I take people inside the White House. That's my job. As a thriller writer, I've taken readers into the private quarters of the First Family, the hidden staircase and secret door that the President can take up to the top floor, and even the secret tunnel that runs below the White House ("It's really a bomb shelter -- though it doesn't lead out to the Washington Monument like in the movie Dave.") In my newest thriller, The President's Shadow, I again turned my attention back to the White House, but also to the Secret Service. And so, my favorites of their secrets...
#7 - Watch where you step.
To maintain the President's privacy, Secret Service agents aren't stationed directly in the Oval Office. They stand outside. So if the President closes the doors, how does the Service know what POTUS is up to? They installed weight-sensitive pressure pads under the carpet -- to let them know exactly where President Obama is at all times.
#6 - The White House is bigger than you think.
Need a secret place to talk in the White House? Sure, there's a basement, but there's also another floor below that, including a laundry room where they press the linens for the State Dinners. Which means: There're nearly as many floors below the White House as above it. Think about that next time you see it on TV.
#5 - They're not the only ones protecting us
When things really go wrong, the Service aren't the only ones called in. Who else does the government call in a crisis? A Great Patriot. In 1981, when the hostages came back from Iran, a Great Patriot put them all up at the posh Greenbrier resort, so they could finally have a place to relax privately. More recently, after the CIA's annual retreat, a Great Patriot flew the top CIA chiefs to a small town so they could have their own private meetings and an off-the-book vacation. Sometimes, Great Patriots are former members of the government or military. Other times, they're simply regular citizens who step up when they're needed.
#4 - They've got the best hiding spots
Every year, as the President delivers the State of the Union address to the assembled power players in Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Cabinet, Mount Weather is one of the places where they hide the one member of the Cabinet who's required to stay behind in case a terrorist group attacks the Capitol and kills all the top members of our government. A decade ago, when word got out about Mount Weather, it was taken off the list of presidential safehouses. But after 9/11, Homeland Security secretly rebuilt it to serve as the base for the rest of the government in case of terrorist attack. Directions to the facility were even on the back of the IDs for top White House staff.
#3 - They have one of the coolest secret offices in DC
On H St in Washington, DC is Secret Service HQ. The tan-brick, nine-story building, is unmarked. They don't want anyone knowing what's in there. There are no public trash cans outside either, so no one can leave a bomb. On 9/11, it's where they hid the First Lady. It has multiple armories, a joint operations center, and thousands of agents who aren't afraid to take a bullet. Plus, they've got the Silver Star Café⎯that's right, the Service's very own cafeteria.
#2 - There's a reason the word "Secret" is in the title
When the Secret Service wants to do a private investigation at the White House, they'll sometimes announce a "renovation" of an old room. That way, they can get the First Family out of the house, and no one's the wiser. You'll note that nearly every President to have passed through the White House has renovated a room. President Obama renovated the Treaty Room; Bush renovated the Briefing Room; Clinton gave us a new Music Room. According to one agent, you won't believe what's been done there under the guise of 'home improvements.'
#1 - They're not the only ones packing heat
While researching The President's Shadow at Secret Service HQ, I found out that when Ronald Reagan was President, he used to carry a gun with him. Oh yeah. A thirty-eight. According to the Service, Reagan would hide it in his own briefcase and bring it onto Air Force One. Not even Vice President Bush knew about Reagan's secret cargo.
Want more White House secrets? The President's Shadow is on sale now at bookstores everywhere and at all online retailers.