Releases surprise officials

MdTA police chief disclosed details on security measures at BWI

May 28, 2006|By MICHAEL DRESSER | MICHAEL DRESSER,SUN REPORTER

The names of the Secret Service detail guarding President Bush's daughter Barbara. The number of agents providing protection to former President George H.W. Bush. The cover name the FBI director's wife uses so she can travel incognito. The arrangements for top National Security Agency officials to avoid airport screening. Cell phone numbers of security officials.

These and many other usually secret security details of federal, state and local executive protection activities are contained in hundreds of pages of documents released this month by Gary W. McLhinney, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

McLhinney did so as part of an effort to show that the six-member executive protection unit he set up at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport was doing more than just protecting a handful of sports and entertainment celebrities - at public expense - whom he and his officers deemed important.

In the process, he apparently caught the FBI, the Secret Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the NSA, the Maryland State Police and other government agencies by surprise. Some said information of the type McLhinney released is material they would never give to news organizations.

For example, Maryland State Police spokesman Gregory M. Shipley said the agency wouldn't voluntarily release the names or numbers of its officers assigned to guard Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - who gave McLhinney the job in 2003 - or other state officials. "We believe that impacts security. We just don't discuss such things," Shipley said.

Nevertheless, McLhinney released a June 17, 2005, document naming members of a state police security detail for the governor and his wife, Kendel Ehrlich, for a flight to Denver. Shipley said state police were not consulted before the release.

McLhinney declined to be interviewed and would not answer questions that were not submitted in writing.

Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan expressed confidence in McLhinney's judgment. "I think that he made the proper decision in deciding what is security-sensitive information and what is not," Flanagan said.

But experts in executive protection say they were flabbergasted that a police chief would release such information.

Sheldon F. Greenberg, director of the Division of Public Safety Leadership at the Johns Hopkins University, said he has never heard of a police chief releasing the identities of other agencies' personnel assigned to a security detail. He called McLhinney's actions "sadly comical."

"It so defies the norm in the profession that I'm not even sure how to respond to it," said Greenberg, who spent much of his law enforcement career with the Howard County Police Department. "It seems to me he violated the most sacred tenets that exist among chiefs of police and sheriffs, and that is to respect the identities of another agency's personnel."

Harry Coyne, a security consultant who has worked in executive protection for 20 years, said he was "absolutely shocked" that a police chief would release agents' identities.

"He has literally risked people's lives," said Coyne, who operates Coyne Consulting Group in Boston.

Tom Blake, a Dallas security consultant who earlier in his career provided security for Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and Federal Reserve Chairman Paul A. Volcker, said "that's nuts" when told McLhinney had given out the names of Secret Service agents for the Bush family.

McLhinney called a news conference May 16 to release packets of the escort records to news organizations after The Sun filed a public record request for records of escorts given to private citizens. He also used the occasion to complain about a reporter seeking to question a member of the escort team.

He said in an earlier interview that his agency provides an escort based on whether a particular celebrity is "high-profile," leaving that decision to the commander at the airport, who reports to Lt. Col. Russell N. Shea Jr., chief of operations for the Transportation Authority Police.

Among the celebrities provided escort service is former Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr., for whom Shea occasionally moonlights as a security officer. A survey of eight other major U.S. airports showed that none of them offers a comparable service to celebrities. Blake noted that a wide variety of private companies provide executive protection services for well-heeled people. "Pick up the yellow pages," he said.

While The Sun sought information only about private individuals who received armed escorts, McLhinney revealed far more information that was not sought:

The number and names of the Secret Service special agents who traveled with Barbara P. Bush when the president's daughter flew out of BWI to Denver on March 20.

The number of Secret Service agents accompanying former President Bush and his wife, Barbara, on Nov. 30 - as well as the number of vehicles in their motorcade and other escort procedures.

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