Friday, March 4, 2011

Convene Reads: "Inside the Secret Service"

Believe it or not, this guy works the reg desk.

One of the consistent themes we've explored on this blog, as well as in the pages of Convene, is the fact that, pretty much everyone who does anything attends meetings.  On a recent business trip to Chicago, I was riding in a cab from O'Hare with my executive editor, and noted that nearly every story in The New Yorker, a favorite magazine of mine, is based on or somehow centered around a meeting or convention.  (The particular story that sparked this observation was about the debate over the need to protect Earth from asteroid and comet strikes, and involved a visit by the writer to NASA's Ad Hoc Task Force on Planetary Defense, held this past July at a hotel in Boulder, Colo.)

But one thing we haven't explored as extensively is the fact that a lot of people who aren't officially meeting planners often fulfill that capacity — including, as I learned in the March 2011 issue of The Atlantic, Secret Service agents.

Don't believe me?  Check out these few paragraphs from the fascinating story by Marc Ambinder, who was granted unprecedented access by the elite agency during the September 2010 U.N. General Assembly in New York City:
Active bodyguard duty makes up just a fraction of the work performed by Secret Service agents on protective missions; they are also, as the situation demands, hotel bookers, personal schedulers, and protocol experts. And these latter roles are often as demanding as the ones that make for good Hollywood screenplays. Being assigned to “housing,” for instance, might not seem glamorous compared with serving on one of the counter-assault teams. But the truth is that CAT team members spend much of their time standing around in stairwells, watching and waiting for extreme scenarios that are very unlikely to occur. Agents working on housing, by contrast, must constantly solve problems, though some might seem mundane.

Indeed, the Secret Service is an elite travel agency of sorts, maintaining relationships with hotels across the country and negotiating rates throughout the year. Large events such as the General Assembly pose particular hurdles, as many of the better hotels sell out years in advance.

Every venue to be used must be cleared by the Technical Security Division. First, 130 dog teams, many borrowed from other agencies, sniff for explosives. Then agents conduct fire-safety surveys; coordinate the placement of chemical, biological, and radiological sensors; and, for some rooms, add bulletproof glass and blast webbing to the windows. This year, housing agents faced an additional threat to national security: bedbugs. It would have been an obvious embarrassment if any of the General Assembly protectees had been bitten by the pests that have of late plagued New York City. None were, but one agent wasn’t so lucky. As a gag, fellow agents posted his injured-in-the-line-of-duty portrait on a wall in one of the temporary offices leased by the service.
Isn't that fantastic?  Secret Service agents — they're just like us!

Now, this line of thinking begs the question: Would you take a bullet for your keynote speaker?

1 comment:

Cathy Walker said...

The situation also served as a reminder of the importance of the service’s cooperation with local law enforcement.

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