I dialed up a pal of mine the other day, Scott Alswang, a retired Special Agent with the Secret Service. From 1984 to 2004, he guarded all the Presidents, from Regan to “W” and almost all of the foreign heads of state who visited them in between. Alswang walked me through what the two Obama girls can expect.
First, they’ve already gotten their new monikers. You know, those pithy code names Secret Service agents use when they refer to those they protect? Ten-year-old Malia Obama’s shortcut name is Radiance. Seven-year-old Sasha will be referred to as Rosebud. (By the way the new President is Renegade, First Lady Michelle is Renaissance.)
Before they go to their first day in their new school the Secret Service will have run background checks on the school’s staff and maybe some of the students and their families. Agents will accompany the girls to and from campus everyday. They may, depending on space, set up a small command center inside the building. If not, they’ll set one up outside. They may tap into the school’s closed-circuit camera system if there is one.
How many agents will be assigned to the girls? “The appropriate number to get the job done,” according to my still secretive friend, Agent Alswang.
When Malia and Sasha want to have new friends over to the White House to play, those friends and their families will probably have undergone a discreet background check. And on the actual day of the play date . . . what happens when the child arrives? As Agent Alswang put it, “No one gets inside the White House without passing through a name check and a magnetometer.”
What if the two Obama daughters (pictured right) want to go on a typical sleepover at a friend’s house? You guessed it. The Secret Service will go too. Agents will conduct a site survey ahead of time and figure out where in the house the children might spend time. Escape routes will be devised just in case. The agents will either stay outside in a command vehicle or if there’s room they’ll set up inside the house.
“We’re not there to intrude on others' privacy,” Alswang told me. But the Secret Service protection duties are three-fold. “Observe and sound off, that is, yell ‘GUN’ or whatever the threat is. Cover the protected person and evacuate them from the problem area.”
If President Obama wins a second 4-year-term, the girls will be of prime dating age. Then what happens with his daughters? Answer: There won’t be a hand held, a first kiss or a high school dance that the Secret Service won’t attend.
The agents do try to be unobtrusive. If they have to protect someone at a school dance, for example, they’ll show up in formal wear and try to blend in. But, come on – how many prom-goers wear squiggly ear pieces and talk into their shirt cuffs?
I had to ask Agent Alswang what might happen if the Obama girls misbehave as the Bush twins, Barbara and Jenna, did when they were caught drinking at age 19? That 2001 incident at a Tex-Mex bar in Austin resulted in the twins being slapped with misdemeanor charges.
Does the Secret Service discipline presidential children? Do they tattle to the parents if the kids act out in a major way?
Alswang says agents always try to “bring some common sense to the situation but if it’s bad enough” they might have to resort to telling the First Parents. And, he told me, “It goes the other way too. . . . The Bush girls tattled on the agents they thought were too aggressive, especially in the beginning.” He says Jenna and Barbara’s Dad was “always happy to get the complaints. He knew we were doing the job.”
It is tradition at the end of an Agent’s lengthy assignment to the First Family to get a personal send off from the President and First Lady. When the detail around the twins (pictured left) finally rotated out after a long tour, the President is reported to have called them in and said, "Laura and I would like to thank you for letting us sleep every night while you were up every night watching the girls. I’m trying to figure out a way to award you the Medal of Freedom!”
Welcome to Washington, Malia and Sasha . . . have a great childhood!
Used to be that Secret Service radio communications could not be encrypted. And because agents worried about eavesdroppers, they used code words over the radio to talk about the President and his family as they moved from location to location. That subterfuge is no longer needed but the tradition of giving pithy monikers to the First Family stuck.
Did you know these nicknames? I knew President Ronald Reagan was "Rawhide," but most of the rest were news to me:
President-elect Barack Obama: Renegade