Thursday, November 06, 2008

Protecting Barack Obama

It was at a Diwali party recently (pre-election) that the whole question of Obama's safety came up.

"The only way he'll lose is if someone assassinates him" said one political pundit.

This had been an overriding concern among Obamites in Chicago - and it is one that will continue even after his election to the presidency of the United States. Needless to say Michael Chertoff's decision to place Obama under secret service protection earlier than any candidate has ever been now appears seismically prescient.

But when this whole topic came up someone - let's call him Balamurali just because I love that name - had a story to tell, which I'll dramatize enough that it can't be linked back to anyone.

Balamurali runs a packaging facility. One day late in Summer, while Balamurali sat in his office, rubbing his chin and trying to figure out how to make his Q4 revenue, a couple of strapping men in black suits stepped into his office.

They identified themselves as US Secret Service agents by flipping open their identification badges. Balamurali would later note that they were extremely polite - almost like bankers seeking your business in these times - eager to ensure everyone's comfort. But boy, they sure didn't mess around when it came to business.

"Someone from your facility has issued a potential death threat to presidential candidate Mr. Barack Obama" said one of the agents. "We need to you to turn over your records to us so we can investigate its legitimacy"

Balamurali's head spun. He clutched the arm rests on his chair for support and mumbled: "Yes, yes, but I need to speak to my lawyer first!"

Balamurali's lawyer advised him to ask the agents to seek a subpoena before handing them his records. "Its Thursday" the lawyer said. "No judge in Chicago will issue a subpoena before Friday. So they won't be back till Monday and that gives us some time to mobilize our resources and get the information they need without handing over our records"

Balamurali conveyed this to the agents who smiled and said they'd be happy to return with a subpoena. It was 9:30am on a Thursday. Balamurali went back to worrying about his revenue goals.

At 11:00am the same day, the agents returned with a subpeona. Caught unawares again, Balamurali's head spun anew. "Please!" he pleaded. "Give me a day and I'll have the information you need!"

The agents smiled and left again. But not before letting Balamurali know that the potential threat had been issued in the form of a comment on a popular Chicago newspaper's website. It referred to Obama and said "Blow his brains out before its too late"

This worried Balamurali even more. He visited the bathroom twice that day. In between he woke up his IT partners in India and asked them to track down who might have accessed that web site in the last few days from his facility.

A few hours later an IT manager from India called and identified a couple of computers for Balamurali. Unfortunately, those computers were open for anyone to access on the packaging floor for a reason - a number of people needed to perform lookups on the Internet as part of every day workflow.

Balamurali called in his manager Ringo and went about narrowing down the list of potential users in the last few days to four. "Let's split them up and talk to each individually" Balamurali said.

Someone called Tom was the first one in to see Balamurali. And bluntly he was asked: "Tom, did you leave some incendiary comment on any blog recently?"

Tom's face turned pale. "Oh sh*t!" he said. "I did something really dumb and stupid!" And boom! Just like that Balamurali had his man.

Now that Balamurali had identified the person, he moved swiftly. First, he suspended Tom without pay for unauthorized use of computer resources per company policy. Then he called the secret service agents over. When they showed up, he narrated what had occured in the past few hours and gave them Tom's contact name and address. The agents left the building and thanked Balamurali for his cooperation.

Balamurali then ordered an independent psychological evaluation for Tom. He was told the cost would run into the thousands of dollars. Balamurali cursed under his breath but approved the expense.

The evaluation lasted three weeks. Tom got a clean chit from the evaluation. He returned to work a happy but much chastised man.

"So what did the secret service do with you?" Balamurali asked him upon his return.

"They turned over everything in my house!" Tom said.

Balamurali was informed by the secret service that their investigation had showed that Tom wasn't a credible threat to the presidential candidate. Balamurali's qeasiness around Tom lasted for a few weeks before mostly disappearing.

More fun reading

Author Stephen King analyzes Obama's superior TV presence and contrasts it with McCain's
"Barack Obama looks like the grave and intelligent news anchor on a major-market station. John McCain, on the other hand, looks like the slightly dotty commentator who rants about the local sports teams and obscure bond issues on a small-market station."

The BBC reports on Obama starting his new job
"The President's Daily Brief (PDB) occupies a fabled place in American politics. It is an ultra-secret compilation of the latest intelligence presented to the President every morning. And later on Thursday, Barack Obama will start to receive the PDB as president-elect."


Anonymous said...

Wow Aspi...that's totally intense. It makes you wonder about how safe it is to put your opinion about stuff on the web. I mean, I personally think Obama is great and also I have enough common sense to not put up something like that on the web even if it was out of a joke, but I wonder how many people would say stuff like that, especially about our current president!

Well gang, on other note, I'm back from my trip! It's good to be home! Still trying to catch up with work and all the juicy stuff that's been going on here...

Unknown said...

gg, welcome back! How was the trip?

maxdavinci said...

ROFL, good one. More such anecdotes plz!

Anonymous said...

The secret service has to investigate any situation like this that is brought to them. Infact they monitor anti-war rallies and any other protests to see signs of any nutjobs out there.

I was actually surprised that the movie about the assasination of the current president did not get censored. Nothing against the makers of the movie but you have to take into account the psyche of the people watching it.

Free speech should be used responsibly.

Great write up, Aspi.

One of my first jobs, my company was visited by the secret service because someone from the company had hacked (or tried to hack) into the FBI computers. And they look and behave like you see them on TV. The whole dark suit/dark glasses look.

Anonymous said...

The trip was great! Diwali there is so much more festive than here (obviously!). The only thing is the weather was just brutally hot, but that's expected...i guess

Unknown said...

Wow, brutally hot in the October. I'll remember not to cuss at the cold weather when it arrives here.

Anonymous said...

OMG Obama is such a DILF!

Anonymous said...

Your secret service takes so long to track down s potential threat?

Aamchi Maharashtrian police is a lot more efficient - it knows who is going to post a threat on a blog - two days before it is actually posted.