Here’s the initial story: the Dallas police, who are more conscious of these issues than most municipal police forces, told reporters that the Secret Service ordered them to suspend weapons screening while people were still arriving at an Obama rally this past Thursday. From the Dallas Star-Telegram:
Police concerned about order to stop weapons screening at Obama rally(WTF? Is he holding out for a swarthy, disaffected anarchist who’ll come skulking along, singing It’s Sister Jenny’s Turn to Throw the Bomb, and carrying a bowling ball with a fuse sticking out of it?)
DALLAS—Security details at Barack Obama’s rally Wednesday stopped screening people for weapons at the front gates more than an hour before the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage at Reunion Arena.
The order to put down the metal detectors and stop checking purses and laptop bags came as a surprise to several Dallas police officers who said they believed it was a lapse in security.
Dallas Deputy Police Chief T.W. Lawrence, head of the Police Department’s homeland security and special operations divisions, said the order—apparently made by the U.S. Secret Service—was meant to speed up the long lines outside and fill the arena’s vacant seats before Obama came on.
“Sure,” said Lawrence, when asked if he was concerned by the great number of people who had gotten into the building without being checked. But, he added, the turnout of more than 17,000 people seemed to be a “friendly crowd.”
The Secret Service did not return a call from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.That is to say: in a state with few gun laws and no shortage of racist crazies, and in a city with a high crime rate and a history of political assassination, they had less security for a major campaign appearance than many high schools apply every day to their students. They had less security than I’ve run into at concerts, baseball games, and second-string amusement parks. They had far less security than was in force at comparable campaign events during the previous two elections. They had much, much less security than the torpid Republican National Convention in NYC had on its slowest day, in a year when all they had to do was renominate Bush.
Doors opened to the public at 10 a.m., and for the first hour security officers scanned each person who came in and checked their belongings in a process that kept movement of the long lines at a crawl. Then, about 11 a.m., an order came down to allow the people in without being checked.
Several Dallas police officers said it worried them that the arena was packed with people who got in without even a cursory inspection.
More pertinently, they didn’t have an atom of the security that’s lavished on a the most minor and unannounced semi-public forays of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. (Mind you, Bush and Cheney’s personal security protocols verge on the insane.)
Two points to bear in mind: first, the Secret Service is run by the Executive branch of the government.
Second, we’re talking about an administration that didn’t hesitate to turn FEMA into a branch of its PR organization; fired U.S. District Attorneys for failure to pursue partisan, politically motivated prosecutions; and outed one of our own undercover intelligence agents in retaliation for that agent’s spouse accurately reporting information that Bush, Cheney & Co. found inconvenient.
Would those guys hesitate to turn the Secret Service into their own private security force, even if it meant they scanted or ignored the Secret Service’s other assigned duties? You don’t even have to ask. To think of the question is to know the answer.
Back to the Dallas police force:
They spoke on condition of anonymity because, they said, the order was made by federal officials who were in charge of security at the event.Bear that in mind. Later we’re going to see the Secret Service deny that they decided to suspend weapon checks, on the grounds that they didn’t decide to do it, but instead intended to do it all along. You wouldn’t think that could be true, would you? But it is. I know this because I have a secret privileged information source.
“How can you not be concerned in this day and age,” said one policeman.
To state the obvious, security has been a major concern since Barack Obama started running. He started getting Secret Service protection since May 3, 2007, which is the earliest it’s ever been assigned to a candidate. He needed it. The man’s been a target for death threats and hateful craziness all along.
It’s been interesting watching the reactions to the initial story. There’ve been 3,682 votes cast so far in the Star-Telegram’s poll that asks the readers how good they thought security was at that event. The breakdown: excellent, 11%; suitable, 6%; a bit below par, 7%; unacceptable, 77%. Right now the story’s comment thread is 54 pages long. It makes interesting reading, if you ignore the nutbars. The citizens are outraged. They ask what the bleep the Secret Service thought it was doing, and demand that the person who gave that order be fired. They point out that people don’t get let in unchecked at concerts, rodeos, football games, or the state fair. A couple of them speak from the viewpoint of security professionals:
I served at the 2002 Winter Olympics as part of Joint Task Force Olympic Gold. In almost every event we (US Army/National Guard/Secret Service/US Customs/Local police) protected there were more than 17,000 spectators. Troughout the Olympics we were able to sweep 100% of all spectators entering the venues, before the event took place. The Secret Service agents we worked with (I was with the Missouri National Guards 110th Engineer BN) were professional and subject matter experts on protection. I Find it hard to believe these men and women would on thier own accord stop searching individuals entering the venue, it goes against their very being. :: Posted by: [name left blank] :: 2/22/2008 3:25 PM :: 2595.310And here’s a comment about the Star-Telegram’s followup story, which we’ll be getting to in a moment:
I have had many friends work at times in the security business. If they had done what the U.S. Secret Service got away with at Reunion Arena, they would have been summarily fired. Moreover, the long lines were caused by a lack of planning by the Secret Service. This is an abysmal performance by one of our alleged premier government security organizations. It deserves an outright formal investigation. Oh, but I forgot, Bush is still the “President”. :: Posted by: DrToketee :: 2/22/2008 2:55 PM :: 2595.277
Hey Editor, how about doing your job and pointing out in your followup that the Secret Service confirmed the story is true in every detail and their only defense was that this is standard procedure. That is the real story and an even greater scandal than an “Oops it won’t happen again” response!He’s got a point. Here’s the followup, in which the Secret Service replies to the initial report:
A casual reading as you have written the story gives people the impression that the Secret Service is saying it didn’t happen, bolstered by the headline. That’s not what they’re saying at all!
