Evy Poumpouras is a former special agent with the US Secret Service and is the author of "Becoming Bulletproof."
Poumpouras breaks down 10 presidential-protection scenes in movies, including "White House Down" (2013), "The Sentinel"(2006), "In the Line of Fire" (1993), and "London Has Fallen" (2016).
She also rates inauguration and assassination-attempt scenes in "Designated Survivor" (2016-) and "The West Wing" (1999-2006).
Following is a transcript of the video.
- Colonel Rhodes. Glad to see you could make it, son. I feel safer already.
Evy Poumpouras: I will take a Secret Service agent any day over anything like that.
Hi, everyone. My name is Evy Poumpouras. I'm a former special agent with the US Secret Service, and I was also on the Presidential Protective Division for Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. I've also protected presidents George H. W. Bush, George Bush, and Bill Clinton. Today, I'm going to be watching movie and TV clips and letting you know how real or not real I think that they are.
"In the Line of Fire" (1993)
The first thing I noticed with this clip is the president of the United States is in the crowd shaking hands with people. That would really not happen. In real life when we're doing protection, you won't see the president go into the crowd or into the table area. Typically, a rope line is created within some distance from the stage, usually several feet, and people will line up by that rope line, and the president will go then and shake those people's hands. So there's always a barrier. There's always something separating the president from the people. He, or she, maybe, in the future, but he will not be in that crowd.
That's not make believe. That is very, very real. That is your job as a Secret Service agent. Your job is to take a bullet. Not only just to jump in front of the bullet, but to get into the way and to make yourself as big as possible. So, you're also taught to expand your body to make sure that the bullet actually hits you and doesn't miss you and hit the president of the United States. Through all the tactical training that you go through in the Secret Service Academy, this is a movement that you do over and over and over again. It's also a Secret Service mindset. When you go through training and if you enter this job, like, you are at that point comfortable and fully OK with doing something like this.
The shift's job is to assess the environment. They're always looking out. And the potential threat is someone who can do harm. The No. 1 thing to look for, honestly, is the hands. You wanna see hands, and I always would wanna see hands, open hands. So if the hands are out and open, then I know that there's nothing in those hands. On occasion, you might get somebody who unintentionally is maybe holding something, holding even a pen. And when you see that, I mean, literally, we just knock that pen out of their hands. If somebody has their hands in their pockets and they're unwilling to take them out, or if there's not enough time to get those hands out, I mean, you literally would just grab that person's hands, lock them down until the president passes.
Based on realism on one to 10, I would actually give this, I would give this a seven.
"Designated Survivor" (2016)
Mike: Mr. Secretary, get away from the window, now. We need to leave, now.
Evy: We see the detail leader go over to where Kiefer Sutherland is standing, and he actually closes the windows, and he tells him, "Sir, get away from the window." That is absolutely correct. That is absolutely what I would do as well. You would want to get them out of the area of danger, and you'd want to put them in an environment where they are safe, some type of bunker.
Tom: Did you see that?
Tom: Did you see that?
Mike: Smoke out any ambush. White House is secure. Let's go.
Evy: I would not take the future president of the United States back to the White House. Absolutely not. The swearing-in ceremony can wait till later. You'd wanna take the president to an undisclosed safe location, keep him there for some time until things have settled, and then you can figure out what to do next. So, on 9/11, what did they do with the president? They grabbed the president, and they actually kept him on Air Force One, and they flew around.
Mike: It's confirmed. Eagle is gone.
Evy: In this scene, we see the president being referred to as Eagle, his code name. Every administration gets code names. And, typically, the code names all begin with the same letter. So, for the Clintons, it was an E. Everybody in the Clinton administration, or the protectees, they all had E's. For president George W. Bush, it was a T. And so, essentially, all the family members, first lady, president, the children, they all had code names beginning with a T. So they do change for every administration. And the code name actually stays with the person even after they leave the presidency.
Evy: Where are my snipers? Snipers are there to actually look for the threat that's coming from above. Here we see an open window. The snipers are tactically placed throughout the environment, and they're put in elevated positions so they can see elevated threats. So they're actually working in tandem with the ground team, and they call out the positions. They call out the threats. The ground team is what responds. They are active. They are seeing, "Open window!" They are seeing somebody moving. They are seeing somebody at a rooftop, and immediately somebody is responding. Your sniper team up top is the one who's gonna see the threat. They're gonna engage the threat, and they're gonna take that threat out. On a scale of one to 10, I would give this one a three.
"London Has Fallen" (2016)
Mike: Get down! [gunfire]
Evy: I have a really hard time with this clip, because there's so many things in here that are not true, which makes kind of the whole thing not real. The cars, the cars, the cars. The Beast. There's only one Beast in this. There's always gonna be two Beasts. And not only are you gonna have two ballistic limos, you're also gonna have multiple follow-up vehicles, which tend to be Suburban, which are also ballistic. Your emergency vehicle, which is showing up to save the day, that's going to be there. You're not gonna have this emergency vehicle showing up from nowhere. Now, here, we also see this internal ambush happening. In the inner circle of the president, although we have help, you have police help, they typically tend to be at the outskirts. In the inner circle of protection, it's always gonna be US Secret Service.
Mike: All right, back to the car!
Evy: So, here's why there's a technical error here. The building, we see the building, somebody closes the doors. That would never happen. There's always an agent there, and that agent's job is to make sure that those doors are open so that the president can run back in if he needs to. The other thing is, the vehicle door, that vehicle door will also stay open. So, basically, what you're ensuring is the president can either go into the car if he needs to, into the Beast, or back into the building. And here we see them stuck outside, which should absolutely never happen.
Mike: Move it! Down!
Evy: That is a ballistic vehicle. The Beast is called the Beast for a specific reason. The Beast is designed to take a beating and keep going. When you travel to another country, you make sure to do advance work. Advance work means sending agents out there in advance for weeks at a time sometimes, maybe even a month, to prepare for a visit. That means you work very closely with the local police department, the local law-enforcement entities, the local intelligence entities. It is the proactive element. It's everything you've done beforehand. So when I see this image, I have a problem. Where are my snipers? Should be snipers there. Where's the tactical team? There should be a tactical team there. Where are the long weapons? Secret Service shift agents also have long weapons. Where are those? I wanna give it a zero, but let's give it, I would give it a two.
"Guarding Tess" (1994)
Doug: This way, ma'am.
Evy: Nicolas Cage is actually trying to get Tess to get in through his door, the passenger-side door. What he's doing is correct. Typically, you will see the protectee going in through that specific door, the door behind the passenger. And we see the detail leader, which is Nicolas Cage in this part, sitting in the front seat. The door that's closest to her front door is the passenger-side door of the vehicle. A protectee needs to go in through the closest door. So what's the closest door to my front door? The passenger-side door. The issue here is you don't want the protectee coming out the front door, then walking around the vehicle to the other side. That's the issue there.
Doug: Ma'am, excuse me, but we are not leaving this house until you are seated properly with your seat belt firmly fastened.
Evy: You have to lay the law down, and I probably would have done what Nicolas Cage did.
[dramatic opera music]
Your duty is to physically protect them, but you're also there to shield them from many things. I definitely would not do what he did, kind of shaking her up like that, but I would nudge her. I would maybe draw the curtains down at the side and shield her. I would give it an eight.
"The Sentinel" (2006)
Pete: Get me a perimeter! 10 meters! 360 degrees!
Evy: Yeah, there's a lot of issues with this one. One is, how on earth did he end up in the middle there with his protectee? That's, I wanna say impossible, but that's highly, highly, highly unlikely. Why is there so much distance between the vehicles and them? The vehicles should actually pull up super close to them to shield them. My other thing is, we see the first lady in this movie jump out, which is played by Kim Basinger. She jumps out, and she's the middle of it. Where's her detail leader? Each protectee has a detail leader, meaning the president has their own person who protects them, and their shift, and then the first lady has her own person who protects her, her detail leader and her shift. So there's two protection elements, not one. So, we do see Michael Douglas call out formations or degrees or angles as to where he wants people to go. That's not something that we do. There are formations, and these are prechoreographed, predesigned formations that we use. And we know when and how to use them. And the detail leader can, on occasion, sporadically call them out. But when we are being attacked, everybody automatically knows where to go and everybody has their own position, depending on the type of attack. On a scale of one to 10, I would give it a three.
"Iron Man 3" (2013)
Ellis: Colonel Rhodes. Glad to see you can make it, son. I feel safer already.
Evy: One, why isn't he ID'd? I mean, make him lift up his mask. I don't know who he is. He's in this costume and you can't see him, No. 1. No. 2, nobody, as far as I'm concerned, gets on that plane with guns other than US Secret Service agents. You can sense sometimes that there's a problem without even being able to articulate that there's a problem. I will take a Secret Service agent any day over anything like that. Air Force One is actually the responsibility of the Air Force. The Air Force protects the plane, they maintain the plane, and when the president isn't on the plane, they actually do security for it. Members of the Air Force are allowed on the plane, members of the staff are allowed on the plane, and Secret Service agents are allowed on the plane. I have access to my weapons. We have access to all our weapons. I mean, we need our weapons on the plane. And we have other weapons aside from the ones that we personally carry that we haul on and off the plane.
Yes, you can use your weapon on the plane. However, you have to be very, very careful when you do use that weapon. You have to be super careful, super accurate, because if you miss, you could blow a hole into the side or a portion of the plane, which could then cause a serious problem to the aircraft itself. I'll give it a one. I only give it a one for just certain technical aspects as far as, like, the way the limo's pulling up, the way the plane is positioned.
"White House Down" (2013)
Sawyer: Gentlemen. What are you doing? Martin!
Walker: Consider this my resignation.
