Securing the 2012 GOP presidential nominees

An inside look at how candidates are protected on the campaign trail


With the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination in full swing, those responsible for protecting the remaining candidates are in the midst of making security preparations for the whirlwind, state-to-state tour on which they are about to embark.

For much of its history, the U.S. Secret Service did not play a role in protecting presidential candidates, but this changed in 1968 when Congress authorized their protection following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

Former Secret Service Agent W. Dennis Maez, who worked on Jesse Jackson's campaign security detail in 1984 and later served as a supervisor on George W. Bush's campaign security team, said that one of the biggest challenges of protecting a candidate is maintaining a "bubble" of security around them given the amount of exposure that's inherent with the position.

"The Secret Service protects candidates on certain set principles of concentric rings of security. An outer perimeter, a middle perimeter and then an inner perimeter," explained Maez, who now serves as president and owner of Maez Security Consultants. "Depending on the candidate, there can be really unique challenges with respect to the amount of resources and the type of resources that you employ to keep a safe environment. When you have a very unique candidate... it can really present some challenges."

Joseph Sordi, managing director of New York-based Strategic Security Corp., which played a role in securing both the 2004 and 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions, said that from a private security perspective, working with all of the various agencies involved and event coordinators for the respective political parties makes it important to be flexible.

"Just when you think you have everything settled in terms of itinerary for the next day, you wake up in the morning, you're ready to go to work and there are about five off the record changes that occur," he said. "And then you have to scramble to get people out there to do quick site advances and figure out how you're going to prepare. The bottom line is you can't lock the person down and confine them to a specific area or a specific venue because they are running for a political office."

Maez, who also protected presidents George H. Bush and Bill Clinton while they were in office, added that you can't use a "one size fits all" approach for every candidate.

"There are basics that you do for everyone and then, in certain instances, the amount of resources that you put forth are intelligence driven," he explained. "When I say intelligence driven, I mean the degree of threats that are received or the rhetoric in the public domain."

With the advent of social media and blogging, Maez said that it is easier, in many ways, to be able to determine the "pulse" or general feelings that many people have about a candidate, which can help Secret Service agents and others responsible for their security to identify threats. For example, if a candidate has a very outspoken stance on a hot-button issue such as abortion, then they could potentially face threats from extremists who hold an opposite view on the subject.

Sordi added that another component of intelligence is gathering personal information about the candidates themselves, such as the types of medications they may take and other things of that nature.

"There is a lot of personal information that needs to be shared and that's when they need to trust that you're going to do the right thing with that personal information because we've seen countless times personal information get out in the public space and just ruin a candidate's opportunity," Sordi said.

Aside from outdoor environments and the inherent exposure level they create, Maez said that one venue is not necessarily more challenging to secure than another for candidates.

"You can have an indoor event in an area where a candidate is very, very controversial and you have to have the same kind of resources that you would for an outdoor event where that same candidate might be in a much friendlier environment," he said.

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