I worked in the White House Situation Room for a couple of years under the Bush and Obama Administrations. Happy to answer what questions I can!

(Please keep in mind that I can't and won't answer questions about classified information or items involving security. I'll just skip right over them.)

My Proof: I have asked the Mods to verify me privately

Edit: good morning! I'm happy to continue answering questions today people have them. Don't forget to ask about my ghost story, and "Bill Clinton Heart of Darkness Tour."

Comments: 299 • Responses: 88  • Date: 

kbru42 karma

How did you and your colleagues go about dealing with bias when choosing news/information to present to the rest of the team? Was there a difference in preference of news source between the two administrations?

WHSRWizard75 karma

This might be my favorite question so far.

Let me state, unequivocally, that we were never pressured, under either Administration, to cull items based on the origin. Both President Bush and President Obama wanted to hear everything.

One of the items we would prepare each night was a "press summary" of the morning papers. Good analysis, regardless of its slant, made it in. Crap analysis did not. Our typical op-ed sources were the Wall Street Journal, WaPo, NYTimes, supplemented by smaller publications like the Washington Times or Boston Globe (among a dozen others).

For straight factual news, we used AP, Reuters, UPI, and AFP.

EDIT: I left out the best part!

There were 3 TVs in front of us on the watch floor. Our subtle joke was MSNBC was on the left screen, CNN in the center, and Fox News on the right.

kbru10 karma

Wow. That's pretty cool. I guess my next question would be, did negative press (hit pieces, blatant lies, etc.) bother anyone very much?

WHSRWizard37 karma

Not in the slightest. I mean, maybe in the Press Office? But otherwise, no. It certainly didn't bother either President. President Bush seemed to get a kick out of the more hysterical stuff.

WHSRWizard35 karma

I have an emergency at work (business owner now). Keep asking questions and I'll come back in a bit!

Dirty_Liberal_Hippie33 karma

Who was nicer/more friendly to staff? You know, the "little people", kitchen crew, cleaners..That kind of thing? They both seem like pretty cool people to me.

I met Bush years ago as a kid when he was Governor of Texas and he was super kind to me.

WHSRWizard83 karma

Both President Bush and President Obama (and Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Obama) were wonderful to the staff. President Bush was a bit more exacting in his standards, which made it a little more stressful because you didn't want to screw up, but it's not like he was unreasonable or anything. President Obama is definitely someone I would want to have a beer with.

ElurSeillocRedorb29 karma

I've read that Pres Bush is far more intelligent (like extremely smart) then is often perceived.

Is that true?

WHSRWizard57 karma

I believe so, yes. He knew exactly what was going on with matters of policy. I think his weakness was in trusting the people under him to be as smart and disciplined as he was. And that just wasn't always the case, especially early on (or so I'm told. I was there at the end.)

binksters26 karma

I’ve always imagined the secret service as super bad ass special agent type people. Can you tell us some interesting (but not classified) stories about your interactions with them?

WHSRWizard93 karma

Two quick stories:

1) When President Obama was elected, we started getting a ton of calls that were...less than complimentary about the fact that we had elected an African-American president. Usually it was just drunk rednecks calling in and yelling racial epithets, but occasionally they would go too far and actually threaten the President or the White House. When that happened, we would conference in the Secret Service, and I'm sure those callers received a nice personal visit from them.

2) One day while I was leaving the White House after my shift, a mentally ill person tried to grab the gun of a uniformed Secret Service officer on the South side. The gun went off in the scuffle. HOLY. CRAP. Within literal seconds, there were dozens of Secret Service on the scene. It was amazing to see.

WHSRWizard22 karma

The subject of Trump has come up a couple of times. I've trying to think of a concise way to describe what I see. Then it hit me:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-JA1ffd5Ms

Huck7711 karma

Ha! I just realized, YOU'RE THE DEEP STATE!!!1!!

WHSRWizard12 karma

Wow. I am. I'm the Deep State!!

Barrarrtenderr4 karma

Brilliant reply. P.s. thanks for doing this AMA, easily my favorite I have ever read. Thanks for your service, wish/hope we still have people like you at the WH.

WHSRWizard4 karma

Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying it. In my experience, 99% of the people there were good people. I hope that is still true.

notyourcall21 karma

Does a lot of the WH staff think they’re the shit because they work in the WH? Was the group of people that you interacted with on a day to day basis pretty wholesome or obnoxious assholes?

WHSRWizard81 karma

Really good question!

In general, I liked all of the people who worked there. In my experience, the more senior level people were the more down-to-earth ones. I mean, by the time you're in the top echelons of the staff, you have nothing left to prove to anyone.

The people who I had some trouble with were the younger people, especially in President Obama's administration. These were "kids" who hadn't really done anything more than have influential parents, and their kid got to pretend to be someone important for 6 months or a year.

In general, the longer someone's title ("Deputy Assistant Counselor for Intergovernmental Affairs and Oversight"), the more obnoxious they were because they were still climbing the ladder.

The only person I truly, truly disliked was Secretary Clinton's Chief of Staff, Cheryl Mills. She was one of those, "Do you know who I work for?" types. And she definitely wanted to speak to the manager.

tinkletwit31 karma

And she definitely wanted to speak to the manager.

