Secret Service prepares for Obama's last-minute trip to South Africa
December 9th, 2013
12:18 PM ET
9 months ago

Secret Service prepares for Obama's last-minute trip to South Africa

Washington (CNN) - With President Obama departing for South Africa just four days after learning of the death of Nelson Mandela, security and logistical preparations that would usually take months were crammed into less than a week. "We've done things in less time," said a Secret Service spokesman.

The expectations for the agents assigned to protect the President are the same as if they had six months to prepare, said the spokesman, who noted the former South African president and anti-apartheid icon had been ill for some time, which allowed U.S. personnel to make some preparations in advance in conjunction with the State Department and the South African government.

Secret Service agents in Rome and Pretoria have been working on logistics like securing hotel rooms, vehicles and additional agents headed to South Africa as soon as they learned the President could be going.

"It's a compressed timeline, but there are certain protocols we must have in place for any trip," the spokesman said. These protocols involve everything from securing the motorcade route and hotel rooms to doing security walkthroughs.

World leaders, thousands of South Africans to honor Mandela

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama departed Monday morning for Johannesburg and were scheduled to arrive there early Tuesday. Former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Attorney General Eric Holder accompanied the Obamas on Air Force One.

Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, along with Chelsea Clinton, were also planning to attend the memorial service at a 94,000-seat soccer stadium in Soweto on Tuesday. They'll be joining more than 90 heads of state at what will be the one of the biggest mass memorial events in recent memory. The sheer number of leaders appearing in the same place at one time raises numerous logistical and security challenges, but the White House expressed confidence in the South African government's ability to handle the event.

"We have not heard any concerns," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One. "Number one – the South Africans hosted the World Cup, so they have experience hosting significant crowds and managing events like this. Although clearly this is really a unique event in world history given the number of leaders coming to pay their respects, as well as the people of South Africa."

The Secret Service spokesman noted that while the agency's preference is to bring their own metal detectors to such events, they do not have authority over local law enforcement in foreign countries and would be working with South African officials on security matters. The spokesman could not offer specific details on efforts to secure the stadium.

Nearly two dozen members of Congress, including Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose praise for Mandela last week prompted backlash from some of his supporters, will attend the memorial

The President, whose very first political action was an anti-apartheid protest in college, is expected to speak at the memorial service, according to the White House. Rhodes said the President worked on his remarks over the weekend and would continue that work on the flight.

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    I'm sure security will be just fine. Not only is the Secret Service their, the security forces of the other heads of state will be there as well. It's great to see this huge American delegation going to show their condolences.

    December 9, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  2. just asking

    yeah, i can see how a 95 year old guy that has been dying for years can just sneak up on you. as ready for this as they were for the obamacare rollout!

    December 9, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  3. Gurgyl

    This president needs a very thorough secret service. Please provide. World leaders come up there.

    December 9, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  4. F Dar

    V. prudent preparation, as his drone-bombings in Africa hasn't won Obama many friends there.

    December 9, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  5. Tampa Tim

    Security in South Africa should not be as difficult as it would be in Alabama or Mississippi.

    December 9, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  6. smith

    They are going to have their hands full on this one. Alot of VIP`s headed over there and S.Africa is not the safest place.

    December 9, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  7. Richard Long

    Did Obama pay off the &7 billion he pledged to the continent of Africa, yet?
    Wonder how much he's going to pledge this trip.

    December 9, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  8. Would You Look at That

    Enjoy your trip to your home country. Safe travels, president!

    December 9, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  9. Rudy NYC

    Good luck. You're gonna need it.

    December 9, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  10. Rudy NYC

    "South Carolina sheriff refuses to lower flag in honor of Nelson Mandela." recent CNN article

    In case you missed it, there's another interesting example of right wing's failed make over. Using their same rationale for labeling Mandela a terrorist, it would also make the Founding Fathers of this nation a terrorist. What is not being reported enough is that Mandela used a non-violent approach. This was fairly effective until the authorities simply ran out of patience and killed 60 protestors, whom they knew were unarmed. That massacre changed everything for the ANC. They knew that they were dealing with an opponent that was willing to use overwhelmingly deadly force to exterminate the ANC.

    December 9, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  11. Silence DoGood

    @Rudy NYC
    "South Carolina sheriff refuses to lower flag in honor of Nelson Mandela." recent CNN article

    Yes one of the reasons this Patriot-wanna-be gave was that Mandela was not an American. Once again in the fact-free world of the far right, he ignores most past recent presidents ordering flag lowering for famous non-Americans. Liberals need to start calling out these obvious adapt-reality-as-we-go folks.

    December 9, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  12. current state of the union

    No ones going to shoot Obama, that would put grandpa Joe in charge, yikes!

    December 9, 2013 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  13. rs

    just asking

    yeah, i can see how a 95 year old guy that has been dying for years can just sneak up on you. as ready for this as they were for the obamacare rollout!
    __________________________
    So, in your world people die on schedule? Do you use "Death Panels"?

    December 9, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  14. Jose79845

    King Obama of the current drug war holocaust is going to Africa to do what exactly?

    December 9, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  15. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    "We've done things in less time," said a Secret Service spokesman.
    -------------------------------------------------
    So why is this even a story?
    Why are we discussing this?

    By the by, Nelson Mandela's death was imminent. It is not as if he died tragically and all of a sudden.
    I would think that our Secret Service has been preparing for this trip since the President returned from Africa.
    I wish our President and all of those accompanying him the safest of travels.
    May everything go according to schedule.

    December 9, 2013 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  16. TONE

    Obama will be safer there than south carolina.

    December 9, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  17. krishay

    I feel so s ad right now because Nelson Mandela was a great man. Nelson was a great president o South Africa, I hope that his family will always keep Nelson on there side at all time.

    December 9, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  18. tom l

    @Silence
    "Yes one of the reasons this Patriot-wanna-be gave was that Mandela was not an American. Once again in the fact-free world of the far right, he ignores most past recent presidents ordering flag lowering for famous non-Americans. Liberals need to start calling out these obvious adapt-reality-as-we-go folks."

    ==========

    I agree with the president's decision to lower the flag to half staff but it doesn't happen often at all. The last time was when the pope died in 2005. So it can be understandable why someone would questions lowering the flag for a non-American. It's a reasonable issue to discuss and I can understand both arguments.

    December 9, 2013 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |