Obama Family: Living with the Secret Service

How would you feel if a frowning man in dark sunglasses and wires in his ears grabbed the back of your pants every time you walked into a crowd? That's just one of many less-than-enjoyable aspects of presidential life that the Obama family have been living with, ever since they were christened with their recently-released official Secret Service code names: Renegade (Barack), Renaissance (Michelle), Radiance (Malia), and Rosebud (Sasha).

The Obamas have had some time to adjust; they have had a Secret Service detail since May 2007, the earliest one ever assigned to a presidential contender. The detail was assigned because of concerns that the African-American candidate might face greater dangers. Those concerns were not misplaced, as evidenced by the discovery of several plots to do the candidate harm this fall.

The Obamas aren't the only ones keeping the Secret Service busy. Since 9/11, the ranks of the protected have swelled to include key cabinet and congressional leaders, and even their assistants. Files are kept on some 40,000 U.S. citizens, including about 400 deemed by the agency to pose a specific threat. Using gadgets that would make James Bond envious, agents sweep offices and hotel rooms for surveillance devices, test food for poison and measure air quality to check for dangerous bacteria. The cute code names might make for good stories, but they're functionally obsolete; Secret Service agents actually rely on modern encryption technology to help keep discussions about those they protect confidential.

Of course, all the technology and planning in the world can't protect a candidate or president if he won't do what he's told. Some politicians have been cooperative—Dwight Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, for example—while others have gone rogue; Bill Clinton, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson all loved to make mischief. What can agents expect from the new First Family? With the help of two valuable books on the subject—"The Secret Service: The Hidden History of an Enigmatic Agency" and "Standing Next To History: An Agent's Life Inside the Secret Service"—and interviews with an agency staffer, NEWSWEEK compiled a tip sheet of anecdotes from administrations-past illustrating the sundry ways Renegade, Renaissance, Radiance, and Rosebud might manage to stir up trouble for the folks in the dark glasses.

Lesson 1: Expect the Unexpected
At a pet show at Ethel Kennedy's Virginia estate, Secret Service agents had to scoop up and whisk away Jimmy Carter's daughter Amy when Suzy, a 6,000 pound elephant, charged in her direction. With Amy in his arms, the agent jumped over a split-rail fence—which the rogue elephant soon splintered—and carted the First Daughter to safety inside Kennedy's house, while crowds scattered and trainers struggled to get Suzy back under control.

Lesson 2: Agents Protect, Not Serve
President Jimmy Carter, accustomed to asking his state trooper guards to do errands for him, initially used his Secret Service detail as bag carriers—much to their dismay. He eventually backed off, but other presidents have requested such favors as babysitting and providing a fourth for a bridge game; all of which, agents have complained, detracted from their ability to do their jobs. Jackie Kennedy was the opposite: after JFK died, her children continued to have protection until they were 18. She insisted that the guards remain as inconspicuous as possible—and that they not pick up after or run errands for her children.

Lesson 3: Leave the Shrubbery to the Gardeners
The Obamas might want to watch the security improvements made to their home. The Secret Service spent over $10 million on Richard Nixon's three residences, including some $12,000 a year to "keep the landscape from interfering with security." This raised more than a few eyebrows among Congress and the press, which alleged that Nixon had finagled inappropriate home improvements for his friends as well. (Nixon maintained the upgrades had been suggested by the agency).

Lesson 4: The Words ' Public Restroom ' Will Assume New Meaning
Presidents and their families quickly learn that even trips to the bathroom come with security precautions. Lyndon Johnson, never very subtle, had perhaps the most direct way of expressing his frustration. Once, after pulling his car over to the side of the road for a pit stop, agents quickly surrounded him as he relieved himself. A sudden breeze prompted one agent to alert the president, "Sir, you're pissing on my leg." Johnson, not budging, replied, "I know. That's my prerogative."

Lesson 5: You Are Not Normal
A proud Everyman, President Harry Truman liked to preserve a sense of normalcy at the White House by going on strolls to buy newspapers, walk the dog, spend time with his family, and deposit checks at the local bank. Unfortunately for Truman, gawking pedestrians and drivers weren't as nonchalant about his wanderings—and neither was the Secret Service. Agents responded by rigging traffic lights to turn red in all four directions as Truman walked past, though the president soon noticed and scolded them for ruining his walks.

Lesson 6: Mind the Models
While staying in a hotel room one night, Secret Service agents placed a small model, shaped like the Washington Monument, next to the bed of Vice President Dan Quayle and his wife. If they knocked it over, they would trip an alarm hidden inside—giving the Quayles a convenient means of alerting security to any problems. About half an hour after they had retired, the vice president accidentally knocked over the device, prompting agents to rush in and surprise a very off-guard Mr. and Mrs. Quayle.

Lesson 7: Kids Will Be Kids
Presidential kids often give their protectors trouble. Tricia Nixon was called a "tough and troubled cookie" for ordering agents to wait on her hand and foot, then claiming that she caught them staring at her legs. Luci Johnson liked to race ahead of agents in her car, trying to lose them in traffic. One time, she slipped out the back door during a private party so that she and her fiancé could enjoy a night on the town free of surveillance. In a famous First Kid escapade, in 2001, Jenna and Barbara Bush used Jenna's fake ID to order drinks at a bar in Austin, Tex. Secret Service agents hustled the girls out before police officers could detain them, but they were later cited for underage drinking.

Lesson 8: Play Nice with the Agents
She vehemently denied the reports, but rumors circulated widely in the early days of the Clinton administration that Hillary Clinton often yelled and cursed at her Secret Service detail. Some unproven reports even had her chucking objects in fits of anger—including, one time, a lamp intended for the president's head. Regardless of whether the stories are true, aides said Clinton was deeply upset by the possibility that Secret Service agents had started the rumors, making the relationship between agents and the president and First Lady tense.