By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 18, 2006
The White House said yesterday that it will discipline two government employees who masqueraded as journalists this month while scouting locations for a presidential visit to the Gulf Coast.
A Mississippi couple whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina said two men who later identified themselves as Secret Service agents pretended to be Fox News journalists when surveying their neighborhood in advance of a March 8 visit from President Bush.
The men arrived on March 3 at the site of the beachfront home that Jerry and Elaine Akins are rebuilding in Gautier, Miss., Elaine Akins said in a telephone interview yesterday.
"They didn't show any cards or anything," Akins said. "They just came up and said they were with the media, and then they said they were with Fox. They just talked to us and asked us about rebuilding our house. Then, after everything was over with, they approached us and they were laughing, and they said: 'You know, we really weren't with Fox. We're government, Secret Service men.' "
Ken Lisaius, a White House spokesman, said the employees were out of bounds.
"This incident has been brought to our attention, and this is clearly not appropriate, nor is it part of our standard operating procedures," he said. "The individuals involved will be verbally reprimanded."
Tom Mazur, a spokesman for the Secret Service, said he did not know who the men were but they were not Secret Service officials.
"I checked with our people down there in Mississippi who were involved in the advance, and it was not Secret Service people who identified themselves as members of the media," Mazur said. "We wouldn't do that."
Asked whether he could confirm where the employees worked, Lisaius simply reiterated his earlier statement. The incident was reported in yesterday's editions of the Biloxi Sun Herald.
Akins said the men were friendly and looked around the home site for about 20 minutes. The following Wednesday, Bush flew to the small, working-class town. He appeared with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) outside the Akins home to call attention to federal efforts to aid in reconstruction.
"Our job and our purpose is to help people like the Akins rebuild," Bush said.
The men eventually revealed their identities and displayed blue lapel pins bearing the presidential seal. Akins said she does not mind that the men temporarily misled her about their identities.
"What could they do?" she said. "They couldn't walk up and tell us who they were, because then we would have been a lot more suspicious about the president coming."
"We didn't know" about Bush's visit "until about an hour before the president actually got there," she added. "I think they handled it great."