Evy: So, how suspicious should you be of your colleagues? I was in the US Secret Service for over 12 years. I was never suspicious of my colleagues, not in this level. To be a double agent, to get into the US Secret Service as a double agent, that is not an easy thing to do. So, here's the thing. There's a hiring process. A very, very involved hiring process. A hiring process with multiple layers of protection, of security, so that somebody like that cannot get in. They do such a deep dive and intensive background investigation on you. You're talking background checks, you're talking about interviewing people's families, their schools, going through their history, their previous jobs, their employers, polygraph tests. I used to give polygraphs and assess people on the veracity of the truthfulness of what they were saying in their application. To have an agent pull their gun out and shoot one of their brothers and sisters? I can't see that. I really can't. I have a bit of a hard time with this scene because we see Jamie Foxx, the president, going down into this bunker. No. 1, let me just say, Jamie Foxx, the president, is not the one clearing the way and getting access to the bunker. His team, his Secret Service agents, if there were to be a bunker, they're the ones clearing the way making sure he can get in. We're talking about the White House. We're talking about a lot of Secret Service agents. Not just agents, but uniform division. It is highly unlikely. Again, I never wanna say never, but if not impossible, where the whole team is taken out, and you have Channing Tatum, some member of the public, show up to end up protecting the president of the United States, probably impossible. As far as your protectee being able to protect themselves, their job is not to take self-defense. Their job is not to learn self-defense. And so that's why the Secret Service is there. You're not there to teach them self-defense. You're there to do the self-defense for them. I would give it a zero.
"The West Wing" (1999)
Agent: Mr. President.
Bartlet: What the hell?
Agent: Step away from the window, please.
Bartlet: OK, you know what, I'm gonna have to call you back.
Ron: Three shots were fired from the street, at least one of them hitting the press briefing room. We've got the suspect in custody as well as a high-powered rifle.
Bartlet: Was anyone in the room?
Evy: If there is any type of shooting at the White House, the last place I would want to go to to have a nice discussion with the president about the shooting is in the Oval Office. Oval Office is glass. There's doors. There's windows. It's open. It's exposed. Although it is protected, it is commonly known that it is not a truly secure area. When the president is at the Oval Office, there are always Secret Service agents. They are outside, and they are inside. I would give this a one on a scale of one to 10, just simply for the fact that you truly would never have a conversation with your protectee like that, when shots were just fired in such close proximity.
"First Kid" (1996)
Simms: I'm back, I'm back.
Woods: Back off, Simms! I don't got a problem with you.
Simms: You hurt this kid, you're gonna have problems with me. All right? You're gonna have problems with everybody. So why don't you just let the kid go?
Woods: Shut up!
Evy: I've actually protected children of a president, a specific child I was assigned to. Now, my first question is, where's everybody else? Where's the team? You're never alone with just the protectee. Even if it's a child, you have a team. I really would be mindful as to who I allow in close proximity of my protectee. Usually, people that they know very well are allowed access to them. People that are vetted are allowed access to them.
Simms: Now, look, calm down. The mall full of people, man. They're shopping, huh? Got women, got children. You don't wanna shoot anybody.
Evy: I might spend time distracting the person, but I'm not gonna sit and negotiate with you. I'll distract you and talk to you so that my teams can come in from behind and take you out, so that I can regain control of my protectee and keep my protectee safe. I might give this one a five.
"The Bodyguard" (1992)
So, we have Kevin Costner protecting a celebrity. This isn't uncommon, actually. A lot of Secret Service agents, when they retire, they typically end up going into some form of private security. He's on stage, but I'm trying to figure out exactly where he is, but typically he's supposed to be on stage, but in the back. Either stage right or stage left. The other issue is you have people on stage with her. Definitely a huge, huge no-no. There's nobody that's gonna be on stage, because, as we see, she gets ambushed. Again, you wanna make sure that when you're an agent, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, between you and your protectee.
Tony: I'll take care of this!
Frank: Not there!
Tony: Follow me!
Evy: Interestingly enough, where you see the other security person tell, wave him to come to him, your evacuation point should not be through the crowd. It should not be through where the front doors are. I want an exit that is away from everyone. I want an exit that nobody uses. The proper thing to do is, she's behind you, and so long as she can move. She's behind you. You're creating the shield, and you're using your hands and you're pushing people away, and then you're going out. You really don't want her or anything in your hands. That's why, even if you see bad weather outside and it's raining, you'll never see an agent holding an umbrella. You'll never see an agent even holding bags or anything in their hands. Hands are the most important thing. These are your weapons. This is your defense system. And if there's something in your hands, how can you actually fight and protect someone? This not being a true Secret Service protectee, I mean, I can see how this can happen in real life. I would give this a six. You'd wanna take the president to an undisclosed, safe location, keep him there for some time until things have settled, and then you can figure out what to do next.
Evy Poumpouras' new book "Becoming Bulletproof" is out now.
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