By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Sen. Barack Obama has a new tag: "Renegade."
That's what Secret Service agents are calling the Illinois Democrat, in the time-honored tradition of giving "secret" code names to presidential candidates and other protected dignitaries. As is custom, the Obama moniker reflects something of the man himself (though he might prefer "progressive" or "independent").
Is the same true for a woman?
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) may hope so. Her code name is "Evergreen," given to her when her husband (former president Bill Clinton, a.k.a. "Eagle") first became a protectee.
Other candidates have not been as lucky. Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) was dubbed "Minuteman" after winning the Democratic nomination -- and, indeed, lasted not much longer than the name suggested. Former vice president Al Gore, sometimes derided as wooden, started out as "Sawhorse" but eventually became "Sundance" -- although the reason for the change is unclear.
President Bush, a protectee dating back to the days when his father was president (and with a reputation for rowdiness before he became a teetotaler) is "Tumbler." Former president Jimmy Carter, who taught Sunday school, is "Deacon." George H.W. Bush is "Timberwolf," and Ronald Reagan was "Rawhide."
Still, according to a Secret Service spokesman, all code names are chosen by military officials, suggesting that they should not be examined too closely for deeper meaning. The Obama and Clinton campaigns declined to comment on the security procedure (they are the only two candidates so far to receive official protection, and Clinton's is a result of her status as a former first lady).
These days, though, the code names have little to do with actual safety; instead they play a more ceremonial and logistical role, letting agents bark easily understood directions into their sleeves as a protectee is moving from location to location. "There's really no secrecy to it," said security expert William H. Pickle, who was the special agent in charge of Gore's detail. According to Pickle, the names were useful when radio and phone communications were unsecured and easily picked up by outsiders; now the military and Secret Service can communicate over highly secured lines, making a code name irrelevant. Still, habit lives on.
"It started out years ago as a security function, and it had a real security aspect. Communications were limited, and it caused enough confusion to allow you to have a movement without people understanding," Pickle said. "Anymore, though? It's really just for convenience -- and tradition."