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New Era Brings Worries for Secret Service

Times Staff Writer

The opening of a new era could be read Friday in the faces of bodyguards along Pennsylvania Avenue as President Bush jumped three times from his limousine to walk along the inaugural parade route and wave to the crowd.

Tense, anxious and slightly exasperated, the agents of the Secret Service are quickly trying to adjust to the peripatetic and unpredictable Bush after eight years of guarding Ronald Reagan, whose carefully scripted style grew ever more tightly controlled after the attempt on his life in 1981.

The agents are blunt about which style they prefer. “If we had our way, he would not leave the White House,” Secret Service spokesman Rich Adams said recently. Bush, however, is equally blunt in telling both the agents who guard him and the reporters who cover him that he does not intend to be tied down.

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Bush repeatedly has told anyone who asks that he will leave the White House to buy bagels, eat Chinese food, grab some ice cream or go shopping “if I want to.”

And in the weeks between the election and his swearing-in, he has demonstrated that he means what he says, going out before Christmas, for example, to get a suit fitted at a downtown clothing store and to buy gifts at a nearby Crabtree & Evelyn perfumerie.

All that is familiar to the Secret Service guards who protected Bush as vice president and during his campaign, some of whom have begun to joke about watching their colleagues on the White House security detail get used to the new style.

Bush has always shown a streak of independence. At his home in Kennebunkport, Me., he has reveled in maneuvering his powerful cigarette boat, the Fidelity, between the sand bars and shoals he knows by heart, leaving behind the faster craft piloted by less sure-handed agents. On his latest vacation there, over the Thanksgiving holiday, he caused a near stampede of agents and reporters when he decided to take an impromptu shopping stroll through the village.

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At major events such as the inauguration, the agents have many ways of protecting the President--sharpshooters on rooftops, bulletproof plastic screens and metal detectors to check each person entering the Capitol lawn Friday where the viewer galleries were set up.

At other times, however, secrecy has been, and continues to be, Bush’s favored protective device. As his thinking goes, the threat is greatest when there is an open event, planned far enough in advance to allow potential assassins to gain access. If he simply decides at 7 p.m. one night to go eat Chinese food, it is impossible for anyone to anticipate, he reasons.

Now, agents say, Bush appears to be going out of his way to be unpredictable to put everyone, including his protectors, on notice that the old order is no more.

In the meantime, many of the agents who protected Bush as vice president will now be protecting Dan Quayle, who also has tried to preserve some spontaneity in his public life, although, as he told reporters during the fall campaign, he worries periodically about the personal risks.

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“You let your mind wander from time to time, particularly when you get to an event and agents come up and say, ‘Well, we’ve had this warning or we’ve had that,’ ” Quayle said in a conversation in an airport hangar in Owensboro, Ky. “I say, ‘Well, do the best you can.’ ”

Staff writers Cathleen Decker and Douglas Jehl contributed to this story.


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