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March 20, 2013 10:35 am

Secret Service Agent on Obama Israel Trip: We “Rely Heavily on the Local Israeli Intelligence Service”

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President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

A lot of gears churn in the background to make a presidential trip go smoothly and securely. The most important one is security, and personnel works continuously to make sure the president’s movements appear effortless. Dan Emmett spent 21 years in the Secret Service and served on presidential details at various times during the administrations of George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He spoke to The Daily Beast about what it takes to prepare for an overseas visit such as the one President Obama is on right now in Israel.

“You generally get about two weeks to do a foreign advance. A pre-advance goes out weeks before that, though there are a lot of things that have to be ironed out: visas, passports, weapons permits, those types of things. Billeting, hotels—where’s everyone going to stay? Because in addition to bringing over the security detail with the president, you’re going to probably have at least a hundred agents from all around the country that are going to go as post-standers,” he told the website, adding that “The logistics are somewhat staggering on an overseas advance.”

Another factor is the region the head of state is visiting. Israel sits at the center of one of the most volatile regions in the world. “Any time you’re in the Middle East, that’s a high-threat region. That’s no secret. It always has been and it always will be. You rely heavily on the local Israeli intelligence service. That’s their job—they are in a game of survival literally every day of their lives. They are surrounded by people who want to see them exterminated. And so they’re very good at security,” Emmett said. “Fortunately, trips to Israel tend to be among the easiest overseas trips,” because “Israel’s a very secure country, and one of the reasons is certainly because it has to be that way.”

There is a physical toll to such trips. Security personnel are people, and around the clock demands can be enervating. “Your body is on a totally 180-around time schedule. You don’t know when you’re going to get to eat again, you don’t know when you’re going to get to sleep again. You’re just burning reserve power a lot of the time, just driving on adrenaline and willpower alone, trying to get these things done. That’s one of the big challenges, overcoming the physical adversity that is associated with foreign trips,” Emmett said.

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Emmett doesn’t foresee any issues during President Obama’s trip to the Middle East, at least not while he’s in Israel. This has to do with the familiarity of each country’s security detail with the needs on the ground. “Presidents have been visiting Israel and Israeli prime ministers have been visiting the United States for quite some time. What you find is the agents from the Mossad and Shin Bet (from the Israeli intelligence service and security forces), the ones you work with when they come here are the same ones you work with there. Over time, you actually get to know them, develop a professional relationship with them and, in some cases, friendship.”

Of course all this hard work has little payoff. A successful job means everything is as it should be. “At the end of the day, in this business, if the president’s alive, you won.”

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