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Are You on the Very Special List? Probably Not.

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President Barack Obama has won his first victory. He gets to bring his cherished BlackBerry to the White House. Video by AP

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 2009

It is one of the most exclusive lists ever created.

Most members of Congress won't be on it. Supreme Court justices probably won't make the cut. Titans of industry and Hollywood stars will be found wanting.

In Washington D.C., nothing will be harder to win a spot on than the list of e-mail addresses allowed to arrive, unimpeded, to President Obama's BlackBerry.

Presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday that only "a limited group of senior staffers and some personal friends" will be allowed to send e-mail to what might soon be known as BlackBerry 1.

"It's a pretty small group of people," Gibbs deadpanned.

Obama's wife is a sure bet to be on the list, and maybe his kids. Vice President Biden will probably be able to get through, along with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, adviser David Axelrod, aide Reggie Love and Gibbs.

There are the friends: Marty Nesbitt, Valerie Jarrett and Eric Whitaker from Chicago. Some Cabinet secretaries might make it; some might not. Bill Clinton might need to use his wife's account if he wants to send a message.

Charles Ogletree has a good shot at making the list. The Harvard Law School professor is a longtime Friend of Barack Obama. He joked yesterday that "I think that he will use the BlackBerry to not only address issues of critical concerns with FOBO but to also check in on the performance of all Chicago sports teams."

Gibbs would not say who, or even how many people, will be on the list. But it's a good bet that it will be easier to get invited to the Academy Awards after-party at Steven Spielberg's house, or to the VIP reception at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

True, very few people are allowed to sit in on the Supreme Court's weekly deliberations. And a dinner invitation to Pamela Harriman's house was pretty hard to get in her heyday. But aside from that, there's almost nothing in Washington that is more exclusive.

The president has to overcome the objections of security officials to keep his beloved handheld device, and Gibbs declined to elaborate on the specific restrictions that will be placed on the president's BlackBerry, except to say that "use will be limited and that the security is enhanced to ensure his ability to communicate, but to do so effectively and to do so in a way that is protected."

In geek-speak, that means that it's likely that White House IT experts will use a server-based "whitelist" for incoming messages. Only people explicitly placed on the list will be able to send messages. The rest will simply bounce back.

Gibbs also suggested that Obama's outgoing e-mail would be limited. Mail servers can be tweaked to make sure that only certain outgoing messages find their destinations.

What kind of messages will Obama be getting from this exclusive group? Gibbs said it's likely to be a mix of personal and professional.

"I've gotten e-mails from him -- not recently, or not in a few days, I should say -- that go from anywhere from something that's very strictly business to 'Why did my football team perform so miserably?' on either any given Saturday or any given Sunday."


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