The one where I caused a security breach at a presidential event

Mike Mallow,

In my inaugural column for this newspaper, I teased the time I snuck into a presidential event as “a story for another time.” As it was an Independence Day event, the time to tell that story has arrived.

It was 2005. I was married in May, and moved to Morgantown, W.Va., so my wife, Traci, could finish her degree at West Virginia University (WVU).

I didn’t have trouble finding work. I was already four years into my newspaper career, and I got my job in the city simply going in and asking if they needed help.

From my previous newspaper job, I brought with me a number of items, including an AP Stylebook, reams of color paper, and several press passes that become legitimate by writing in your name in a blank space.

Near the end of June, it was announced President George W. Bush would be speaking on the campus of WVU for his Independence Day address. I didn’t think anything of it at first, but after realizing I had the day off and a stack of blank press passes, I decided to try my luck.

WVU is situated in the middle of a hillside. Some of the steps are so grueling that WVU installed inspirational posters to encourage students to keep climbing. It was going to be a nightmare for the Secret Service to secure.

I approached walking from uphill on a road we used as a shortcut to get to campus. There was one security guard watching this road. He didn’t appear to be Secret Service, but he had the cool earpiece thingy that Secret Service had. He looked at my generic press pass with my name handwritten on it, and gave me the okay to enter with no further scrutiny.

From there, I continued to the main part of campus where the speech was taking place. It was like a ghost town there, or perhaps a scene from just after the rapture. TV equipment, bags, and other items were strewn across the seating area and press pit, but there was absolutely no one around.

No sooner had I approached the bleachers, three Secret Service members in full suits came rushing toward me.

“Where is everyone?” I asked, hoping to diffuse the situation.

“You can’t be here! How did you get in?” One of the Secret Service men asked.

I told him how I came in from above. He sort of shrugged it off and they escorted me to the event entrance, which was on the opposite side from where I had breached.

Now outside the gates, I waited with the rest of the reporters and dignitaries. The WVU mascot, the Mountaineer, was there. I recall him complaining about how they wouldn’t let him bring his musket into the event.

If you thought scrutiny seemed lax for a presidential event, I am now coming to the most bonkers part.

When the gates opened for the press, I quickly discovered advance registration was required for news groups to enter. I gave my name, and obviously I wasn’t on the list.

The White House staffer looked at me, sighed, and filled out a White House Press Pool badge with my name and (old) newspaper on it.

“Don’t let this happen again,” he said as he handed me the pass.

I laughed and said “Absolutely,” thinking the whole time, when would this ever happen to me again?


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