She even has the haircut, lol.

slow_al_hoops8 karma

A favorite joke: Are there any actually babies named Karen in the world? Or do they all just spontaneously come into existence asking to speak to the manager?

WHSRWizard11 karma

You ever met a baby named Karen? I haven't. And yet...they are all around us.

haleme3 karma

I have heard bad things about Cheryl Mills on several occasions

WHSRWizard3 karma

Whatever you have heard is probably true. She is awful

flotador721 karma

Where you at the room during the Bin Laden operation?

If so, how was the ambient during it?

If not, well... hi!

WHSRWizard26 karma

Unfortunately, no. I can only imagine how tense it was, though.

deededback20 karma

How did members of the Bush administration speak about Iraq after it went to hell?

WHSRWizard53 karma

Really good question. Most of the people responsible for that debacle were long gone by the time I got there. The vice president, who was one of the head cheerleaders of the war, was basically exiled to Wyoming. I don't think I ever saw him in person.

There was an interesting amount of tension between the White House, who had a three-star general in charge of Iraq and Afghanistan, who was supposed to be liaising with four stars in the Pentagon and CENTCOM.

by the time I was there, the focus was on negotiating the status of forces agreement. Iraq was actually quite stable at that point.

One of the unsung heroes of this is a guy named Brett McGurk.

Brett was a phenomenally brilliant, knowledgeable, and tactful diplomat who more or less created political stability there with his bare hands. President Obama nominated him for the Ambassador role, but his nomination was, in my opinion, unfairly torpedoed by Sen. McCain.

I was in Iraq in 2004-2005, so it was interesting to see the policy side after doing the tip-of-the-spear side.

HouseOfAplesaus16 karma

Is Omarosa in trouble for recording in the situation room?

WHSRWizard37 karma

If it were just a legal question, she would be in deep, deep, DEEP shit. If I had done that, I would have lost my clearance and probably faced criminal charges. I don't know if it would have resulted in serious jail time, but definitely a conviction.

But obviously there is an element of politics around this that may change things.

McJumbos15 karma

what was your favorite memory of working there?

WHSRWizard80 karma

Vice President Biden received a phone call one day from his son Beaux (now deceased), who was stationed in Iraq. I got in touch with the Vice President, and we set up a phone for him in a room. I stayed in the room in case the connection was lost so that I could quickly get it connected again. In that time, it wasn't the Vice President: it was just a father talking with his son. I felt exceptionally privileged to be a part of that moment.

Beyond that, my favorite thing to do was to walk around the building in the middle of the night.

WarSport2238 karma

Beyond that, my favorite thing to do was to walk around the building in the middle of the night.

Can you please expound on this a little more?

What sort of thoughts did you have while walking around, what were you reflecting on, what made it so fun to walk around in the middle of the night?

(Yes I can guess at a few answers but just want to hear specifically from you!) :-)

WHSRWizard10 karma

My favorite place to walk around at nice was the first floor of the East Wing (the residence). This is where you have the Blue Room, the Red Room, etc. It's where the most famous artwork is, like the portrait of JFK, or the paintings of George and Martha Washington. It was so very quiet, you could really just think about where you were and how lucky you were to be there.

And while I wouldn't walk around there at night, during the day I liked to walk down to the Children's Garden. It was really endearing to see the hand prints of the children who had lived at the White House.

And I would occasionally take a few putts on the Eisenhower Putting Green. There was always a putter, a few wedges, and a handful of balls there.

amooseme15 karma

What do you think would surprise people the most about the White House and both presidents?

WHSRWizard62 karma

What do you think would surprise people the most about the White House

It's so small! The West Wing of the White House is really, really tiny considering what it does. I don't know how many square feet it is, but you can walk through every hallway and room in about 5 minutes.

both presidents?

How normal they are. That was one of my favorite things: seeing the humanity of the people in the office. They were both good, decent men who tried their best (to varying degrees of success) to make this country a better place.

coryrenton14 karma

how often do things like air conditioning/plumbing go on the fritz, and are there special white house technicians to deal with them or do you just call up the local plumber?

WHSRWizard53 karma

The White House has its own maintenance team. Never had a problem with the air conditioning or plumbing.

I did accidentally pull the handle off of the door leading out to the Rose Garden. The Secret Service officer and I looked at each other and decided to pretend that nothing had happened.

coryrenton11 karma

Did you get to keep the handle as a memento? How much fraternization is allowed with secret service or other staff with highly sensitive jobs?

WHSRWizard31 karma

I should have!

The Secret Service kind of keep to themselves. But if it was the middle of the night, they were just as bored as everyone else, so you'd chit-chat.

Everyone in general was pretty friendly.

spoopy__pants13 karma

What's the scariest/most tense situation you were involved in that you can tell us about?

How did you go about getting that job? Military or civilian? What kind of background do you have that qualifies a person for this position?

WHSRWizard23 karma

What's the scariest/most tense situation you were involved in that you can tell us about?

The scariest one I can't tell you about. But it was scary. Turned out to be nothing, but those couple of hours were tense.

How did you go about getting that job? Military or civilian? What kind of background do you have that qualifies a person for this position?

