The Secret Service cordon around President Obama is looking more like a sieve after two security breaches in as many days. The most serious one involved a former soldier getting into the front door. He’d already been stopped outside the White House a month before—carrying a hatchet. Is he another “lone nut” to be dismissed reflexively or a sign of something else?
The Secret Service looks like it has an open-door policy at the White House after two security scares in as many days.
The first is by far the most interesting, and the most embarrassing for the Secret Service. It involves an Army veteran who vaulted over the fence and prompted an evacuation of the White House. A second man was charged the next day after he pulled up to a non-public entrance in his car and refused to leave.
In the first case, federal prosecutors said Omar Gonzalez, 42, jumped the White House fence and raced into the front door before he was apprehended. He was carrying a small pocket knife and, apparently a message for the president about global warming. Later, authorities said they found two hatchets, a machete and 800 rounds of ammunition in his car.
Gonzalez’s relatives say he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from his tours of duty in Iraq. That fits nicely with the “lone nut” category of White House crashers that’s often brought up by the authorities to explain such incidents. The Secret Service has already launched an investigation into itself as the result of breach, a process that’s produced the Secret Service’s self-described squeaky-clean image.
Here’s a fascinating tidbit from the Gonzalez arraignment: he was stopped outside the White House in August while carrying a hatchet in his waistband. He was just let go. That’s despite the fact he was arrested in July in Virginia after leading police on a chase. Guess what was found in his car then? Among other things, a sawed-off shotgun and a map of Washington with the White House circled.
How is it Gonzalez got anywhere near the White House at all after those two incidents? That’s a story we’d love to hear.
For some insight and context with which to analyze the latest White House gate-crashing, we are republishing Russ Baker’s story from 2011 about some of the strange threats against President Obama:
Small, bad things seem to (almost) happen to Obama; they get little sustained attention from reporters or the public. But there’s something odd about them, and they’re worrisome for the White House. Of course, the corporate media will dismiss it as nothing at all. Yet there’s a disturbing military/security thread running through it all—and as we approach the 50th anniversary of JFK’s demise, we’d be smart to err on the side of caution.
Here’s a crazy story that has gotten little attention in the United States: During Barack Obama’s recent visit to Canberra, the Australian capital, a reporter happened upon a classified booklet containing security information about the presidential trip.
The highly sensitive booklet was…lying in a gutter.
What in the world can that be about?
We’ll come back to that in a bit, but first, let’s consider how a political leader such as Obama would react to such an incident, which was reported in an Australian newspaper.
In all probability, he would assume it was the result of spectacular carelessness. These cases surface from time to time, as when a scientist leaves top secret papers in the back seat of a taxi cab. But, knowing the complex machinations of the political and spook worlds, it would be understandable if, for a brief second, Obama might at least contemplate the possibility that such a “blunder” could be deliberate.
And he would realize that if it were deliberate, someone would either be trying to cause him harm, or to send a message of some sort.
A host of ill-fated leaders—from the early 20th century Mexican President Venustiano Carranza to Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat—learned too late that their own security forces were fully capable of betraying their masters. Indeed, history is replete with examples of treachery.
When it comes to the safety of US presidents, the line between reckless accidents and deliberate acts is not so clear. In the case of John F. Kennedy, the stunning inadequacy of Secret Service protective measures on November 22, 1963 have been the subject of broad speculation and debate for half a century.
Apparently, this was not the result of a one-day lapse. In his book, The Echo From Dealey Plaza, former Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden reveals not only the reckless behavior of his fellow agents charged with protecting Kennedy—but also their personal animosity toward the president and the policies he implemented.
LONE NUTS GALORE
When it comes to Obama, he’s got other reasons to feel nervous. American tradition has it that lone nuts are always lurking, ready to go to great lengths to make a name for themselves. While Obama was away in Australia, bullets struck the White House near the residential quarters. A man was arrested and charged with attempting to assassinate the president. He was, of course, characterized as yet another lone nut. But not so obviously disturbed that people had previously noticed. As the New York Times reported:
People here say that the only thing that could have motivated Mr. Ortega was mental illness — but that they did not realize the severity of it until it was too late.
