Former Secret Service Agent Explains How to Protect a President

Former Secret Service Agent Explains How to Protect a President

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The United States Secret Service,

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the protocols are born out of blood.

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They may seem dramatic,

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but it’s actually a necessary process

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to understand past incidents,

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failures and successes.

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[Woman] God, oh my God!

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To ensure that threats are fully mitigated

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for future protectees.

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My name is Jonathan Wackrow, I spent 14 years

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in the U.S. Secret Service as a special agent.

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I joined the United States Secret Service

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just prior to nine, 11,

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I was assigned to the New York Field Office

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as a criminal investigator.

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And 2008, went to Washington, D.C. where I was assigned

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to the Secretary of Homeland Security’s detail,

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then just after the election of President Obama

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I went to the president’s detail

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which allowed me the opportunity

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to plan and coordinate trips both domestically and abroad

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for the President and First Lady.

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So the approach that the Secret Service takes

01:00

is a very proactive advanced process,

01:03

we think about three main areas.

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We think about what are we gonna do

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in a tactical or crisis situation?

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What are we gonna do in a medical situation?

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And what are we gonna do

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if we have to relocate this protectee?

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And those are the big three,

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there are subcategories to all of them,

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but every agent and officer’s constantly thinking

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about what am I going to do?

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What is my personal protection plan?

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And what is my plan for my protectee?

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We’re never complacent

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because the moment that we become complacent,

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complacency kills and something happens.

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When the President goes to any location,

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the methodology is to set up

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concentric rings of protection

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around where he’s going to be.

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That starts with the inside of a building.

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The dais, if he’s giving a speech,

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how do we build out a security program from there?

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First, we look at where the President’s gonna stand.

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We try to mitigate any line of sight issues that may occur,

01:54

we wanna make sure that that environment is secure.

01:57

I wanna be able to fortify my perimeter,

02:00

I want access control.

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I wanna fully understand how I mitigate everybody

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that’s coming into that environment,

02:07

that’s the metal detectors,

02:08

that’s the explosive detection,

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that is the utilization of different technology

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to ensure that we’re always putting the president

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in the most safe location, regardless of where it is.

02:21

When a Secret Service Advanced Agent

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goes into a location that the President,

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or any of our other protectees are gonna go into,

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they’re looking at that space much differently

02:30

than the average citizen.

02:32

Everything from the HVAC, the air conditioning units,

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how does that affect my environment?

02:38

Can someone introduce in an aerosol spray

02:40

from a clean air intake from the outside,

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and affect myself or the protectee?

02:45

I’m looking at the lighting, who controls it?

02:47

Can that room get dark real fast,

02:50

and an attack it launched?

02:51

How many entrances are there?

02:53

Is there a set of stairs that can lead up from a basement?

02:56

Is there an access way into the kitchen area?

02:58

I wanna understand all of the access points

03:01

into that location.

03:03

Once that room fills up with people,

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I wanna understand what are the crowd dynamics

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gonna be in that space?

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In the event that something happens,

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it could be something administrative,

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like a medical emergency, how is that crowd gonna react?

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What are they going to do?

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And what that crowd is going to do,

03:18

is gonna be the opposite

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to what I’m gonna do with my protectee

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’cause I wanna be able to quickly and effectively

03:22

remove myself from that situation.

03:24

Once that environment is established,

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how do we maintain it the entire duration

03:29

that the President’s there?

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I’m looking at the perimeter of that location.

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That perimeter can be our local law enforcement presence

03:38

that’s now allowing us to keep the general public

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away from this protective site,

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that moves out even further.

03:45

We start looking at long-range issues

03:47

that I need to address.

03:48

I need aerial surveillance,

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I need the ability to understand

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what that airspace looks like above me,

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I need to understand

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if I’m near a terrain features such as water,

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how do I mitigate the vulnerability

03:59

that’s coming from that waterway?

04:01

So do I need police boats out there?

04:02

That starts to become that outer ring.

04:05

So protective methodology in these concentric rings,

04:08

you wanna address those types of threats

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as far out as possible.

04:12

That’s really the trade craft,

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and it comes down to experience.

04:15

It comes down to constant training,

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and communication and awareness of your environment.

04:23

Oftentimes, people look at the president,

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and they have blinders on.