Probably 90% of the staff on the National Security Council are staffed with non-political appointments from throughout the intelligence and homeland security apparatus. My agency had an opening, and I applied. I was a civilian, but our team was a mix of civilian and military.

deacwdn2 karma

What is a scary situation you can tell us about?

WHSRWizard2 karma

There was only one situation that was truly alarming, but unfortunately I can't talk to you about it. Even when crisis stuff is going on, it was never really "scary."

The times I felt scared were all when I was in Iraq or Afghanistan.

cahaseler13 karma

Is it really an honor system to not bring in electronics or recording devices?

Did you ever hear of someone getting fired in there rather than a conference room or an office?

WHSRWizard50 karma

I think "honor system" undersells the importance of it, but no -- at least when I was there, nobody was getting frisked on their way in. That someone would purposefully carry an electronic device into a meeting and actually use it blows my mind.

As for getting fired, let's just say that staffing levels were more...stable while I was there. I never heard of anyone getting fired, period.

WarSport2231 karma

Interesting...

First, doesn't pretty much everyone who works in the White House have a security clearance of some sort?

And just because you have a clearance, that means you don't get frisked / scanned / pat down / walk through metal detector when going into the WH every day?

There must be some sort of security for everyone...God I hope so...

WHSRWizard7 karma

So I can't talk too much about the security. But, yes, everyone has some sort of background checked they have passed. But there are many different levels of clearance, depending on what you're doing and who you are interacting with.

AngriestManinWestTX13 karma

What were the First Ladies like?

Did you meet any other interesting people like VP Cheney or Robert Gates?

WHSRWizard53 karma

I love both Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Obama. Mrs. Bush brought us cookies one night.

My favorite memory of Mrs. Obama was watching her with the girls while the dog trainer was trying to get Bo to listen. Bo was having none of it. The girls loved it, Mrs. Obama just had her head back laughing...and the trainer looked like she wanted the earth to swallow her whole.

WHSRWizard30 karma

I missed the second half of your question.

Met a lot of famous people including Henry Kissinger, Will Smith, and Montel Williams -- easily the most random celebrity.

My favorite was the 2008 Ryder Cup team. I love golf, and my dad and I had actually gone to the Ryder Cup that year. When I found out they were coming, I took advantage of my badge that let me go anywhere and hung out with them in the Roosevelt Room while they waited to meet President Bush. Boo Weekly took a picture of me and Paul Azinger holding the trophy.

kevinrk2312 karma

How far ahead of the news cycle is your intel? How often is the news completely misrepresentative of what’s going on simply because they don’t have the full picture that you guys might have?

I hope these make sense.

WHSRWizard34 karma

News is way, way ahead of the intel. We would watch the news for current events, not the intel feeds.

NineLineWV12 karma

How often did you have to remind non-career types about following comsec (communication security) rules? How difficult were those conversations?

WHSRWizard23 karma

ALL THE FREAKING TIME. It never cease to surprise me some of the things that got set on open lines. Especially since my background was in counterintelligence.

The first time you have to correct someone is a little awkward. But after the fifth or sixth time it's no big deal.

And even though I say we had to do it all the time, that's just specifically for the so-called amateurs. Most of the staff came from law enforcement, the intelligence Community, or the military and so were at least passingly familiar with comsec and opsec rules

end_amd_abuse2 karma

What were the most common offenses?

WHSRWizard9 karma

Presidential movement. "The President is going to be going from here to here at this time."

Celestial-Joy10 karma

What did you think of the Vice Presidents?

WHSRWizard49 karma

Vice President Cheney had been pretty much exiled to Wyoming by the time I got there. I never interacted with him.

Vice President Biden was great. It would take him 30 minutes to get to his office because he would stop and talk to everyone. He's a great guy, funny as hell

McJumbos10 karma

what is the biggest misconception about your job?

WHSRWizard36 karma

Excellent question!

First and foremost, it is not like the movies. There are no superheroes or Jack Bauer's. We were just people trying to do our very best in service to the Office of the President.

And I suspect most people would describe it as "exciting." That is usually not the case. I would describe it as hours and hours of boredom, punctuated by minutes of terror. A lot of it was just sitting there, waiting for bad things to happen, and then reacting to it as it unfolded.

McJumbos6 karma

I can't imagine dealing with a situation like jack bauer every day for the whole year! Anyways, what did you do to pass the time?

WHSRWizard42 karma

The day shifts went by in a flash because there was always something going on while the staff was there.

At night, there was a lot of reading and compiling of reports. But when it was just about killing time, I learned to love baseball again (I did as a kid, but then stopped following it). I grew up in Los Angeles, and I was able to watch a lot of Dodgers games on the local broadcast, which meant getting to listen to Vin Scully. It was awesome.

I also read a lot of books. Some people would work on getting a degree online or that kind of thing.

One night, we wanted to see if we could recite every single line of "Top Gun" accurately. With 7 or so of us there, I'm pleased to say that I think we probably got 98% of it correct.

mattkin223 karma

Did you get to attend Vin Scully getting his Medal of Honor?

Hello from a fellow Dodger fan :)

WHSRWizard3 karma

His Presidential Medal of Freedom? No, I was long gone by then.

