IDU Conference ‘83
This was my first face-to-face meeting with the United States Secret Service.
24th June 1983, the International Democrat Union was founded at a conference held at the Intercontinental Hotel, London.
A number of key centre-right Party Leaders attended, including Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl, and Vice-President George W Bush Snr.
At this time I had just completed the second successful Election Campaign for Mrs Thatcher, and I was also the Deputy Treasurer of the EDU - the European counterpart of the IDU. I was asked to co-ordinate all the security arrangements for the conference, which meant acting as the liaison between the UK Special Branch, the US Secret Service, and the hotel security.
It should be remembered although there were quite a number of key national figures attending the conference - seven in fact - this was essentially a private meeting of Leaders of Centre-Right Parties, not Heads of Government as such.
I had to vet all the registrations for the conference, and to my amazement found 21 secret service agents for whom we had to issue passes, all there to protect the Vice-President.
The senior officer was - let me just call him Ethan - guess I had better not use his real name, just in case! I’ve still got his card, ‘E….. US Secret Service’ – it seemed very odd to me at the time that close protection officers should be happy to hand out their cards, but they did!
Anyway, Ethan and I were standing awaiting the arrival of the Vice-President at the hotel’s service entrance.
Ethan pressed his earpiece, and said ‘Roger that’ into his wrist microphone. At the same time seven other men within my sight line repeated exactly the same actions!
‘Three minutes’ Ethan said to me.
At that moment two men came around the corner of the hotel’s service road. They were walking slowly towards us in the middle of the road deep in conversation. ‘S**t’ yelled Ethan, ‘what in God’s name are those crazy guys doing? The VP’s cavalcade will plough them down.’
‘Better not.’ I replied, ‘It will create a major International incident, on the left you have Kaare Willoch the Prime Minister of Norway, on the right Poul Schluter the Prime Minister of Denmark.’
‘Where the hell’s their security?’
My response was simple. ‘They don’t have any.’
Ethan was muttering, ‘crazy crazy’, as I ran towards the two men.
I explained the problem, and they moved to the narrow pavement as we saw the flashing lights of the approaching cavalcade. Fortunately, I knew Poul Schluter well and laughing he said to me, ‘Because it’s you asking Roger, we will obey'.
A potential emergency was averted, but I think Ethan and his team must have had a difficult moment!
Later that day there was another amusing incident which involved the Vice-President’s protection team.
We had planned we would move the Vice-President around the hotel using the service lift, since this was quite large, located well away from normal public areas, and could more easily be secured from other guests.
I collected Mr Bush from the suite set aside for him, to walk from the front of the hotel to the back. There were three secret service men in front of him and three behind as we walked along the corridor. Part way along he said, ‘S**t, I forgot my notes.’
He turned immediately to return to his suite. Unfortunately the three agents in front of him kept going, and they had reached the lift before they realised what was happening. Mr Bush had disappeared into his suite before they managed to catch up!
I have to say sorry to Ethan and his guys. That incident with your guys running back from the lift was very funny at the time.
Being serious however, it was hard to understand why so many Secret Service Agents were needed then to protect the Vice-President on what was essentially a private trip. But, it made me realise how security measures had become so much more intense, and, do bear in mind this particular incident occurred almost two decades before 9/11!
The Brighton Bomb of 1984 click here