ON THE PLANE
Rice's Protector Plans a Move to NATO
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Mike Evanoff is the Bodyguard.
His formal title is special agent in charge of protective operations at the State Department. But the former Washington area high school football star is better known among those who travel with the secretary of state as Condoleezza Rice's shadow.
Evanoff is rarely more than a few feet away. Aides have fluctuating access, but Evanoff is always there. He usually knows where Rice will step before she does.
"We have a science. I can tell you she'll take 13 steps to the right and 10 steps to the left and then get into the car. We advance every route she will take -- steps, driving, how many stairs she'll go up. We know if the ground is too soft for high heels," Evanoff explained shortly before Rice's current trip to the Middle East. "In this business, there are no drop-bys."
This week's swing through Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian territories will be Evanoff's last foreign trip with Rice -- at least according to the current schedule. This fall, he will become director of security for NATO headquarters in Brussels. Protecting the secretary of state usually leads to other high-profile jobs. The head of former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's protective team went on to direct security for the Washington Redskins.
The son of two D.C. police officers who met at the D.C. police academy, Evanoff has particular respect for women who break professional barriers. His mother was the first woman on the Supreme Court's police force.
As a member of the Diplomatic Security -- the State Department's equivalent of the Secret Service -- Evanoff earlier protected some of the other most famous women in the world. He twice protected Princess Diana and also protected Jordan's Queen Noor.
Diana, he said, was funny and playful, once in an elevator pulling out the earpiece through which he is connected to a team of agents. Rice, by contrast, is "high-energy, and keeping up with her is high-energy."
Protecting the secretary is a top job at the State Department. Evanoff was previously a regional security officer in Pakistan. In 1994, he was in charge of security when the new U.S. embassy was opened in Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict.
Over the past three years, Evanoff has had several hair-raising moments running the team of about 75 men and women who protect Rice.
"The secretary is not Princess Diana," he said. "She's somebody who averages a threat a day -- telephonic, from the Internet or by letter. We check out every one of them -- from someone serving life in prison to an individual who doesn't like her politics because of the [Iraq] war."
But the most dangerous moments have been on the road. During an unannounced trip to Baghdad in March 2006, Rice's entourage was forced to drive from the Baghdad airport on the famously dangerous route to the Green Zone because a thunderous rainstorm prevented helicopters from flying. Dozens of U.S. troops and Iraqis have been killed by roadside explosives and other kinds of attacks while traveling on the airport road.