Listening to the call of Kirk Gibson still gives me chills:

mattkin223 karma

Ah sorry Medal of Freedom, yes.

I find myself playing that call on repeat from time to time, so good. Then again I could listen to Vin reading this grocery list and it has the same effect XD

Been following the boys since? What are your thoughts on Joe & Orel?

WHSRWizard2 karma

I love that clip. And of course his goodbye speech was just 100% pure class.

I've followed the Dodgers off and on. Last year was really disappointing, since at one point we looked like the best team in the history of Major League Baseball. I haven't heard Orel and Joe call a game (I live out on the East Coast still)

mattkin222 karma

Yeah, last year was a tough pill to swallow. Still is. I knew while watching them we'd probably never experience another run like it for a while if ever again, this year just confirms.

If you're able I recommend trying to catch a game with Joe and Orel, maybe a day game or east coast game? They are definitely not even comparable to Vin, but they are great in their own way, if anyone had to replace Vin I'm glad it's them. Check out /r/MLBStreams during gameday and you'll be able to find an HD stream without issue.

WHSRWizard2 karma

Cheers!

Go Dodgers!

remedialrob5 karma

I would describe it as hours and hours of boredom, punctuated by minutes of terror. A lot of it was just sitting there, waiting for bad things to happen, and then reacting to it as it unfolded.

So pretty much every Law Enforcement, Military or Security job ever.

WHSRWizard3 karma

Exactly!

raytrace7510 karma

Was Bush really like that or was it an act?

WHSRWizard53 karma

The public caricature of Bush as a spoiled, good-for-nothing idiot is not very accurate. He was very well versed in policy and was absolutely phenomenal at forging relationships. If I had to wager a guess, I would say that most foreign leaders personally liked President Bush more than President Obama, even if they were more inclined to disagree with him on policy matters.

AngriestManinWestTX21 karma

I've heard too that Bush was incredibly witty. The dude knew what to say and how to say it for the best (or funniest effect).

I still wanna have a beer with him.

WHSRWizard39 karma

He doesn't drink, so maybe a Diet Coke?

But yes, he was funny as hell. World leaders loved him. I'm pretty sure Angela Merkel had a crush on him.

coryrenton9 karma

How much would things like big sporting events or such affect productivity? Were there things like office pools and the like?

WHSRWizard23 karma

Zero. I was on duty during one of the Super Bowls. We got pizza and wings and watch the game in the background, but we still had to work.

I think we did a March Madness pool but I don't remember. If we did, I definitely didn't win

Hubble-Gum9 karma

What is your favourite memory from that time?

WHSRWizard96 karma

I mentioned it down below, but it would be being party to a very private moment between Vice President Biden and his son.

A close second happened shortly after President Obama was inaugurated. He had not been at the White House much because he was out meeting with people and going to parties and doing the kinds of things you would expect him to do to thank his supporters. He was having dinner one night when the phone rang in the sit room.

I picked it up and it was the director of the CIA. He said he needed to talk to the president immediately. Now there are three people who can say that and get through. The first is the first lady. The second is the National Security advisor. And the third is the director of the CIA.

I told the director to wait a minute while I found the president. He was over in the residence with some friends. I got them on the phone and said that the CIA director needed to talk with him immediately on a secure line.

The President pause for a second and said, " a secure line. Where do I find one of those?"

I told him that there was one in his bedroom and in his private study.

The president paused for another moment and then said," my bedroom? Where is THAT?"

And I found myself in the bizarre place of telling the president of the United States how to get to his bedroom

Hubble-Gum11 karma

Sorry, I didn't notice there was the same question.

WHSRWizard30 karma

No worries! It gave me a chance to tell another story

Huck7710 karma

Did you manage not to laugh?

WHSRWizard34 karma

Absolutely not :)

And neither did the President

Huck7717 karma

I can just imagine him laughing as he said it.

WHSRWizard46 karma

He is a very kind, warm man. He and Mrs. Obama are such wonderful role models for married people and parents.

kousamashi9 karma

What made you leave or was it another job opportunity?

Opinion on Trump?

WHSRWizard54 karma

What made you leave or was it another job opportunity?

My assignment was over -- it was a 2-year tour. And honestly, that's more than enough.

Opinion on Trump?

So I have a lot of opinions, but I'll limit it to the foreign policy side. On the one hand, I applaud him for trying to get the North Korea issue resolved. He inherited 40 years of bad policy, and this was in my opinion worth a shot.

As for just about everything else: Good Lord. I think he confuses friends with enemies, or at the very least treats them just the same.

cahaseler9 karma

What did your typical day look like? What does a duty officer actually do?

WHSRWizard23 karma

We worked 12-hour shifts. Basically, our job was to keep the President and senior White House staff up to date on whatever was going on in the world. The best analogy I have heard is that if the rest of the Intelligence Community is CNN, the Situation Room is the little ticker going across the bottom of the screen.

During day shifts, a lot of time was spent letting staff know what was going on or coordinating phone calls. During the evening, we would compile information so that the staff would have the latest intel to read over their morning coffee.

kevinrk238 karma

Hey Mr. Throwaway it’s me ;)

Not sure how to ask this without getting put on a list, I know the Situation Room is underground, but what’s the process of getting there? How often is it used?

