From Air Force One to the Beast, keeping US president Donald Trump safe comes at a 'bigly' price

Keeping President Donald Trump safe is the job of the United States Secret Service, the agency responsible for protecting him and his immediate family no matter where they are in the world.

Praveen Swami February 23, 2020 16:31:44 IST
From Air Force One to the Beast, keeping US president Donald Trump safe comes at a 'bigly' price
  • Air Force One isn’t actually a plane: it’s the call-sign assigned to whichever of the two state-of-the-art Boeing VC25s carries the president

  • Like every US president, Trump will be bringing his own cars, including a custom-built, 9,000-kilogram monster known as the Beast

  • During Trump’s visit to Jerusalem, the entourage booked the entire King David Hotel, where suites go for over $5,500 a night, and 1,100 other hotel rooms

Keeping President Donald Trump safe is the job of the United States Secret Service, the agency responsible for protecting him and his immediate family no matter where they are in the world. Secret Service agents will have planned security arrangements down to the last detail, even to ensuring there are adequate supplies of blood on hand for the president in case something goes wrong. The roads the president will use will have been carefully sanitised, emergency escape routes planned, threat scenarios rehearsed: nothing is left to chance.

From Air Force One to the Beast keeping US president Donald Trump safe comes at a bigly price

President Donald Trump will travel in thiss custom-built, 9,000-kilogram monster known as “the Beast". Image courtesy: Twitter

Even though state police forces and the Central Reserve Police Force will be on hand to provide layers of protection for the VVIP summit—with the National Security Guard standing by, just in case, the innermost ring of President Trump’s security will be made up of the Secret Service.

Throughout the planning for President Trump’s visit, and all through it, the Secret Service has been liaising with VVIP security experts at the Intelligence Bureau, who in turn will be working with local police to make sure literally every square metre of ground the president traverses is secure. The Secret Service brings its own highly-sophisticated communications security and threat-detection equipment, as well as bomb-sniffing dogs, but the Gujarat Police and Delhi Police will carry out the same tasks, too.

Local police, in some senses, have the toughest task, since it’s their job to make sure there’s no threat from the crowds, a task complicated by the fact that politicians sometimes like to spontaneously mingle with the public. Top cops have sometimes used a little subterfuge to make this happen smoothly: in 1990, when then prime minister VP Singh insisted on an open-car ride through terrorism-torn Amritsar, Punjab police officer KPS Gill saturated the crowds with plainclothes personnel.

The Secret Service also has to guard those who must be with the president at all times, among them, a military aide carrying the 20-kilogram, Zero Halliburton metal briefcase, clad in a black leather jacket, which carries the launch codes for the United States’ nuclear missiles.

An armed Secret Service agent even accompanies the president to the restroom, or into any other situation where he might want a little bit of privacy, and, by law, President Trump cannot order them to leave him alone. That means Secret Service agents know more about the lives of those they protect than leaders are comfortable with, though only one, former president Bill Clinton's bodyguard Gary Byrne, has ever broken the agency’s code of silence about the lives of the leaders they guard.

Founded in 1865, and charged with protecting United States presidents since 1901, the 7,000-strong Secret Service — about one quarter women — is believed to have among the most gruelling training requirements of any armed force. Less than one in one hundred applicants make the cut to enter its training facilities at Laurel, Virginia.

Bad news for Hollywood fans, though: Secret Service bodyguards do not swear an oath promising to die for the President.

In the air

Air Force One isn’t actually a plane: it’s the call-sign assigned to whichever of the two state-of-the-art Boeing VC25s — the military variant of the Boeing 747-200 — that carries the President of the United States. Inside, there’s some 370 square metres of space for the president, officials and the media. Trump himself has a lavishly-fitted suite, which includes a large office, lavatory, and conference room. The plane’s two kitchens are designed to feed up to 100 people at a time. Furniture for Air Force One was mostly hand-crafted, making its interiors look more like a hotel than an airplane.

The thing that distinguishes Air Force One from the jets owned by Saudi oil magnates and kings are its on-board electronics. Hardened to resist electromagnetic pulses — which would be released by a nuclear explosion — Air Force One is designed function as a mobile command centre in the event of an attack on the United States. There are also a welter of electronic counter-measures against missile attack, of the kind normally fitted in military aircraft.

Air Force One is maintained and operated by the Presidential Airlift Group, part of the White House Military Office. The Airlift Group was founded in 1944, at the direction of former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as he prepared to travel to Yalta for the conference where the leaders of United States, United Kingdom and Soviet Union famously decided what the post-World War II world would look like.

For the next 15 years, various propeller-driven aircraft served presidents, until Dwight Eisenhower flew to Europe aboard VC-137A, a modified Boeing 707 Stratoliner, in August 1959. In 1962,  John F Kennedy became the first president to fly in a jet specifically built for presidential use, a modified Boeing 707.

For fans of the Hollywood hit Air Force One starring Harrison Ford, there’s some bad news: According to the United States Air Force, the real plane doesn’t have an escape pod, or even parachutes. But then, the details of safety and survival equipment on Air Force One are secret, so who knows what might be hidden away inside?

On the road

Like every US president, Trump will be bringing his own cars, including a custom-built, 9,000-kilogram monster known as “the Beast”. Built from the bottom-up over a Chevrolet Kodiak truck chassis, the president’s limousines are estimated to have some eight inches of armour cladding, made from steel, aluminium and ceramics, as well as windows of the kinds commercial jets use. It’s also got defensive tools such as smoke-screens, oil slicks and tear gas, as well as night-vision technology. The drivers trained in evasive manoeuvres, make a 180 degree turns if needed to evade an attack.

Though there’s no such thing as indestructible, the Beast makes the president pretty much invulnerable to almost any form of foreseeable attack, whether from an assassin armed with an assault weapon, or a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade.

From inside the car, Trump can securely communicate with his officials in Washington and around the world at all times, even to authorise a nuclear attack, just in case World War III breaks out while he’s abroad.

Though other world leaders also have special vehicles: President Vladimir Putin uses a modified Mercedes-Benz, the Maruti 800 of the VVIP world, while China’s chief executive, President Xi Jinping, uses a custom-made Hongqi L5, the Beast is the most expensive and sophisticated of its kind.

How much does it all cost?

Bigly. According to Freedom of Information Act disclosures made in 2017, Air Force One costs $$142,380, for every hour of flight time. Remember, there are two identical Boeing 747s involved, so the bill is actually twice that. Then, there’s the C5 Galaxy cargo aircraft which carries the president’s limousines, specialist security equipment and so on. There can be up to 1,000 civil servants on site for logistics; they’ll all need hotel rooms, local transport and per-diems. During Trump’s visit to Jerusalem, the entourage booked the entire King David Hotel, where suites go for over $5,500 a night, and 1,100 other hotel rooms.

In response to a domestic political controversy over President Trump’s frequent golf trips, the United States’ audit watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, determined that four such holidays from 3 February to 5 March, 2017, cost the taxpayer over $13.5 million.

India does not disclose information on the costs of foreign VVIP visits, and they’re hard to estimate because the salaries of personnel — like police on ground — are not separately costed.

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