stand in betweenthat threat and the protectee.We understand that it'sjust not normal [chuckles]to wanna put yourself inbetween a gun and a protectee.But there's a greater calling here,and we have to think aboutwhat we're protecting,and what that mission is.[gentle music]

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