Thanks for doing this!

WHSRWizard24 karma

The Situation Room is in the basement of the West Wing. You go past lots of people with lots of guns. It is staffed 24/7/365. During the day, it is used almost continuously by staff.

xjric8 karma

What Hollywood depiction of the Sit Room is most accurate?..The West Wing, House of Cards, Designated Survivor, etc)

WHSRWizard22 karma

I never got into House of Cards, so I can't comment on how accurate that was.

Designated Survivor is easily the most unrealistic. It's nothing at all like that.

The West Wing did a pretty good job of depicting the White House overall (except there is no "bull pen" and there isn't that much foot traffic), and the depiction of the Sit Room was pretty good.

I don't recall any scenes in Homeland where they were in the Sit Room, but I will say they paid excellent attention to detail in that one. They even had the little stickers for classification right.

ChangeMyDespair2 karma

How does Madam Secretary rate for realism?

WHSRWizard3 karma

Never watched it

Huck777 karma

I interacted with a dude who interacted with Obama and Trump. I always wanted to ask, but it was a professional setting, so I didn't. Generally how do people feel when asked that stuff in your opinion?

WHSRWizard34 karma

I think we like to talk about our experience because it's Unique. I'm a little hesitant to criticize anyone in the office, including Trump, because if there is one thing that I took away from that job it's that the world is an amazingly complex place. I think it's really easy to be a Monday Morning Quarterback.

Huck7710 karma

I appreciate that, but the complete abdication of decorum and decency that Trump embodies is awful. His conduct is unbecoming the office.

WHSRWizard23 karma

I absolutely agree. Don't get me wrong: I'm no fan.

McJumbos7 karma

what was going through your mind when you were first offered the position? Did you have to apply for it, or did they seek you out?

WHSRWizard20 karma

what was going through your mind when you were first offered the position?

Holy crap, this is sooooo cool

McJumbos4 karma

did you ever think... this has to be a hoax?

WHSRWizard19 karma

Haha, no. I knew the person who I was replacing, so I knew it was legit.

That being said, you never quite get used to walking into the White House. There were many times that I would look around and just be amazed at where I actually was. That feeling never got old.

designer_of_drugs2 karma

it's reassuring to know there are people like you in these roles. that you were able to not lose site of the fortune of your situation and remain grateful speaks highly of your character.

WHSRWizard2 karma

That is very kind of you to say -- thank you

TheEggplantRunner6 karma

What put you on the path to getting/landing this job?

WHSRWizard17 karma

I started working in the intelligence Community right after I graduated from college. I had a degree in Arabic and international relations. It was right after we invaded Iraq, so I pretty much had my choice of jobs. I chose the agency I did because it was going to let me deployed overseas with both Special Forces and clandestine operations.

I then ran a program for a couple of years, and after I was tired of doing that I saw this opportunity so I applied for it.

themaster10066 karma

Did you enjoy your experiences in the clandestine operations?

WHSRWizard34 karma

Loved it. I did all of my stuff in Afghanistan back when it was relatively safe and had a very permissive operating environment. We could go anywhere and do whatever we wanted. I rarely even wore body armor.

In fact, the way I knew it had all gone to shit was when a Lebanese restaurant in downtown Kabul was bombed. We used to go there all the time. It was like a scene out of "Casa Blanca." There were intelligence officers from Russia, Iran, China, Western Europe...all just sitting there, having a meal, pretending we were normal people for a few hours. Nobody ever talked about work and you'd just eat, drink, and be merry. It was probably the safest place in Kabul because if it were attacked, you were attacking EVERYONE.

Then Afghanistan fell apart. That restaurant being bombed was a real sobering moment for anyone who knew the area.

TimeVortex1616 karma

Do you believe President Obama's AMA to really be his own, or do you think one of his staff members did it?

WHSRWizard45 karma

I don't know for sure, but I bet he did it. He had staff nearby I assume, which is a good thing since as a general principle I don't think the president of the United States should have unfettered access to social media. Ahem.

Skyprotocol6 karma

What is the Bill Clinton heart of darkness tour?

How did you feel about that one secret service agent that said she won't take a bullet for Trump?

WHSRWizard40 karma

What is the Bill Clinton heart of darkness tour?

Those night shifts can really, really drag on. If nothing is going on, you're just sitting there staring at a TV.

One night it was really slow, and I got thinking: What are all the places in the West Wing that Bill Clinton "did not have sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky?

Thus was born the Bill Clinton Heart of Darkness Tour.

I printed out a copy of the Ken Starr Report and proceeded to walk around the White House visiting each, uh, site.

So what is absolutely crazy about this is, as I mentioned below, the West Wing is really, really tiny. And some of the places that they did things -- like in the hallway between the Oval Office and his private study -- are literally 2-3 feet wide/long and are separated from the main hallway by a single door. There are people EVERYWHERE within literal feet of where this stuff was taking place.

Before I started working there, I kind of figured that these things were happening somewhere relatively private. I could not have been more wrong. Honestly, the whole thing takes on a level of depravity when you see where this stuff actually happened. It was messed up, man.

WHSRWizard12 karma

How did you feel about that one secret service agent that said she won't take a bullet for Trump?

