Secret Service sought aircraft to protect Trump during Black Lives Matter protests outside White House

James Crump
·4 mins read
Demonstrators hold a protest in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Lafayette Square Park near the White House on 29 May 2020 in Washington, DC: (2020 Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold a protest in response to the police killing of George Floyd in Lafayette Square Park near the White House on 29 May 2020 in Washington, DC: (2020 Getty Images)

The US Secret Service attempted to bolster its protection of the White House by acquiring a tactical aircraft, amid Black Lives Matter demonstrations outside the complex in May.

Following the death of unarmed black man George Floyd while in the custody of a then Minneapolis police officer on 25 May, protesters demonstrated outside the White House for weeks, as barricades were pushed over and one man got inside the complex.

In reaction to the protesters, the Secret Service sought a surveillance aircraft and a Black Hawk helicopter with a commando team to help protect the White House, according to the Washington Post.

After a man broke into the complex on 29 May and the protest increased in size, president Donald Trump was rushed to the White House bunker, as Secret Service agents became concerned about his safety.

A week after the incident, the Secret Service wrote a letter to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and asked to be provided with an aircraft that could be used during a rapid response operation, the Post reported.

The Secret Service asked for a Black Hawk helicopter that came equipped with “fast ropes,” so that tactical agents could quickly descend to the ground for emergency missions during the protests.

The agency also asked for a surveillance aircraft, so that it could quickly gather information and track the movement of protesters outside of the White House and the surrounding areas.

Kimberly Cheatle, assistant director for the Secret Service’s Office of Protective Operations, wrote to CBP acting commissioner Mark Morgan on 5 June, asking for the support.

“Due to the significant and unprecedented events occurring in the National Capital Region, the US Secret Service is requesting the support from the US Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations (AMO),” her letter read.

“CBP’s participation in the operational security plan is vital,” Ms Cheatle added in the letter obtained by a government watchdog group, American Oversight.

In response, CBP provided the agency with live information from a surveillance plane, but the Secret Service decided that they did not need a Black Hawk helicopter in the end, Trump administration officials told the Post.

The Secret Service has deployed surveillance aircrafts in numerous cities in the last few months in order to monitor protesters at Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

A Predator drone was deployed over protests in Minneapolis on 29 May, but some Democratic officials have criticised the policy and said it infringes on the privacy of demonstrators.

In June, five Democrats wrote to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about the drone and said they had “grave concern” over its use to “surveil and intimidate” protesters.

In the letter to DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, they wrote: “This Administration has undermined the First Amendment freedoms of Americans of all races who are rightfully protesting George Floyd’s killing.

“The deployment of drones and officers to surveil protests is a gross abuse of authority and is particularly chilling when used against Americans who are protesting law enforcement brutality.”

Secret Service spokeswoman Catherine Milhoan told The Post that “in support of its protective mission, the US Secret Service routinely requests interagency support from federal partners through formal ‘request for assistance’ letters.

“Due to the significant and unprecedented events occurring and anticipated in the National Capital Region, the agency followed standard protocol to ensure it had the resources and capabilities that might be required to maintain a safe and secure environment for the people and places it protects and the general public.”

However, Ms Milhoan declined from commenting on the specific requests that were included in the letter on 5 June.

In a statement, CBP told the Post that “it would not be appropriate to share specific details of every movement our personnel or assets make,” but confirmed that it does not lend out its aircrafts or crew members.

The department added: “Collaborating with our law enforcement partners, AMO aircrews are capable of providing real-time, live video feeds to ground-based agents giving them situational awareness, maximising public safety, and minimising the threat to personnel and assets during national security and public safety events and to transport personnel and supplies as needed.”

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