Bush Shoe Incident: Where Was Secret Service?

ABC’s Ann Compton answers the question that many of us had about the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush:  Where was the Secret Service?

U.S. Secret Service officials in Washington say they are satisfied their agents responded with “the appropriate level of reaction” when an Iraqi journalist hurled two shoes directly at President Bush during a Baghdad news conference.

“Everyone in that room passed through several layers of security,” Agent Ed Donovan tells ABC News. Screening included magnetometers, sweeps by K9 dogs and U.S. military bomb squads. Donovan says name identification checks were done on all the journalists to confirm they were representing news organizations.

Video of the incident shows the Iraqi man stand up and hurl one shoe and then the second shoe two seconds later. President Bush ducked both. The head of the presidential protective detail was seen reaching the President’s side within six seconds, by which time the Iraqi had already been pulled to the ground from behind by a man in leather jacket, likely another Iraqi. “There doesn’t appear to be any over-reaction” on the part of American agents, Donovan says, confirming the Secret Service agents who poured into the room did not draw their weapons.

It is common these days for Secret Service agents to hang back, out of camera view, when the president is in a confined room with people, like the journalists, who were allowed to bring with them pads and pens, small audio recorders, and of course their shoes.

At the press conference, the head of the president’s security detail scrambled to the lectern but not until the second shoe had been thrown. President Bush motioned to the agent to standby, declining to be hustled out of the room. At least five other American agents pour in from that exit behind the President, three took positions directly in front of the President, and other agents rushed into the midst of the seated reporters. No visible weapons were drawn, which seems to show unusual restraint, since agents are trained to assume that any assault is part of a broader attack by not one but several assailants.

At headquarters, it is a given that video will be reviewed over and over again, and become part of the Secret Service training — on what NOT to do.

Actually, it sounds to me like they acted precisely as they should have. They screened the room to make sure that no known crazies or dangerous weapons got through. They quickly and correctly assessed that president was not in serious danger. In that situation, drawing their weapons was more likely to create a panic than to increase the president’s safety.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. odograph says:

    I heard they were busy untying their own shoes.

  2. rodney dill says:

    What? No one wanted to take a ‘shoe’ for the President?

  3. caj says:

    I think it was very lax….but there again maybe they thought Bush had what was coming to him.

  4. Carrot says:

    I certainly did feel initially that the Agent took a long time coming but I agree with your assessment that everyone felt it was a non-lethal protest and acted appropriately. He was wrestled down quickly and as stated it was a small and relatively secure area. No problem. Lucky for the guy it didn’t actually hit the POTUS.

    And the whole shoe thing is a big insult. Muslim men don’t cross their legs American style to avoid pointing their soles at others. Iraqi men who wish to insult passing US Patrols will hold their feet out and sometimes click them together a few times. So, a big insult.