I'm not familiar with the story. But if you aren't willing to take a bullet for the person who is the President, I think you need to request a transfer from the Presidential Protection Detail and go do money laundering stuff instead.

Noozled6 karma

What is the most intense situation you have ever been involved in?

WHSRWizard19 karma

The night Russia invaded Georgia. It kind of came out of nowhere, and next thing I knew I had the director of the CIA standing in front of me asking what was going on.

But really the most intense situations happened when I was in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Noozled7 karma

Wow. When the director of the CIA came to you, how did you respond?

WHSRWizard20 karma

Answered the man's questions as best I could :)

GuyBeinADude5 karma

What was your favorite interaction with President Bush? I think he was far more intelligent than he got credit for. Also he threw maybe the best ceremonial first pitch in baseball history. (Game 3 of 2001 World Series)

WHSRWizard17 karma

At the White House Christmas party he was extremely generous with his time. He completely ignored me and instead fawned over my wife. I stood there chitchatting with Mrs. Bush.

One time I screwed up and he chewed my ass. It's an interesting feeling to be, uh, critiqued by the President of the United States. No other ass chewings ever have the same punch after that.

Something that still makes me chuckle to this day is his relationship with his former national security adviser Stephen Hadley. Here is a picture of Stephen Hadley. Every single stereotype that just jumped in your mind is 100% correct.

You may not know this about President Bush, but there is nothing the man loves more than clearing brush down on his ranch. When he would go down to Crawford, the staff was expected to take part in this fun activity. I think he did it just to screw with him.

Whenever they would go down to Crawford, Mr. Hadley would come in and beg us to disturb him with anything, anything at all, that needed his attention no matter how small. Because that way he could get out of clearing brush and go back to the house, which is where he wanted to be in the first place

saturfia4 karma

I love the Bush nicknames for his staff, hilarious legacy.

WHSRWizard6 karma

For those who don't know, President Bush came up with AMAZING nicknames for people. Here are some of them:

Tony Blair: "Landslide"

Silvio Berlusconi: "Shoes"

Dick Cheney: "Big Time"

Donald Rumsfeld: "Rummy"

Israel Hernandez (special assistant): "Altoid Boy" (because he gave the President breath mints.)

Colin Powell: "The World's Greatest Hero"

Paul O'Neil (Treasury Secretary): "Big O!"

Dan Bartlet (Deputy Chief of Staff): "Danny Boy" and "Captain Dan"

voyeur3245 karma

You mentioned in another answer you studied Arabic. Did you interpret for important personages? What's a really good book in Arabic you think should be translated into English?

WHSRWizard15 karma

My Arabic was phenomenally terrible. I passed my classes because of kind and generous professors, alhamdulillah.

The only time I used it was in Iraq when I ran a team of linguists doing document exploitation (i.e. digging through piles of paper) in support of Special Forces operations.

The White House maintains a staff of translators, via State.

My knowledge of Arab literature is even worse than my knowledge of the language.

WarSport2235 karma

When a VIP calls our government for any reason, how is their identity verified? What is the process?

For example, if someone calls claiming to be a representative of the President of France, how do you know they are who they say?

For countries where we already have a relationship, I imagine it's very different than for countries, organizations, or people where there's little to no existing relationship.

WHSRWizard9 karma

When a VIP calls our government for any reason, how is their identity verified? What is the process?

Great question! Pranks do happen. I wasn't on duty for this one.

99 times out of 100, a foreign leader/VIP doesn't just call up. It is arranged ahead of time by lower-level staff, so you know it's coming.

A funny thing did happen to me one time, though: former Vice President Walter Mondale called in to speak with someone. Now, I figured that Mondale had been dead for years, so I was skeptical. So I kind of put him through the ringer, when one of my teammates starts waving at me, pointing at Mondale's Wikipedia page showing he was, in fact, very much alive.

I apologized and Vice President Mondale had a laugh about it. He could not have been more gracious.

Skyprotocol4 karma

Was there ever a Stargate program?

WHSRWizard11 karma

Yes, it was run jointly by the CIA and the Defense intelligence agency. As I recall it was declassified in the 90s

Skyprotocol2 karma

You, sir, have done your country, no your planet a great service. Thank you. Tek ma te

WHSRWizard9 karma

Oh, THAT Stargate. Yeah, that's a real thing.

Skyprotocol4 karma

I just Googled the other stargate project, what were they thinking? What a waste of resources.

What is the Bill Clinton heart of darkness tour?

How did you feel about that one secret service agent that said she won't take a bullet for Trump?

Edit: removed irrelevant question.

WHSRWizard8 karma

Can you move those questions into top-level comments, please? Easier for people to see

justjeffo74 karma

What is the name of the agency that hired you for this job? (If you cannot tell us, I understand)

WHSRWizard7 karma

I'm going to keep my particular agency quiet, but the situation room is staffed by people from the CIA, State Department, the military, and various agencies under the Department of Homeland Security. Each team has a mix of these agencies and ideally have a mix of different areas of expertise. For example, I was the Middle East guy on my team.

MCPatar4 karma

Ghost story? Can you elaborate?

WHSRWizard20 karma

I'm glad you asked!