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They don’t even realize that their own action

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or what they’re doing around the president.

04:31

Here we see a young woman

04:32

who starts hugging the president and doesn’t let go.

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She’s not doing that out of malice,

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she’s just starstruck that the President is there.

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The Secret Service has to be mindful that

04:43

this isn’t a threat

04:44

that’s gonna take the President’s life,

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but it is nettlesome, we have to address this

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because it can cause a safety issue

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in the operating environment for the President.

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A lot of times the actions

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that Secret Service Agents take

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are not even realized by the people in the crowd.

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Here, we see a special agent in charge,

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and other agents carefully removing the arm

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of the individual away from the President.

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The President doesn’t realize what’s happening,

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nor does the individual, but this is traderaft,

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this is what they train for and it happens right here.

05:13

What we’re seeing here, is then candidate Trump speaking,

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someone aggressively comes towards the podium,

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Secret Service agent is immediately up onto the stage,

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the shift comes up with them,

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they provide 360 degrees of cover.

05:24

Once the threat is taken away,

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the President can go back to giving his speech.

05:28

So as dynamically as a threat rises,

05:31

they can also be mitigated just as fast.

05:35

Social media is just instant information,

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and it can be factual or disinformation.

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That social media is a challenge

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for any protective construct,

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whether it’s the Secret Service, any government entity,

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or in private security, because information is dispersed

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and can go viral very quickly.

05:52

[planes engines roars]

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There are times that the Secret Service,

05:55

in conjunction with the military and the White House,

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take the President on a classified trip.

06:00

Previously, that action was much easier,

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we can go under the cover of darkness,

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we could deploy a low profile protective methodology

06:06

where we’re not going around with lights,

06:08

and sirens, and a big police motorcade.

06:10

Problem with social media today is

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everything becomes public.

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So the example of the president going over to Iraq,

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the disclosure of that became public

06:19

when Air Force One was seen over the United Kingdom.

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And someone took a picture of it, posted it online,

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and instantaneously, every news service

06:27

around the world realized the President was in the air.

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And then trying to track that aircraft becomes easier,

06:32

and now we have the President’s location

06:34

on a classified mission.

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You can just think about how dangerous that is

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for the United States Secret Service,

06:39

the military, and the President himself.

06:43

Social media is a challenge,

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not for just understanding where our protectees are.

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It’s also a new pathway for threats,

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and social media has become this superhighway

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for making threats against protectees.

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But everything threat that comes

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into the Secret Service has to be investigated.

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The pathway of social media doesn’t change that

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’cause now messages come in every single day

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that are either direct or veiled threats

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that have to be investigated the same way.

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The means, opportunity, intent

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for somebody to cause harm to our protectee.

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The threat environment is very dynamic and unpredictable,

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Secret Service is mindful of that,

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so we have to constantly look back and say,

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How do we get better?

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Yes, we came out of that environment, nothing happened.

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But is there something that we could have done better?

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[Announcer] With police [muffled speech],

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and here is the President of the United States.

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If you look back at the Kennedy assassination,

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no one had thought that someone would try to shoot

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the president from a long-range,

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as they were traveling in a motorcade.

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Think about how difficult that shot is to make

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it’s a moving target, it’s small from a distance.

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So when the Secret Service at that time was looking at it,

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they were always mindful that there is a probability

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that an event like that could happen,

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but the likelihood was pretty small

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for that high-impact situation.

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Well, calculation was wrong.

08:02

So on this day in Dallas, we saw some things

08:03

that worked really well.

08:04

We saw that Secret Service Agents that are located here,

08:07

and here, are able to quickly react to anything

08:11

that may affect the President or the First Lady.

08:14

What’s different here this time, as compared to today

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is the motorcade route itself, how it’s secured.

08:20

Back then on either side of the motorcade, as you’ll see,

08:24

the crowd can get very close.

08:26

So at any moment, someone could step into the crowd

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and block that motorcade.

08:30

Today, based upon what we know,

08:32

we ensure that all presidential motorcades

08:35

have some sort of barrier,

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and are posted by law enforcement

08:38

to ensure that threats can’t come,

08:40

and cross across in front of the motorcade.

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Additionally, what we’re seeing in this angle is,

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is a great view of the President and the First Lady,

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you’ll never see that today, why?