The defendant, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, is described by The Times as having started acting very, very strange only recently:
The family reported Mr. Ortega missing on Oct. 31, eight days after he left on what he said was a vacation to Utah; instead, it was a trip to the East Coast. His family never heard from him, and still has not.
Family members and others said that while Mr. Ortega was behaving increasingly strangely — he read a 45-minute speech at his 21st birthday party in October that veered from supporting marijuana legalization to detailing the threat of secret societies to expressing frustration with American foreign policy in oil-producing countries — he never seemed violent.
A bit later, The Times quotes an expert on Ortega’s new ailment:
Mr. Ortega’s behavior and the age at which it appears to have begun to suggest that he has “a textbook case” of schizophrenia, said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, who researches the disease and is the founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va.
Dr. Torrey recalled working at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, a psychiatric treatment center, in the 1970s and 1980s.
“These folks often end up in Washington as what we used to call ‘White House cases,’ ” he said. “A White House case classically is someone who comes to the guard at the White House and says they have a special message for the president, or they try to go over the wall. We’ve seen dozens. They almost always have paranoid schizophrenia, and they almost always respond to medication.” Among the patients being treated there is John W. Hinckley Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Hinckley, it should be noted, was the son of close friends of Vice President George H.W. Bush, who would have become president if Reagan had died. When one considers that Bush and Reagan had just been rivals for the Republican nomination the previous year, the Hinckley-Bush connection was just too weird to even contemplate. So, the media by and large did not mention it, and certainly did not explore it.
Another person who suddenly became mentally ill was a fellow named George de Mohrenschildt. I devote a chapter to him in my book, Family of Secrets. Like Hinckley, he was a longtime friend of the Bush family. De Mohrenschildt had, coincidentally, been a close friend of the former marine, Lee Harvey Oswald, another “deranged loner.” In 1976, de Mohrenschildt had written a letter to then CIA director George Bush, saying that he believed that some unknown parties, possibly FBI, were following him and tapping his phone, perhaps because of some things he was trying to write about Oswald. Bush wrote back that he had nothing to worry about. Shortly thereafter, de Mohrenschildt was forcibly treated for a period in a psychiatric institution—and within a year, he was dead, from what police said was a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head.
Coincidentally, 1976 was in the period in which Congress was holding hearings on terrifying covert CIA experiments, including using LSD on unsuspecting citizens as part of tests on mind control—the so-called MKULTRA program. (For more on mind control experiments on unwitting and unwilling subjects, see our article on MKULTRA.)
It would be revealed that the CIA had effectively partnered with various hospitals in the research.
Now back to Dr. Torrey, the psychiatrist who told The Times that the recent White House shooter was likely schizophrenic. The following is from a Wikipedia entry on him:
He has been criticized by a range of people, including federal researchers and others for some of his attacks on de-institutionalization and his support for forced medication as a method of treatment. He has also been described as having a black-and-white view of mental illness and as being iconoclastic, dogmatic, single-minded and a renegade.
It’s worth taking a look at St Elizabeth’s where Dr. Torrey once worked, and where Hinckley is being treated. It came under criticism in an investigation by the Justice Department for a wide variety of practices.
St Elizabeth’s is especially interesting for its strong connections to the military, intelligence agencies, and historical association with mind control experiments. Its director in the 1940s, Winfred Overholser, headed a “Truth Drug Committee” and oversaw extensive testing of mind-altering substances in association with the intelligence services. One goal was to see if false personalities could be imposed on victims to make them susceptible to commands. Such cooperation between St. Elizabeths and the government continued over the years. Currently, the Department of Homeland Security is converting much of St Elizabeth’s “campus”— which is only now partially used by the hospital—as its new headquarters. (For more on St. Elizabeths and its role in mind control and “personality profiling,” see the book Search for the Manchurian Candidate, by John Marks.)
It is therefore interesting to note that the person the New York Times quoted identifying the White House shooter as a lone nut, Dr. Torrey, was himself associated for nine years with a hospital historically involved with experiments on the ability to make people do things they might not otherwise do. Dr. Torrey is an advocate of involuntary treatment and critics have contended for years that he exaggerates the threat that mentally unstable people represent for the rest of us.
