Above the Tearline: Inside a Protective Agent's Mind
Vice President of Intelligence and former protective agent Fred Burton describes what it's like in the moments something goes wrong with a VIP's motorcade as it did for U.S. President Barack Obama in Ireland.
Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
On his recent trip to Ireland, President Obama's limousine known as "The Beast" got stuck trying to depart the U.S. Embassy Dublin. In this week's Above the Tearline, I'm going to discuss what goes through an agent's mind working a protective detail when the unexpected happens.
I've had the opportunity to have worked for two of the best protective units in the world in my assessment, and that is the U.S. Secret Service as well as the State Department Diplomatic Security Service and spend a tremendous amount of time protecting presidents, vice presidents, visiting heads of state.
Now back to the incident when the presidential protection division known as PPD attempts to depart the U.S. Embassy Dublin. It appears that the limousine bottomed out on a apex of a little hill, in essence grounding the limousine and sticking it right on the X in between the two embassy gates. At that moment in time, you're stuck. You have the President of the United States or it can be any other high-value target inside the car. You know the car is a safe haven but there's going to be a few moments of chaos as you're listening to the radio traffic in your ear as the agents are trying to explain what occurred.
I think it's also important for those of you watching this video to understand that the agent inside the car also knows that he has a tremendous amount of resources in concentric rings of security: other agents, surveillance teams, counter snipers, Irish national police, Irish protection agents looking out for him.
But, there is that moment when you really don't know what occurred and it could be anything. You're worried about whether or not this could be some sort of attack unfolding and there is that brief moment in time — and it may last a few seconds — until you're waiting for the worse thing that could possibly occur — whether that be an attack, some sort of device that is thrown in your direction or a rocket-propelled grenade fired. In essence, you know and you feel like a sitting duck and as an agent in the car when something like that occurs, there is sheer fright for a moment until your training kicks in. You keep the VIP in the car because that's your safe haven. You realize you're not coming under attack. You safely move the VIP to your backup limousine and you take the secondary route of egress from the location.
From a protective security perspective, in closing, the U.S. Secret Service will diagnose what occurred here and fix it going forward. In reality, this was probably an oversight from the advance agent failing to let the driver of the limo know of the bump as you are exiting the U.S. Embassy Dublin. I know the Secret Service, who is very good at correcting these kinds of mistakes, who'll put process and protocol in place to ensure that all site advance agents will look for that going forward.