Saturday, December 27, 2014

Presidential Motorcade Volunteer Drivers - Great For Selfies, Not So Much For Security

Has Representative Jason Chaffetz heard about this yet? Well, watch this space for his overreaction when he learns that the U.S. Secret Service has given him wonderful material for his next oversight hearing on White House security.

The New York Times ran a story last Friday about the practice of using untrained and inexperienced volunteers to drive some of the vehicles in Presidential motorcades. That should not come as a surprise to insiders, since it's a longstanding practice. The Obama administration even made one former motorcade van driver it's National Security Council spokesman (true story).

Nevertheless, it is an absolutely crazy thing to do. Presidential motorcade security 'packages' involve many different professional players from police agencies, as well as the U.S. Secret Service, all performing high speed maneuvers. Putting amateur drivers anywhere in that mix is like letting football fans run around on the field during an NFL game. All great fun until somebody gets hurt.

Driver Wanted for Obama Motorcade. Novice Welcome:
Volunteers with no special training are a link in the middle of the fastest, and highest-profile, chain of vehicles in the country. They are cheaper than the Secret Service personnel or local police officers who surround them on the road. And their cargo of lowly staff members and reporters is apparently less precious.

The White House declined to comment on the practice. The Secret Service defended it, saying it has been standard since at least the 1980s. Volunteer drivers “are briefed by the Secret Service agent responsible for the motorcade prior to any movements” about what to do in case of an emergency, like an attack, a spokesman for the agency said.

But Ms. Tyson [a 24-year old student] said in a telephone interview several weeks after she drove in the motorcade that she had received little instruction from the Secret Service about what to do in the event of a high-speed emergency. She assumed that she should just follow the car in front of her no matter what happened.

“Whatever I am,” she said, “is good enough for them.”

-- snip --

Some security experts said the practice was troubling. Not only could the volunteers cause an accident — and they have — but they are sandwiched between the president’s limousine and the Secret Service ambulance, so neophyte drivers could create complications and delays in an emergency.

Dan Emmett, a Secret Service agent from 1983 to 2004 and the author of “Within Arm’s Length: A Secret Service Agent’s Definitive Inside Account of Protecting the President,” said he considered volunteer drivers like Ms. Tyson, who read her family therapy textbook between stops, a national security threat.

You are face to face with a young person who is just completely full of themselves and enthralled,” Mr. Emmett said, recalling the years when he was part of the motorcade’s counterassault team that traveled in vehicles in front of the volunteers.

He added, “We were more concerned with that than an attack on the motorcade.”

Her FB post "got so many likes you wouldn't believe it"

It may be a security disaster waiting to happen, but it's also a wonderful source of Facebook material and such for the volunteers, who are reimbursed for their work by getting a handshake with POTUS and all the selfies they can take.

A word of warning about selfies in front of the President's limo. The NYT noted that a security guard at the Centers for Disease Control headquarters in Atlanta lost his job when he took a photo of the Presidential limo. White Privilege alert! Evidently, what is permitted a grad student with a friend who works in the White House is not permitted a black man with a blue collar job.

Something tells me that the highly quotable Ms. Tyson will be cited in a House Oversight and Government Operations Committee hearing someday not far off.

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