As for the interview, any reporter worth hiring would have asked the apologist for the Secret Service if this is the same security they would provide for…oh I don’t know, maybe President Bush? Let’s start refining those journalistic skills. :: Posted by: Jerry C. :: 2/23/2008 7:13 AM :: 2595.455
Secret Service defends security strategy at rally in Reunion ArenaJerry C.’s right. The problem isn’t that there was a lapse in the Secret Service’s plan; it’s that what they had wasn’t a security plan at all. If you check some people, then let a bunch of unchecked ones into the same area, you’re no more secure than you would be if you hadn’t checked anyone at all. This is a basic principle.
The U.S. Secret Service on Friday defended its handling of security during a huge rally in downtown Dallas for Barack Obama, saying there was no “lapse” in its “comprehensive and layered security plan,” which called for some people to be checked for weapons while others were not.
A report in the Star-Telegram that said some security measures were lifted during Wednesday’s rally sparked a public outrage across the country, with most people saying they were shocked that a routine weapons search was lifted at the front gates of Reunion Arena an hour before the Democratic presidential candidate took the stage.I believe we can confirm Jeremy Dibbell’s report from Boston.
“This relaxed security was unbelievably stupid, especially in Dallas,” Jeff Adams of Berkeley, Calif., said in an e-mail, noting the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas more than four decades ago.
Others said they had attended large political events in the recent past, many of them for Obama, where security screening was halted.
Jeremy Dibbell of Boston said in an e-mail that he attended an Obama event in Boston and “the same thing happened there. We waited for hours in line as people were screened, and then suddenly everyone was just allowed in without going through any inspection at all.”
This is the heart of the story. It’s also where that 54-page comment thread in the Star-Telegram comes into its own. That’s my secret privileged information source. The thread contains nearly two dozen independent corroborating accounts of Obama’s and Clinton’s campaign appearances in cities across the country. All but one describe the same pattern of events: security gets set up in advance of the event. For a while, they check the people going in. It’s slow. Then, an hour or less before the event is supposed to start, they drop the security checks and let in everyone who’s been waiting.
(The one exception is a comment that claims that security at Reno, NV was “very tight BUT NOT necessarily visible,” and calls it “top-notch.” Since it’s unlikely that security personnel managed to remain invisible while checking attendees for weapons, I doubt security was top-notch, or even minimally satisfactory.)
If the same thing is happening at every event in every city, it’s not a lapse. It’s planned to work out that way. And that is a complete and utter outrage, because what the Secret Service is enacting isn’t security; it’s security theatre. They know it’s inadequate. They go in with inadequate equipment and personnel, and give a full check to the early arrivals. Then, a half hour to an hour before the main event, when people are arriving in droves, they turn off their metal detectors and wave everyone through.
Since every Abba revival concert and monster truck rally in this country manages to check its attendees for weapons and other interesting baggage, this policy on the part of the Secret Service can only be taken as deliberate neglect of the safety of the candidates and the people who come to see them.
Nick Shapiro, a spokesman for Obama in Texas, said the campaign would have no comment on whether there was a security breach in Dallas. He referred questions to the Secret Service.I doubt the Obama campaign wants to announce that their candidate is a sitting duck. The same goes for the Clinton campaign.
Jessica Santillo, spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton in Texas, said the Clinton campaign works with the Secret Service to “protect the safety of everyone who attends our campaign events.”
‘No security lapses’Score another point for Jerry C.: the Secret Service has confirmed that the story is true in every detail, and their only defense has been that it’s standard procedure.
Eric Zahren, a spokesman for the Secret Service in Washington, said precautionary measures went as planned for the Obama rally. “There were no security lapses at that venue,” Zahren said. There was “no deviation” from the “comprehensive and layered” plan, implemented in “very close cooperation with our law enforcement partners,” he added.
Zahren rebutted suggestions by several Dallas police officers at the rally who thought the Secret Service ordered a halt to the timeconsuming weapons check because long lines were moving slowly and many seats remained empty as the time was nearing for Obama to appear.