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Because after this tragic day in American history,

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the Secret Service learned a very vital lesson,

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never to allow the President of the United States

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to ride in an open air vehicle.

09:02

The Secret Service would rather have the president

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in an armored vehicle away from the public

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where they’re not engaging, thus reducing the risk.

09:11

However, that’s just not feasible in today’s environment.

09:14

So what we have to do is, we have to stage engagement

09:17

between the President and the public very carefully.

09:20

Here we see a video of President Obama

09:22

from the inauguration getting out of this limo.

09:25

This is a carefully coordinated event,

09:27

where they had a very specific security construct

09:30

built around it to ensure, even though they are in open air

09:33

and in the public, all threads

09:35

within all concentric rings are being mitigated.

09:38

Our protective methodology hasn’t changed,

09:40

we’re providing 360 degrees of coverage.

09:43

We’re seeing the crowds

09:44

are completely separated by barricades.

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So we will not have a surge onto the motorcade route,

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there’s also police postings here, here, here,

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every seven feet there was another member

09:55

of the law enforcement or military community

09:57

that was providing security for this event.

10:00

Every agent in this image has a very specific role,

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they’re there to immediately respond

10:05

to the President or the First Lady,

10:07

and immediately bring them back to the limousine

10:09

for protection in the event of a crisis situation.

10:12

As you’ll see, we have agents that are flanked

10:14

on the left and right hand sides

10:16

who are there to address the threats,

10:18

if anyone was to immediately come over the barricade.

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The supervisors are in close proximity,

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and they’re there to cover and evacuate

10:25

these protectees and get them to safety.

10:29

Here we see in September 1975,

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president Ford leaving a hotel in San Francisco.

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Just after leaving the hotel,

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President Ford’s walking towards his vehicle,

10:38

at the same moment an assailant across the street,

10:40

Sarah Jane Moore fired a weapon.

10:45

The Secret Service, taking the emergency action drill

10:47

that they had trained for, took the president

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and covered and evacuated him.

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We’re seeing the absolute right things here being done

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by the Secret Service Agents.

10:57

The President is here, they’re covering him.

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They’re putting him down behind the armor,

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they’re trying to get him into the limo,

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but a fateful lesson was learned,

11:04

the limousine door was not open.

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Ever since this day, every time the President

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is near a limousine, near armor that door is open

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because that’s our safe haven.

11:15

Another lesson the Secret Service learned

11:17

was the day that President Reagan

11:18

left the Washington Hilton, and was shot.

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In the moments that the assassination attempt had occurred,

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all the agents that you’re seeing here and here

11:28

are starting to face the protectee.

11:29

The lesson learned from President Ford

11:31

that we saw earlier, this limo door is open.

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One of the key elements of a Secret Service Agent,

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is putting yourself between the threat and the protectee.

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Here we saw our Secret Service Agent make themselves big,

11:44

they absorb the threat, in this instance of firearm.

11:47

This action alone saved the President’s life

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because it allowed for President Reagan

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to be put right into the limo.

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We mitigated a potential loss of life

11:57

by instituting a policy because of President Ford

12:00

always to have the limo door open.

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Imagine the tragic scenario that we’d be in

12:03

if this door was not open at that time,

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or the Secret Service Agent

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didn’t react the way that they did.

12:10

As we have seen, the protective model evolves over time,

12:13

the Secret Service is always trying

12:14

to evolve and get better.

12:16

They’re reassessing every action that they take

12:18

on every single trip to ensure a more holistic

12:22

and secure environment for the protectees.

12:25

One thing that hasn’t changed is that

12:27

our protectees always remain a target.

12:30

But how is the threat changed?

12:31

What are the different tactics that have used?

12:33

They’ve become more dynamic

12:35

because our mandate is protection, we have to put ourselves

12:40

between the threat and the protectee.

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And that means that we have to stand up tall

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when there’s gunfire,

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we have to go address the threat head-on,

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we have to become the stop-the-barrier between that threat

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whether it’s a sharp edged weapon, a gun, doesn’t matter.

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We have to stand in between that threat and the protectee.

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We understand that it’s just not normal [chuckles]

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to wanna put yourself in between a gun and a protectee.

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But there’s a greater calling here,

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and we have to think about what we’re protecting,

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and what that mission is.

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