2008 was a busy year.
It started off with me getting married (New Years Day), and then several months later, being transferred to the U.S. Secret Service flagship office—NYFO (the NYC Field Office).
It was also a campaign year (McCain vs. Obama) and I was assigned to the detail of McCain’s VP pick— Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska. (That experience deserves its own blog post).
Briefly though, being on the Palin detail went something like this: Work 21-days straight providing physical protection. Then head back to the Field Office for 21-days working whatever criminal cases you could squeeze in between other protection assignments that happened to pop-up. Then head back to the Palin detail for 21 days—and so on and so on, until the election.
On the days I was back in the field office, I was preparing for a trial involving a man I arrested for committing a plethora of crimes, the worse of which was possession of child pornography. (It was a very important case that ended up being written about in a bunch of law books. If you want, you can read about it HERE )
But what I really wanted to talk about in this blog post, was when I was assigned to the Advacement Team for the visit Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the United Nations General Assembly (specifically as the transportation agent). Between being on the Palin detail, and preparing for a trial, I had about 5 days or so to put together a motorcade security plan for this visit—one considered by the Secret Service to be a HIGH THREAT LEVEL. (This classification basically means the Secret Service is going to assign roughly the same set of assets to the visit as if it was our own President coming to town—i.e., Motorcade Route Security, Aviation assets, Counter Snipers, Counter Assasult Teams, Magnetometer Teams etc. )
Getting the transportation advance started, I had to liasion with the NYPD Intel, NYPD Highway, NYPD aviation, NYPD Harbor, U.S. CoastGuard, and several other unnamed federal agencies to make sure we were all on the same page, and hopefully avoid the scenario that happened the last time Ahmadinejad came to NYC (Which you can read about HERE )
(Quick side note: They never tell you on the day they first hand you your gun and Secret Service badge that not only will you be responsible for laying down your life for the U.S. President but you may also be responsible for making sure avowed enemies of the U.S. are safe when they visit our country. It’s a little mind boggling to think I would have to protect our enemy, and make no mistake about it, the Iranian government is our enemy, but could you imagine if a foreign head of state was hurt or killed while on U.S. soil and under the protection of the Secret Service? It’s safe to say it would be a disaster.)
With my routes picked and secure, and the cars and personnel all lined up at a far off terminal of the JFK airport—it was showtime. The Iranian equivalent of AirForce One had touched down and was taxing over to us. The plane looked like this:
When the plane pulls up to the hangar we wait… and we wait…and we wait some more. Why you ask? Because the pilots couldn’t shut down one of the engines. I may not be a pilot, but I’ve been around all types of aircraft and have never seen that happen before—especially to a plane being used by a Head of State. The Port Authority had to use a special piece of equipment—one stored on the other side of the airport— that could clamp down on the aricraft’s turbine engine and manually shut it down.
From the time the plane landed until the stair trucks pulled up to outer door, it was 45 long minutes . An embarrassing amount of time…
We then loaded up, with me in the Pilot vehicle (a NYPD HIGHWAY unit that was the lead vehicle for the entire motorcade). Thankfully we had a six-unit motorcycle team supporting us—responsible for stopping traffic, controlling intersections and blocking any on/off ramps.
We sailed unintruded into the city. Our destination—the Intercontinental Hotel. The ride into the city was smooth, but once we crossed the East River, we hit all types of crazy traffic. Stressed out doesn’t even begin to tell you how I and everyone else felt. To us, everything was a threat—the people walking along the sidewalks, the cars parked on the side of the street, everything.
It was almost midnight when we arrived at the hotel. And because we were one of the last details to arrive, I had to play “musical chairs” with the other Secret Service and Diplomatic Security motorcades parked on the street—including two other HIGH THREAT LEVEL designated countries.
After getting my vehicles situated, I performed a check of them to make sure they were in working order. To my surprise I noticed the limo was sagging to one side. “What the F,” I uttered as I examined the right rear wheel. Something was very wrong. It looked like an axel was broken. It was 1am and I had to call a mechanic. Oh, and the first movement of the next day was at 8am—giving me 7 hours to “fix” the problem. When was I going to sleep you ask? Not until the problem was fixed.