“It was never a part of the plan at this particular venue to have each and every person in the crowd pass through the Magnetometer,” Zahren said, referring to the device used to detect metal in clothing and bags.
Asked whether the Secret Service would re-evaluate its security procedures at such events, he said, “We’re always re-evaluating security measures … and we make adjustments as necessary.”That’s a blow-off answer. They’ve used the same procedures and gotten the same results at one campaign after another, so they must not have felt adjustments were necessary. The only reason they might re-evaluate their policy is if there’s sufficient public outrage.
A security ‘success’I think “success from a police standpoint” means “nothing too awful happened this time around.”
The Dallas Police Department said in a statement Friday that the Obama rally was a “success from a police standpoint.” Lt. V.L. Hale III, a spokesman for the force, also said in the statement that city officers were not in charge of the metal detectors. He declined to comment further on security issues.
Here we get into a piece of inexplicably bad journalism: the reporter interviews a security consultant who wasn’t at the event, had no connection with it, doesn’t appear to have spoken to any of the people who were running security there, and is discussing it from an entirely speculative viewpoint.
The Secret Service may have been doing all it could at the rally, said Keith Howse, a lawyer and consultant for security concerns and a former assistant police chief for the sprawling Baylor Health Care System.Wrong. The Secret Service was not screening people by zone, and they most certainly did sink below minimum protection for Barack Obama. The Star-Telegram really needs to read their own comment threads:
Howse, who was not at the rally, said the Secret Service may have been screening the people closest to the candidate while letting others go in unchecked who were seated far away in the spacious, 17,000-seat arena.
“It may have ended up not being the best of all worlds, but it might not have been a flat-out security breach,” he said, adding: “I think it’s important to understand that the Secret Service would not sink below minimum protection” for a presidential candidate.
I attended the event and, I must say I was shocked by not being screened. I made my way to the rope line and shook Barack’s hand. Think about It. :: Posted by: D. Guillory :: 2/22/2008 3:07 PM :: 2595.291Here are the rest of the reports of negligent Secret Service security from that comment thread. Sorry about the length. It’s data.
The same thing happened at the speech in Virginia Beach, where we had 18,000 people. I was pretty surprised when they stopped screening and opened all the doors, and even if it’s a “friendly” crowd, it only takes one to cause a disaster. :: Posted by: Ben :: 2/22/2008 11:59 AM :: 2595.24We have a problem.
I went to Obama’s rally in St. Louis. We were just allowed into the arena. Our bags weren’t checked nor were metal detectors used. There were over 20,000 at that rally. :: Posted by: Kelly :: 2/22/2008 12:02 PM :: 2595.31
The same thing happened in Green Bay, WI at the Kress Center on February 15. People were just waved through to the auditorium during the last 15-20 minutes - No visual checks whatsoever or passing through a metal detector. The goal was to start on time apparently, which the rally did. :: Posted by: Green Bay reader :: 2/22/2008 12:15 PM :: 2595.58
I attended an Obama rally in Reno, NV and security was very, very tight BUT NOT necessarily visible. However, I imagine after this story, the Secret Service will probably add some visibility to their security protocol. I also understand the sensitivity of the Dallas Police Department but I think Sen. Obama’s security is top notch. :: Posted by: Metro :: 2/22/2008 12:30 PM
This is exactly what happened in NYC last fall when Obama made an appearance in Washington Square Park. They screened people with metal detectors for the first two hours, but when it became apparent that most of the crowd would not make it in for several more hours they just let everybody flood the park with no screening. :: Posted by: ea :: 2/22/2008 12:32 PM :: 2595.90
When Hillary Clinton gave a speech in Salinas, CA the police did not scan either. There was an obvious S/S presence but it was all very casual. A local DNC woman just had the few of us at the door fill out a donation form. Then right in we went. :: Posted by: Bubba :: 2/22/2008 12:37 PM :: 2595.94
Sam thing happened in Houston. A friend and I arrived about 30 minutes before he spoke and walked right through the font doors of the Toyota Center without going through any medal detectors, wands, etc. Rediculous that the security is so weak and that our law enforcement is not taking the necessary steps to protect against anyone wishing to do him harm or wishing to do harm to the thousands that show up at these events to support him. :: Posted by: JDM :: 2/22/2008 12:43 PM :: 2595.107
The same thing happened at the Obama rally that I attended in San Francisco. We waited in line for hours and then suddenly the speed of the line picked way up and we walked right through the metal detectors which had been turned off. I would’ve much rather gotten into the rally late than had the individual who I hope will be the next President of the US endangered by “expediency” efforts. :: Posted by: Kari Chao :: 2/22/2008 1:15 PM :: 2595.158