The fact that Dr. Torrey’s own privately funded institute is in Arlington, near the Pentagon, brings to mind another fellow who seemed fine and then became increasingly deranged in recent years: Jared Lee Loughner, the young man who opened fire at a political event in Tucson earlier this year, killing several, including a federal judge, and badly wounding Rep Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Loughner, like Ortega, is described as having listened to “conspiracy” type radio shows. Loughner had apparently tried to enlist in the military but been rejected. We never did see any releases of military files on the exact nature of his interactions with the Army that resulted in his rejection—or whether those grounds would have drawn interest of the authorities. Such disclosure is of course crucial in public assessment of the particulars behind such seemingly demented people involved in politically destabilizing events.
The military angle brings to mind yet another event that shook up Obama and gave him a reason to worry about his safety and the quality of the protection he’s given.
In a well-known incident in 2009, shortly after he took office, a couple managed to get into a White House state dinner without an invitation, and got so close to Obama they were able to get their picture taken with him. Michaele and Tareq Salahi were characterized as essentially harmless publicity hounds, but Obama took the breach seriously.
As the Washington Post reported at the time:
On the eve of the president’s major speech on Afghanistan policy, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday was inundated by reporters’ questions about the Salahis and the security breach at the state dinner.
“Look, the reason there’s an investigation is the president and the White House has asked for that to happen,” Gibbs told reporters…. “So I think, suffice to say, the president is rightly concerned about what happened last week.”
So were others. Here’s ABC News’s website, at the time:
“What concerns me the most is that someone was able to walk in off the street to a White House event, without the proper credentials, without the proper vetting, and get next to the president,” said Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The Secret Service, red-faced, later apologized for sloppy procedures that enabled the couple to pass through two checkpoints.
Curiously, there were again military connections—two of them. For one thing, the Salahis had been encouraged via e-mails to believe they might gain access to the White House by Michele S. Jones, special assistant to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates—and Pentagon liaison to the White House.
As reported by the Washington Post:
The e-mails apparently do not contradict that version of events, but are described as having given the Salahis the confidence to get dressed up, mingle with some of the most powerful Washington players and post snapshots of their presence at the party on their Facebook page.
The e-mail exchange is said to include assurances from Jones that she was trying to score an official invitation, complete with seats at the dinner, for the couple. By the time they arrived in line, the couple believed that Jones had succeeded in getting them approved only for the cocktail reception and a handshake with the president, sources said.
Jones presumably had pull with the White House. A high-ranking African-American military backer of Obama, she’d delivered a speech on his behalf at the 2008 Democratic convention. How she came to be hired as Gates’s special assistant is not clear. It’s an intriguing issue—as is the very fact that Obama had asked Gates, who served as George W. Bush’s defense secretary, to stay on as his. Gates had a long track record as a Bush family retainer, serving as CIA director under George HW Bush and then as chief of the elder Bush’s presidential library in College Station, Texas; he also served on corporate boards with Bush connections.
Why did Gates’s assistant even know the Salahis? She declined to say. As the Post reported:
…Asked how she knows the Salahis and why she would have tried to get them into the White House, she said: “I am not going to say anything at this point at all. In fact, I am going to terminate the call right now because I am not sure what in the world is going on here.”
As for the Salahis, they too have clammed up. Appearing before the Committee on Homeland Security, Tareq Salahi read a statement: “We reiterate that, on advice of counsel, we respectfully invoke our right to remain silent and will decline to answer any questions surrounding the circumstances around the events of November 24, 2009.”
Yet another curious military element must be mentioned, for it surely crossed Obama’s mind when he learned that the security breach had been enabled via the Pentagon. At the time of the state dinner, Obama had been embroiled in a vicious secret battle with the military over Afghanistan policy. I wrote about the battle, which was characterized in part by leaks to the Pentagon’s favorite journalist Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, here and here and here. Obama was in the process of a review of Afghan policy that the military feared would result in a withdrawal from that country. (Eventually, Obama’s hand would be forced, and not only would he not remove troops—he would actually approve a substantial increase in the boots on the ground.)
