Wanted: Average Joe to drive in Obama’s Presidential Motorcade

Obama Motorcade

Apparently, all it takes to be a volunteer driver in the presidential motorcade is a driver’s license, a clean record, and a friend in the White House, according to the New York Times.

Michael Schmidt writes (emphasis added):

At the front of the [Presidential Motorcade] were bulletproof black sport utility vehicles and limousines driven by Secret Service agents who had spent hundreds of hours learning how to maneuver at high speeds.

Bringing up the rear were police cars with their lights flashing and a Secret Service ambulance that follows the president wherever he travels.

And in between were several vans filled with White House staff members and journalists, being piloted by volunteers like Natalie Tyson, a 24-year-old Bay Area graduate student wearing fluorescent orange sunglasses.

“Wow,” she exclaimed as she hit the gas and the van lurched within a few feet of the one in front of it. Then she slammed on the brake. Then she hit the gas again.

“Sorry about that,” she said.

She returned her hands to the textbook 2-and-10 positions on the steering wheel.

Tyson explained she was contacted by a friend who works in the White House a week before Obama’s fall trip to California and asked if she’d like to be a volunteer driver in the presidential motorcade, a position that’s cheaper to fill with a volunteer than employing either a Secret Service agent or local police officer. Her responsibility was to shuttle a handful of staffers and journalists — no one high-profile enough to warrant extra security.

The Secret Service notes the practice has been employed since the 1980s and that volunteers are briefed on how to travel in the motorcade, but Tyson said she received “little instruction” from Secret Service and “assumed that she should just follow the car in front of her no matter what happened.”

The New York Times’s Schmidt contnues:

Some security experts said the practice was troubling. Not only could the volunteers cause an accident — and they have — but they are sandwiched between the president’s limousine and the Secret Service ambulance, so neophyte drivers could create complications and delays in an emergency.

Dan Emmett, a Secret Service agent from 1983 to 2004 and the author of “Within Arm’s Length: A Secret Service Agent’s Definitive Inside Account of Protecting the President,” said he considered volunteer drivers like Ms. Tyson, who read her family therapy textbook between stops, a national security threat.

“You are face to face with a young person who is just completely full of themselves and enthralled,” Mr. Emmett said, recalling the years when he was part of the motorcade’s counterassault team that traveled in vehicles in front of the volunteers.

He added, “We were more concerned with that than an attack on the motorcade.”

The spokesman for the Secret Service, Ed Donovan, pointed out that the motorcade does not move in normal traffic conditions, saying there is typically “no other traffic on the road at the time the presidential motorcade is moving.”

Schmidt notes there have been a number of accidents involving presidential motorcades, but did not indicate whether any of them involved volunteer drivers.

Still, the practice raises questions about security in a time when the Secret Service has been riddled with security lapses and scandals. From September 11 to October 22 of this year, three men scaled the White House fence, with one making it inside the White House before being tackled by Secret Service agents.

That’s not all. The Secret Service has been under a cloud for some time, stemming from a number of scandals in the last few years, including missing an armed contractor with a criminal record, who rode an elevator with Obama in Atlanta earlier this year.

Presidential security is an important issue, and the Secret Service’s recent track record continues to call into question that agency’s ability to adequately protect the president.

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