I was amazed in Seattle at the Key Areana that the security was more lax than for a WNBA Storm game. It was good to feel the trust, but also caught my attention. :: Posted by: :: 2/22/2008 1:21 PM :: 2595.169
The exact same thing happened at the Denver rally. I did not think about it too much at the time, but this is bad. :: Posted by: Tim Tribbett :: 2/22/2008 1:30 PM :: 2595.188
The same thing happened at the outdoor Wilmington, Delaware rally I attended. Over 12,000 folks showed at that one. It appeared the officers were overwhelmed with having to check so many people. What I really found interesting were the snipers and scouts on the roof of the old courthouse. I noticed two of them captivated by Obama’s speech and simply put their binoculars down. I remember praying, please don’t let anything happen. :: Posted by: L. :: 2/22/2008 1:48 PM :: 2595.209
This happened in Kansas City, Missouri, too, but only a few people - perhaps 100 or so - got in without being screened, including me. The few they let in without screening were among the last to be let in after metal detectors had been taken down, when they initially determined that the venue was full. Officials opened about a few more spots and we got in without any check at all. :: Posted by: LM :: 2/22/2008 1:57 PM :: 2595.217
I was told that the same thing happened in Hartfrd,CT :: Posted by: R. Guzman :: 2/22/2008 2:34 PM :: 2595.253
I also attended the rally and was astonished that everyone’s bags and purses etc?.were not checked. It was obvious the lines were extremely long way before the doors officially opened at 10:30. I’m not with Secret Service, but even I had the bright idea of allowing people to enter the arena early so security checks would not impact the start of the program. It seems to me that allowing people inside a facility that could handle the capacity is a LOT SAFER and SMARTER than jeopardizing the safety of our next potential president. They don’t even let people with checking them for a rodeo or music concert. Hmmmm…I wonder if they would have made the same decision if it was Clinton or McCain. :: Posted by: Delilah Tinsaye :: 2/22/2008 3:10 PM :: 2595.298
When I saw Obama in Oakland, CA last summer, it was ridiculous: anybody could have gotten to him. I told the lady next to me that I hoped he would be protected better because of our history. :: Posted by: Juan Quinones :: 2/22/2008 3:30 PM :: 2595.319
I was at the Barack Obama rally in Houston at the Toyota Center. Depending on where you sat, half of the people went through a metal detector and the other half were not checked at all. I crossed from a “non-checked” area into a “checked area” and an usher took me to the Secret Service and through a metal detector. However, my friend who was with me did the exact same thing and no one saw him at all. I never thought about it until I read this article. How could security be so lax? :: Posted by: SCNTEXAS :: 2/22/2008 3:59 PM :: 2595.329
At the Virginia Beach Convention Center rally a few weeks ago, screening was taking a very long time. The line of 18,000 people was taking hours to get in the building. Eventually all screening was stopped for those who didn’t care about being the closest. They opened up the back doors and thousands of people flooded in. He would have started speaking before 1/5 of the people were even in the building had they not done so. 3 TSA personnel just isn’t enough for such large crowds… Haha. :: Posted by: Joe :: 2/22/2008 7:22 PM :: 2595.404
I got to see obama up close and personaI in Iowa several times times and was never checked by anyone. I believe it would be immensely easy to kill any presidential candidate on the campaign trail if you were willing to be caught. This DOES worry me a great deal as my friends and I often found ourselves commenting on how lax security was. :: Posted by: Ron Orf :: 2/22/2008 8:03 PM :: 2595.411
I attended a rally in Oakland and there was no checkin gate there either. A friend in New York said the same thing. :: Posted by: AJ Fish in San Francisco :: 2/23/2008 11:51 AM :: 2595.471
In Omaha, I noticed the exact same thing! I was somewhat alarmed at blatant dismantling of the metal detector, at the entrance to a large side chamber to the Civic Auditorium, while it was beginning to fill up with people just prior to Obama coming out to us. I and others pulled out digital cameras and/or camera phones, and no way that a weapon would have been noticed in time. And this dismantling of metal detectors and zero screening of audience is happening at other campaign stops too???? (Security was much more lax than it had been at the same site when the Vice Presidential debates were held in Omaha, about 20 years ago in the 1980’s, when we were not “in a state of war” as this administration likes to put it. ) :: Will Monif, Omaha, Nebraska 2008 :: Posted by: Will Monif :: 2/24/2008 6:08 AM :: 2595.514
same exact thing happened when he spoke in washington square in new york. :: Posted by: lol :: 2/22/2008 5:32 PM :: 2595.378
I was at the Dallas rally and there was no security - no purse checks and no metal detectors. I was appalled. I couldn’t believe it!! Anyone could have brought a gun into Reunion Arena. There were purse checks and metal detectors for Barry Manilow and he is a threat to no one! We need Sen. Obama as our leader and he needs to be kept safe! :: Posted by: Shirley :: 2/22/2008 6:05 PM :: 2595.388