As the Post reported in October, 2009:
The Obama administration’s plan to conduct a strategic review of the war in December has touched off maneuvering between U.S. military leaders seeking support for extending the American troop buildup and skeptics looking for arguments to wind down the nation’s role.
What was at stake in Afghanistan? Besides the publicly argued issues about the Taliban’s brutality and tolerance of Al Qaeda, Afghanistan has become a crucial profit center for military contracting industries in the United States. As interesting, however, is the revelation that Afghanistan harbors nearly a trillion dollars in untapped mineral deposits. The New York Times reported that estimate in a 2010 article claiming the Pentagon had just discovered this information.
The United States has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials.
The previously unknown deposits — including huge veins of iron, copper, cobalt, gold and critical industrial metals like lithium — are so big and include so many minerals that are essential to modern industry that Afghanistan could eventually be transformed into one of the most important mining centers in the world, the United States officials believe.
An internal Pentagon memo, for example, states that Afghanistan could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a key raw material in the manufacture of batteries for laptops and BlackBerrys.
“There is stunning potential here,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the United States Central Command, said in an interview on Saturday. “There are a lot of ifs, of course, but I think potentially it is hugely significant.”
The value of the newly discovered mineral deposits dwarfs the size of Afghanistan’s existing war-bedraggled economy, which is based largely on opium production and narcotics trafficking as well as aid from the United States and other industrialized countries. Afghanistan’s gross domestic product is only about $12 billion….
..American officials…recognize that the mineral discoveries will almost certainly have a double-edged impact.
Instead of bringing peace, the newfound mineral wealth could lead the Taliban to battle even more fiercely to regain control of the country….
At the same time, American officials fear resource-hungry China will try to dominate the development of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth…
The mineral deposits are scattered throughout the country, including in the southern and eastern regions along the border with Pakistan that have had some of the most intense combat in the American-led war against the Taliban insurgency…..
So let’s review what happened here. Just as the president was under severe pressure not to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, an aide to Gates [perhaps inadvertently] creates a security scare for Obama. This all may be coincidental, and probably is, but the facts stand. Obviously, if Obama was “rightly concerned” and personally asked for an investigation that means he thought there was more going on than just a screw-up on an invitation.
It’s important to note that it was only after Obama folded to the military pressure, in other words, after the die was cast in Afghanistan, that the military leaked a story about the tremendous mineral wealth lying underneath that country. Suddenly, although public support for keeping American troops in Afghanistan was declining, there was a new “realistic” reason to retain a U.S. presence. ,. Again, all this was perhaps only coincidental, but leaks are carefully calculated for intended purposes—and as students of the so-called “Deep State” know, not even the participants in a leak may fully understand deeper intents behind acts in which they are asked to participate.
Creepily, the Salahis’ uninvited entry into the White House was not their first effort to get close to Obama. Four weeks before crashing the state dinner, they crashed a Congressional Black Caucus event at which Obama appeared. Surely not lost on Obama was the poetic touch that Tareq Salahi, a Palestinian, entered the event through the kitchen, as the lone nut Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan also did prior to purportedly shooting Robert Kennedy. (Sirhan’s guilt, like that of Lee Harvey Oswald, is the subject of intense ongoing controversy—and his attorneys have recently presented a federal court with reports from experts contending that Sirhan was programmed by hypnosis to create diversionary gunfire to mask the actual killer.)
The Salahis, it must be emphasized, are not just some goofy types. They were long on people’s radar as folks who would go for any cozying gambit –and a couple with powerful friends. One was the person who played some kind of role in encouraging the idea that they might hope to attend a White House gathering: Michele S. Jones.
It’s hard to figure out why Defense Secretary Gates gave Jones the job of special assistant and Pentagon liaison to the White House.What we do know is that Gates was perhaps the military-industrial-oil complex’s chief person keeping an eye on Obama. Gates had been CIA director under George HW Bush and later was in charge of the elder Bush’s library and papers, before becoming Defense Secretary to both George W. Bush and Democrat Obama. That Gates’s special assistant had some kind of hand in introducing this security risk to the president deserves scrutiny.
Jones, who was public in her support of Obama’s candidacy (and even made a speech for him at the 2008 convention), is African American, as is the Salahis’ lawyer, Paul W. Gardner II. Gardner has donated several times to Hillary Clinton—but, notably, not to Obama. Jones was a Facebook friend of Gardner’s, though it is not clear how she knew him, or exactly how or why he served as a link to her.
A few months before the scandal, Jones was guest of honor at a DC event the Salahis hosted called America’s Polo Cup. In her remarks to the crowd, she declared, somewhat obscurely, “This game is a true reflection of the relationship we have around the world.”
What exactly did Jones do to make the Salahis imagine they could get into the White House?
In relating their email exchanges on the day of the state dinner, ABC reported:
In the last email from Jones, sent at 8:46 a.m., Nov. 24, she said she still had not gotten them tickets.
“The arrival ceremony (was scheduled to be outdoors) was canceled due to inclement weather,” Jones’ email said. “They are having a very small one inside the WH, very limited space. I am still working on tickets for tonight’s dinner. I will call or e-mail as soon as I get word one way or another.”
So, was their gate-crashing a simple misunderstanding, easily explained? As noted above, the Salahis, who might be able to clarify matters, refused, “on advice of counsel, …to answer any questions surrounding the circumstances around the events of November 24, 2009.”
Meanwhile, we can find no further mention of the grand jury investigation that was once said to be underway. . As for Pentagon official Jones, a story asserted that she had padded her resume prior to joining Gates’s staff by claiming employment with a non-existent entity. That story got little attention, though it raised a host of interesting questions.
A year after the Salahi incident, the Pentagon quietly reassigned Jones, moving her from Gates’s office to a lower-ranked post.
It is against this murky, suggestive backdrop that we must consider both the recent shooting into the White House—and the fact that someone dumped confidential documents relating to Obama’s security into a Canberra gutter.
As reported by the Australian newspaper The Age,
A CLASSIFIED booklet containing President Barack Obama’s Australian schedule down to the minute, as well as details of his security convoy and the mobile phone numbers of dozens of senior US and Australian officials, was found by The Age on a Canberra street yesterday morning. The booklet, Overall Program and Orders of Arrangements, for Mr Obama’s visit, was found by this reporter in a gutter about 100 metres from the front entrance to Parliament.
I asked Bolden, the ex-presidential security man turned critic and author, about these events and his former employer, the Secret Service. He replied: “It shows a pattern that they haven’t changed much since 1961—there’s still laxity and carelessness. I see a pattern of…disturbing negligence within the organization that needs to be looked into. They have much more training now, a much larger organization now than in 1961, so you would think they would become more professional. I see them relying more on the armoring [of vehicles], but I don’t any more sophistication in the protection or the attitude since the assassination of President Kennedy.”
As noted earlier, ties between security services and either overt participation or willful ignorance of mortal threats to politicians is not unheard-of. A recent example is the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Even in modernized Western democracies like Sweden and France, elements in the military or intelligence services have been widely suspected of, at minimum, covering up the true sponsorship of assassination plots.
In the United States, key institutions, in particular academia and the media, rigorously maintain the position that it could not happen here. A search of the Nexis-Lexis database of articles from principally American media sources turns up more than 3000 articles that include the term “assassination” and “conspiracy theory” (or some variation.) Deaths of politicians, witnesses and whistleblowers in small airplane crashes, suicides and other conflagrations are automatically toted up to the “accident” category.
Few politicians, however, believe that. And as I documented extensively in my book Family of Secrets, presidents either play ball with the national security state or bad things happen to them (see specifics on the downing, physically or otherwise, of Kennedy, Nixon, and Carter, and warnings from Ike and Truman that the security complex was badly out of control.)
At a minimum, American presidents’ very real awareness of their fragile position and safety risks probably explain in part the lack of bold, dramatic action against perceived power centers, be it the military, the intelligence establishment, or the financial, industrial and resource extraction interests that ultimately shape American policy.
This is scary stuff. The easy, and default position for the establishment—from the media to academia—is to pooh-pooh such concerns and to paint those who raise them as fantasists or worse. But then, that’s why they call it the establishment. It has no incentive to dig into these matters. And plenty of disincentives.
The Echo from Dealey Plaza: The true story of the first African American on the White House Secret Service detail and his quest for justice after the assassination of JFK
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