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For the week of August 6 - 12, 2003

Opinion Columns

Our obsession
for security

Commentary by Pat Murphy

Shortly after Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau was ousted from office in 1979 elections, I saw him walking through Montreal’s airport terminal, nodding cheerily to passersby as he moved at a clip to a departure gate with briefcase in hand.

Alone. No bodyguard. Canadians I interviewed while researching a story about the rebellious Parti Quebecois leader Rene Levesque said it was entirely normal for prime ministers to be stripped of their security detail immediately upon leaving office.

Yet, the U.S. obsession for security – or paranoia about danger – includes Secret Service protection for life for our ex-presidents.

No security in the world, even before Sept. 11, compares to protection of U.S. presidents and vice presidents in virtual cocoons sealing them from reality in the world’s supposedly most open society.

This image was reinforced Monday when Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne popped into the Bellevue area for a political fund-raiser with 100 guests at Tom O’Gara’s remote Silver Spring Angus Ranch.

For this last stop before going to his vacation home in Jackson, Wyo., Cheney required:

  • The Air Force’s largest transport, the four-jet C-17 Globemaster, to cart two armored Cadillac limousines and three Secret Service SUVs.

  • Two military Blackhawk helicopters for over-flight security and surveillance.

  • Two Air Force-operated twin-jet luxury Gulfstream jets.

  • An estimated two dozen Secret Service agents, plus vice presidential aides.

  • Added security from the Idaho State Police, Blaine County Sheriff’s Office, and Bellevue, Hailey and Ketchum police departments stationed along state Highway 75.

Counting a fund-raising stop in Salt Lake City that raised $300,000 and the Bellevue reception that harvested another $175,000, the irony is that government costs of this outing undoubtedly far exceeded contributions, although the Republican National Committee will reimburse the Treasury for some costs.

Suffocating security and a regal entourage aren’t Cheney’s idea. This is standard Secret Service procedure for Republican and Democrat presidents and vice presidents, alike, expense be damned, in the name of security.

Cheney has added another layer of security since Sept. 11 by living in "undisclosed locations."

The United States is the only major nation whose heads of state also travel in first-rate military aircraft. Britain’s Tony Blair uses British Airways for official trips. Russia’s Vladimir Putin uses Aeroflot jets. Israel’s Ariel Sharon flies on El Al Airline aircraft. Their security details also are minimal.

Our emphasis on security—or our paranoia—is obsessive. Americans own more handguns than any other people. Gated communities are everywhere. U.S. prisons have the world’s largest populations. TV cameras peek on business offices and on urban streets.

U.S. airports and seaports have become armed camps, and each week brings new talk of tighter security and more restrictions on our lives.

Finally, as if the perfect metaphor for his visit, Cheney’s Idaho host, Tom O’Gara, made his considerable fortune over 20 years in the manufacture of armored military and corporate vehicles for our culture of compulsive security.



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