It's a pretty well-known fact that the White House is haunted. And I know someone who has seen an actual ghost there. No bamboozle.

There is a hallway that I informally called the "Lincoln Hallway." I'm not sure what its official name is. But I called it that because it has (had?) lots of Lincoln-related stuff like this painting of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, a bust of Lincoln, and a couple of other things.

It's about 3am, and my team chief says he is going to go walk around and stretch his legs.

He leaves and comes back about 10 minutes later, his face completely drained of all color.

Before I go on, it is important to establish something: this guy had precisely ZERO sense of humor. None. He had gone to a service academy and was as uptight and by-the-book as they come. (Don't get me wrong, he's a good dude -- but extremely serious.)

We see him and we're like, "Hey man, you OK? What happened?" And he just keeps saying, "I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to talk about it."

At this point we're concerned. Like, was he sexually harassed by a Secret Service agent or something? None of this is making any sense. None at all.

About an hour goes by and he finally says, "I saw something." We waited and he said, "I was walking in the hallway, you know, where all the stuff of Lincoln is. And I saw someone."

OK...

"I think it was a kid. He was only probably about 4 feet tall, and he was just there in the hallway, looking at that bust of Lincoln."

We asked what happened then, and he said he kind of looked around to make sure he wasn't crazy, and when he looked back, the boy was gone.

Willie Lincoln was the third son of Abraham Lincoln. He died in the White House in 1862.

C_Jay_Fla4 karma

How often were there standoffs between different ideas on proceeding, or was everyone in the SR usually on the same page going into the meeting? Was there a difference between the two administrations in how they approached the same issues in the room? And what was the handover from Bush to Obama like?

WHSRWizard44 karma

How often were there standoffs between different ideas on proceeding, or was everyone in the SR usually on the same page going into the meeting?

Our job was simply to report the news. We did not get into ideological or policy discussions. Our job was to make sure that the staff had the absolute best possible information available.

Was there a difference between the two administrations in how they approached the same issues in the room?

Very different styles. President Bush was much more structured, whereas President Obama was a bit more free-wheeling. But overall I think both administrations had staff who felt trusted and were willing to say what they really thought -- and Presidents who wanted to hear honest opinions.

And what was the handover from Bush to Obama like?

As you might know, the transition from Clinton to Bush was a disaster. The outgoing staff kind of vandalized the place.

President Bush was going to have NONE of that. As soon as the election was over, the Chief of Staff sent out a directive that made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that this was going to be the best, most seamless transition in the history of the Republic.

And I think it was. Both the outgoing and incoming staffs worked very well together to have a smooth transition.

rhetoricetc3 karma

What news sources do you find credible, having had so much experience distilling their stories?

WHSRWizard20 karma

For just straight factual news, I think Reuters and AP do a good job. The reason they rarely "break" news is because they seem to really try to nail down the story. Their credibility is gone if they get something wrong, whereas Deadspin just moves on to the next thing.

The OpEds in the NYTimes, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal are typically of pretty high caliber, even if you disagree with them.

On TV, I tend to watch CNN. I'm not a fan of MSNBC because of a clear ideological slant, and I think Fox News is unmitigated garbage.

pigeonshark3 karma

Did you ever do some silly shit while on the job? Like tiny moments of stupidity when nobody was looking kind of stuff? Did either president have weird stupid moments?

WHSRWizard10 karma

I just thought of something stupid:

Probably on my second or third day on the job, the phone rings. I pick it up. Here is a transcript:

WHSRWizard: Good afternoon, White House.

Gravely Voice on the Other End: This is Paul O'Neil. Can I speak with the Chief of Staff.

WHSRWizard (having no idea who Paul O'Neil is): I can check with his office, sir. From where are you calling?

O'Neil: Well, the Treasury Department.

WHSRWizard: Yes, sir. What office?

O'Neil: I'm the Secretary of the Treasury, son.

WHSRWizard: Uh, of course sir. One moment.

WHSRWizard7 karma

I am sure I did something stupid at some point. There is a 100% chance of that. I can't remember anything off the top of my head though.

My favorite Presidential weird/stupid movement is when I had to tell President Obama how to get to his own bedroom (see below: https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/97uww5/iama_former_duty_officer_in_the_white_house/e4bdpiv/)

SirSmeagol853 karma

Did you observe how the presidents managed the amount of stress they were under? How did they blow off steam when dealing with such a massive amount of responsibilities?

WHSRWizard10 karma

Great question!

Something people may not realize is that the President makes no small decisions. If it has reached his desk, it is a major decision. It is probably going to affect the lives of millions of people. And he does that day in, day out. It's exceedingly stressful.

President Bush was extremely disciplined. He woke up early, worked out (and worked out hard -- the man was in incredible shape), and was in the Oval by about 5:30am. He would have breakfast with Mrs. Bush whenever possible, and then work until probably 6:00pm. At that point he would go back to the Residence and he was done until the morning unless there was some crisis. He did a really great job of separating his time so that he had plenty of down-time to relax and rejuvenate. And as I mentioned down below somewhere, his favorite activity was clearing brush on his ranch. He is also an avid golfer, although he did not play during his time in office because he didn't think it was appropriate for him to do so.

