How Reporters Handled Secrecy Around Bush’s Iraq Trip

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By: E&P Staff

President Bush’s brief visit to Iraq today surprised nearly everyone, except for a few reporters invited to come along (and their spouses and one editor at each of their papers).
The published a pool report today.

Here is an excerpt covering the early part of the experience.

We were told to report for pool duty not Monday morning, as had been publicly announced, but Sunday between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. Reporters were given maps of Andrews with our rallying point highlighted. We were told to come in through the main gate, not the usual Virginia Gate entrance. We also were told to tell only one editor at our respective news organizations, and not to do so by cell phone. Also, that editor had to be asked to not tell anyone. In addition, we were told that we could tell spouses about the impending trip, but no one else.

A manifest with the names of those on the trip was with a security aide at the gate, and reporters and staff drove their cars to a parking lot adjacent to some tennis courts on the base, not far from the usual press lot at the air terminal. There, Secret Service agents swept everything we carried and held on to our luggage, computers and other electronic devices.

We then boarded two passenger vans and were driven to the spotless hangar that houses the two planes that usually serve as Air Force One. The steps were down on one of the planes and we got on board in time to see our bags and other belongings coming up the conveyor belt onto the plane. The shades were drawn on the plane?s windows in the press compartment and we sat and waited until we felt the plane being pushed back at 7:47 p.m., about an hour after we had boarded. By 8:05 p.m., we were wheels up.

Johndroe told us that POTUS slipped out of a side door of the White House and then off the White House grounds by car ? we don?t now whether it was his limo ? and made his way to Andrews. Only one other car accompanied him, not his usual motorcade, in an effort to keep the subterfuge going. (Johndroe also added when asked that Mrs. Bush?s pinched nerve, which was cited as the reason for her not making the trip, is real.)

About a half hour into the flight, Johndroe came back to tell us we could go down to the baggage area and retrieve our computers and overnight bags, but he asked us to disable the wireless function while we were in flight, on the off chance that the signals could be tracked. Meanwhile, the agents held onto our BlackBerrys and phones, which we were returned to us a half hour before we landed.

About an hour after that, a casually dressed Stephen Hadley came back to gaggle, joined by war czar Gen. Douglas Lute, who wore his military fatigues, Perino, and counselor Ed Gillespie.

The White House pushed back on the idea that the whole trip was a publicity stunt. Instead, they said that POTUS wanted to meet in person with not only his commanders and Iraq ambassador, but also al-Maliki and local Sunni leaders, whom he wanted to nudge toward more political reconciliation.

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