President Biden’s trip to Israel left the Secret Service scrambling to coordinate security details after decisions by the president compounded the danger.
Though National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson had declined to comment on any intended trips to the Middle East by President Biden over the weekend, by Monday it had been announced that the commander-in-chief sought an audience in both Israel and Jordan. The overt itinerary marked a departure from typically covert trips to war zones, only adding to the complications for the U.S. Secret Service in maintaining safety on short notice.
Writing for ABC News, retired Secret Service agent Donald Mihalek spoke to the relative commonality of visits to combat zones since the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, but how in the modern era, such trips typically remained covert as an added preventative measure against bad actors.
Instead, the president’s communication team promoted the trip and wrote on his X account, “On Wednesday, I’ll travel to Israel to stand in solidarity in the face of Hamas’s brutal terrorist attack. I’ll then travel to Jordan to address dire humanitarian needs, meet with leaders, and make clear that Hamas does not stand for Palestinians’ right to self-determination.”
On Wednesday, I’ll travel to Israel to stand in solidarity in the face of Hamas’s brutal terrorist attack.
I’ll then travel to Jordan to address dire humanitarian needs, meet with leaders, and make clear that Hamas does not stand for Palestinians’ right to self-determination.
— President Biden (@POTUS) October 17, 2023
Reacting to the telegraphed plans, Mihalek wrote, “To handle this, the Secret Service, will have to work with White House staff, agents of the Diplomatic Security Service, the U.S. Embassy and in this case, their foreign counterparts — Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency. Shin Bet, in addition to their counter-terrorism duties, handle the protective functions for Israel’s prime minister and president, who will surely be under the same security bubble when President Biden visits.”
With that attack from Hamas having occurred on October 7, it is unclear when Biden’s trip may have initially be decided, but the former agent noted five days to two weeks out was typically when the visit would begin to be planned to mitigate risk.
“The Secret Service’s Protective Intelligence unit works closely with both U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies to identify, investigative [sic] and mitigate any negative intelligence focused on the presidential visit,” wrote Mihalek. “That mitigations may come in the form of kinetic or passive protective measures that are put in place before and during a visit.”
Proof of how rapidly situations can change on the ground despite the best planning, the Jordan leg of the Middle Eastern visit was canceled hours ahead of Biden’s arrival in the region after the destruction of a hospital in Gaza, believed to have been the result of a misfire from Hamas, had both sides of the conflict accusing their adversary.
Meanwhile, locals in Jordan whom the Wall Street Journal reported making statements like “We support Palestinians and Hamas” and “[Biden] should not come here to Jordan. The U.S. Embassy is not welcome here, because they support Israel,” could be seen waving shoes in protest before Jordanian leaders canceled the meeting with the president.
Jordan’s Residents Raise their Shoes Demanding Biden be Denied Entry to the Kingdom. pic.twitter.com/GS2pI7L6XB
— I Meme Therefore I Am (@ImMeme0) October 18, 2023
“Due to the rocket threat, air security will be a pronounced need,” Mihalek added. “The Secret Service Airspace Security Branch in the Special Operations Division will be tasked with working with Israeli [as] well as American military forces to ensure an air security bubble is placed over a presidential site and that countermeasures like the Iron Dome air defense system are moved into close proximity to the visit location and if needed, supplemented by American resources.”
Coordinating with Israeli and U.S. Special Forces, the security detail would also have to have contingency plans to “address any attack, assault or event where an emergency action is necessary to protect the president.”