Secret Service reveals plan for security: Run for cover

September 14, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- I am amazed that a guy can crash a plane into the White House without anybody firing a shot at him.

In Washington, you can hardly walk down the street at night without drawing some kind of fire.

But a guy flies into the president's house and the Secret Service doesn't even snap off a few rounds?

Something is very wrong here.

While it is true, as everyone is now saying, that a person willing to trade his life for the president's may be able to kill him, that does not mean we should make it easy.

We should make it very, very difficult. But, as the plane crash incident of early Monday morning shows, it is not difficult enough.

That plane could have been packed with enough high-density explosives to take out a city block. It shouldn't have gotten anywhere near the White House.

And according to one report, the plane was picked up on radar at National Airport, but nobody let the Secret Service know. (Maybe they figured it was Bob Dole and he was going to skywrite "Surrender Bill" above the White House.)

We don't know precisely what kind of armament the Secret Service has that can be used to shoot down planes, but some former agents are saying you can't fire a missile because it might hit an airliner by mistake or flaming wreckage might fall on innocent people, etc.

And as Secret Service Special Agent Carl Meyer said at a White House briefing Monday, the agents on the scene wondered "was this just a plane that ran out of gas, did somebody have a heart attack?"

Me, I don't buy it.

The Secret Service is charged with protecting the president's life first and foremost. The lives of innocent bystanders come next.

That doesn't mean agents should spray a crowd with machine-gun fire in order to stop an assassin from reaching the president.

But the Secret Service does have procedures to stop planes. And if you don't believe me, rent a plane today and head for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

I bet you don't even get close before you find some kind of projectile heading up your wahzoo.

The Secret Service has such a plan all right. The plan just failed to work this week.

I also don't buy the argument that because the President was at Blair House, security around the White House was not as tight as normal, and that is why the plane got through.

Blair House is a few hundred yards from the White House. A descending airplane easily could have diverted from the White House to Blair House at the last second.

And you can't tell me that the guards at the White House watched the plane approach and said: "Bill ain't here tonight, so let's relax and see what happens."

At the White House briefing Monday, Secret Service Agent Meyer had this exchange with a reporter:

"Q: How much time elapsed between the time when they [Secret Service agents] first visually saw it [the plane] and at impact on the South Lawn, approximately?

"Meyer: I think enough time to run for cover."

Run for cover?

Maybe we can't blame them. A Cessna 150 is a small plane until it comes down on your head. And any normal person would run from one.

Secret Service agents, however, are not supposed to be normal people. At least that is what Clint Eastwood told us in "In the Line of Fire," in which Secret Service agents were portrayed as gosh-darn eager to die for their president.

But in real life, when a plane heads directly for the White House, can't we expect agents at least to stand their ground, unholster their pieces and pump a few bullets into the sucker?

I also don't buy Agent Meyer's statement that the attack "does not appear to be directed toward the president."

If the guy had crashed his plane into the Washington Monument or the Air and Space Museum, I think you could make that statement.

But when a guy crashes into the president's house, just two stories below his bedroom, I'd say we might take that as a clue.

There is plenty of blame to go around in this matter, and let's hope some good comes out of it with new and better procedures.

And I do hear that security has been beefed up around Hillary.

Because, God forbid, should anything happen to her, Bill would become president.

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