President Obama, of course, loves basketball. And he is decidedly OK at it. But when he played, he played hard. His "body man" (chief personal aide), Reggie Love, was a point guard at Duke. And the only way you got an invite to play was if you knew what you were doing. (SPOILER ALERT in Ron Howard's voice: u/WHSRWizard was never invited to play.) President Obama was also fiercely devoted to Mrs. Obama and spending time with the kids. Honestly, he's probably the best father I've ever seen.

Fun fact about the White House: it is basically impossible to walk from the Oval Office to the Residence without going outside. You have to go through the East Colonade in order to get to the Residence. I think that creates an important psychological block for the President so that they can "leave work."

wildronin11293 karma

You said you worked during the Bush admin. What was the White House and your job like on 9/11? What were the first few minutes like?

WHSRWizard17 karma

As mentioned below, I wasn't there yet and was still in school. But I did go back and read the logs from that day and it sounds like just mass confusion. As you can imagine, there are also a bunch of emergency protocols that went into place.

Something else that I think is worth mentioning: some of President Bush's detractors criticize him for continuing to read to those kids after the second plane hit. The notion that he should have jumped up and magically done something is absolutely preposterous. The military had plenty of authority to spring into action without a presidential directive.

the_drew3 karma

No question, I just want to say this is my favourite AMA. Please wrote a book because I'd love to hear more from you. And good luck with pregnancy #4 :-)

Oh I'm required to ask a question: Do you want a boy or a girl?

WHSRWizard6 karma

Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying it.

Of course all I want is a happy, healthy baby. But we know for a fact that it is a girl, due next month. I've got 1 boy and will have 3 girls. Lots of Daddy-Daughter Dances!

Pohlss3 karma

Have you transitioned any of that information into your life AFTER your time in the WH.

In other words, what skills did you hone while working there? Also hello o/

WHSRWizard12 karma

Hello!

I do something completely different now. My wife and I are business owners and are busy raising our three, soon to be four, kids.

Probably the best skill that I honed there was learning to synthesize enormous amounts of data into quick easy-to-understand pieces. Honestly, everything is done like a ELI5 because there is just so much information that needs to be conveyed

YCIcwGe24kLKzVHDdCJo2 karma

You don't have to answer this if it's classified, but what are the opinions or thoughts on Alien life of the people that you worked with? If they ever said anything about it that wasn't classified of course.

WHSRWizard6 karma

Haha, I'm not sure it ever came up. Personally, I suspect there is life out there somewhere.

We would often get reams and reams of paper faxed in from Nutjobs proving the existence of alien life. Usually they were pages of symbols for bizarre seemingly random mathematical equations

McJumbos2 karma

what was your favorite item to order and eat at the white house?

WHSRWizard11 karma

Now we are getting to the important stuff.

There was this club sandwich that was amazing. The french fries were pretty good too. And there was something about the crushed ice that made soft drinks taste unbelievably good. Whatever the consistency of the ice was or something would just make a Diet Coke taste phenomenal.

I usually brought my own food though. I quickly figured out that you had to be very careful about watching what you ate and do it very purposefully, otherwise you would just sit there constantly snacking for 12 hours.

Valleyofthekings2 karma

May I ask why you decided to leave?

WHSRWizard10 karma

Everyone works for 2 years, and every once in awhile someone sticks around for a third.

but honestly the schedule is just terrible. We would rotate night and day shifts, and it really screwed with your body. There were a couple of times in the winter where I would walk out and it would be 5 and I had no idea if it was 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. because it was dark either way

So by the time my time was up, I was ready to be done.

johhnytexas1 karma

What is your opinion on Snowden? Do you think he was a traitor or martyr? I have always been curious what someone who worked in the white house at the time thought about this.

WHSRWizard3 karma

Traitor.

There are policies and procedures in place for raising concerns about programs that jeopardize civil liberties. I know he says he contacted "10 officials," but I'm skeptical of that claim.

In fairness, I don't know a lot of the details, so take my opinion with a bag of salt.

jeremiah11191 karma

You said your job wasn't like the movies, but was it more in line with the West Wing?

WHSRWizard2 karma

The West Wing was probably the most realistic depiction I've seen of life in the White House. The only things that stuck out me is being an accurate where there is no Bullpen, and there is also not nearly as much foot traffic or kind of snappy chit-chat. The American President is also a pretty good depiction, which isn't surprising because that was also done by Aaron Sorkin

Designated Survivor is easily the worst.

Historian10661 karma

In general, what’s your opinion of the current president? How does he compare to the two presidents you previously worked for? Does anything stand out to you as being different about him or his administration?

WHSRWizard9 karma

what’s your opinion of the current president?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Emdzsz_XvfA

How does he compare to the two presidents you previously worked for?

I have a lot of respect and admiration for President Bush and President Obama. I think they both tried their very hardest, every single day, to make this country a better place. The results may have varied, but I never questioned their integrity or character.

I do not feel that way about the current incumbent.

Does anything stand out to you as being different about him or his administration?

The staff turmoil is indicative of a completely dysfunctional organization. And the unnecessary baiting of our allies is just mind-boggling.

And someone needs to put down the Twitter.