The mechanic arrived sometime around 2am. His diagnosis—the axel was busted and wasn’t fixable here. The vehicle needed to be towed to a shop. This meant I didn’t have a Limo. I was screwed. I called the Lead Agent with the news. His response went something like this—“Chris, you’re resourceful and competent so do what ever you need to do to make sure there is a limo waiting for us when we leave in the morning. Good luck.”
So what did I do?
First I had the limo towed away. Then, I called our motor pool folks to see what was available. Unfortunately, the pickings were slim —a couple Towne Cars, a few lightly armored Suburbans, but nothing adequate for a HIGH THREAT LEVEL detail. I then called over to the logistics folks.
I asked the guy who answered, “Which countries, if any, are leaving tomorrow?”
His response, “Micronesia, Sri Lanka, Mozambique and Canada.”
“Canada?” I said. “They have an armored limo, right?”
”What hotel are they staying at?” I asked.
Turned out, the Candian delegation was staying at a hotel not far away. I grabbed one of my drivers, who happened to be an agent on the Vice President’s details, and had him drive me to the motor pool—located in Brooklyn. I then signed out a Suburban and drove it to where the Canada detail was staying. I then “stole” their limo, at least that’s what I tell people. It actually took some serious negotiating (and the promise to buy several rounds of drinks) with the Lead Agent in charge of the Candian detail to get him to “give-up” his limo for the Suburban I brought.
I then drove my “new” limo back to the Intercontinental Hotel and parked it with the rest of my motorcade. It was 4am.
I got one hour of sleep that night.
Our first movement the next morning was to the United Nations, that thankfully went off without a hitch.
As a HIGH LEVEL detail we got to park our cars in the ellipse in front of the building. We were told we would be there for at least 3 hours.
Hearing that, my counterparts (NYPD Highway) left their vehicles to head over to the Canteen to get coffee and something to eat. (I asked them to keep one man behind—just in case—but my request was ignored. It’s the NYPD after all, and it’s their city, and as most federal agents will tell you, the NYPD doesn’t necessarily take instructions from the Feds. That’s just a fact.)
30 minutes after we arrived the Detail Leader called out over the radio. “Bring the motorcade up. We’re coming out.”
Bring the motorcade up??? Holy Shit. Did he just say “bring the motorcade up??” Two seconds later my fears were confirmed when the Detail Leader said. “Bring it up now! We are headed back to the hotel.”
My NYPD Highway counterparts (the ones driving the car I was manifested in) and all of the motorcycles we were counting on to help with controlling the traffic, were nowhere to be found. Thankfully, the NYPD intel guys had hung around and they waved me over. “Chris, jump in with us!” They yelled. “You can use our car as the lead vehicle.”
There was a look on the Detail Leader’s face when I pulled up in the unmarked NYPD Intel car, that said “Where the hell is the rest of the motorcade? Thankfully though, I had the most imporant part of the motorcade in tow —the secure package part.
As everyone loaded up and the cars started rolling, I dreaded what I had to say next, “Be advised,” I said as I spoke into my radio. “We will not have NYPD assets for this movement and will not have any intersection control.”
“Roger,” came the reply. “Just get us back safely.”
Thankfully, it was a short ride back to the hotel. The NYPD assets caught up after we arrived and the conversation I had with them was not pleasant. Through the grace of God, nothing happened, but I made sure nothing like that ever happened again—not while this detail was still operational.
This was a “great” start to the visit.
There were a couple more interesting things that happened during the following week—including a large group of protestors trying to stop the motorcade—but other than that, the rest of the visit went smoothly.
My experience during those couple months is something Secret Service agents deal with all the time. Being an agent is a grueling, stressful and —most of the time—a thankless job. Hopefully though, you gained a little insight into the hard work performed by the agents of the Secret Service and I hope the next time you see one of them you are compelled to say, “Thank you for your service.”