Threats follow White House to Hawaii
December 29th, 2010
04:47 PM ET

Threats follow White House to Hawaii

HONOLULU, Hawaii (CNN) - Every day before 8 a.m. Hawaiian time, President Obama gets an extensive briefing about all of the national security threats that have been bubbling around the world overnight while he's been vacationing.

An intelligence official heads over to Obama's vacation rental to deliver the Presidential Daily Brief, the very same classified briefing he receives every day back at the White House, and then a series of White House staffers provide him with extra information throughout the day via secure telephone, video and email lines.

"There's the PDB plus anything else the president needs to know about," Ben Rhodes, a senior National Security Council staffer who is traveling with Obama here in Hawaii, said in an interview.  It didn't quite go that smoothly last Christmas here in Hawaii.

White House aides confirmed a New York Times report that Obama was peeved in late 2009 when he had a hard time connecting securely with his top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, after a Nigerian national tried to launch a Christmas Day terror attack on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

As a result, Brennan made sure that for this trip to Hawaii Obama got an upgrade to his communications equipment at the beach house his family rents in Kailua, a tiny town on the eastern side of Oahu about a 30-minute drive from Waikiki Beach.

Meanwhile, White House aides have similar communications capabilities at the hotel they're sharing on Waikiki with the media and regular tourists who have no idea that one floor of the Westin Moana Surfrider resort here has several rooms with communications equipment that make them every bit as secure as the White House Situation Room back in Washington.

But the thick communications cables running down the hallway of the hotel, along with the large paper shredder in the middle of the corridor that's used to destroy sensitive documents, are dead giveaways that this is not just any hotel setup.

"It's a little unusual," Rhodes said of the paper shredder with a smile.

But this is serious business, and the White House wanted to make sure it was fully prepared on the road for any potential terror threats given the traditional heightened state of alert over holidays as well as the current travel threat in Europe.

In addition to the enhanced communications equipment, the White House also decided to send an extra White House staffer from Brennan's shop to Hawaii this year just in case.

So Rhodes has been joined on this trip by Nick Rasmussen, a counterterrorism adviser on the NSC with Brennan. Last year the NSC sent top aide Denis McDonough to Hawaii but he did not have a colleague from the counter terror shop along with him.

Each morning around 5:30 a.m. Hawaii time (10:30 a.m. ET), Rhodes and Rasmussen head to a secure room in the hotel to receive classified information and then confer with other officials in Washington or other cities, such as Brennan, McDonough, and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

As this is happening, Rhodes says an intelligence official is putting together the official PDB for the President's consumption a couple of hours later. The actual PDB is a highly classified document that is physically delivered to Obama.

"Some days he's briefed [by the intelligence official] and other days he reads it," said Rhodes, noting that on a day like Christmas day the president will just read the document, undoubtedly giving himself a little more family time on the holiday.

"The biggest product is in the morning," said Rhodes. "But he's updated by paper throughout the day on everything from the storms in the Northeast" to more sensitive matters like terror threats.

All of that would change, of course, if there was an actual terror attack and the traveling White House would have to spring into full action like last Christmas Day.

Rhodes noted that most of the secure equipment is held in reserve for the president.

"Most of it is there if it's necessary," he said. "A lot of it is 'in case' of a crisis situation."

White House aides have been bracing for working around the clock just like last year.

"So far so good," said Rhodes cautiously, literally knocking on a wood table so as not to jinx anything.


Topics: John Brennan • President Obama • Terror • The News

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soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. TOTUS 4 EVER

    It's good to see the ever vigilant MSM on the job as usual providing our part time president with plenty of political cover for his non-stop vacations, golf, concerts, sun bathing, and other extra-curricular activities (all at enormous taxpayer expense). When exactly were you going to "pivot", Mr. President? Oh, during your basketball game tomorrow!

    December 29, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • JB Cal

      Part time president? When did Bush get back into office?

      December 30, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • EMMA

      Can someone please remind TOTUS 4 EVER how many vacations, trips, parties, etc Bush took during his tenure! Thanks!!!! Sometimes people forget things when it's not in their favor. I understand! I block out things I don't want to remember either!!!!!

      December 30, 2010 at 11:33 am |
    • Matthew

      Obama's predecessor, GWB, visited Camp David 149 times for 487 days in his 8-year term. He also took 77 trips to his Texas ranch in that time, spending 490 days there. That's 977 days for those keeping score at home. 8 years = about 2,920 days, meaning he spent more than 1/3 of his presidency on vacation, by far the record for a sitting president. The runner up whose record Bush broke by a bit over 100 days? Ronald Reagan. Is ignorance truly bliss?

      December 30, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  2. LIZ CARTER in GEORGIA

    Didn't I tell you all that the PRESIDENT is always working, even when he's on vacation? You all was so envious and worried that he may have been having to good of a time. 'He needs to get back to work'! It seems his work comes right on with him. We wouldn't like that at all, would we? I don't think so! So stop hating on the man, and be thankful if you have a job to go to.

    December 29, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
  3. TOTAL FACTS

    He's not interested unless its bad for America. He wishes to destroy America.

    December 29, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
    • geecee

      Total Facts – Really?? Are you serious? Keep repeating the Fox Noise Channel banter (the Republican rightwing nutjob propaganda network with all its talking braindead heads). You wish the President was failing, don't you? Not going to happen. He's too smart for you haters. Remember, the expression"you are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts". You should take that a bit more literally and change your screen name.

      December 30, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
      • Jay in NC

        "He's too smart" Remember, the expression visited 57 states? Obama cracks me up, watching him read a speech looks like he is at a tennis match. Back and forth , back and forth. Never looks anyone in the eye. Stay in Hawaii, the country would be better off with out him.

        December 31, 2010 at 10:34 am |
    • KevK

      Yeah he’s a secret Muslin born in Indonesia sent here to America to destroy us from the inside he may also be the Anti-Christ.

      Were is the proof President Obama is purposely destroying the country? that’s right it's not TOTAL FACTS
      only your twisted opinion.

      December 31, 2010 at 7:15 am |
  4. Patcee

    If he's trying to destroy America, he's doing a lousy job. If you knew anything at all, you'd know his policies are working. As far as unemployment numbers, don't expect most of those lost jobs to come back. Companies are keeping their bottom line by overusing the employees they have left – and aren't planning on calling the laid off workers back any time soon. And if you were the owner of a company, would you really come back to the states and hire workers that cost triple what you pay in foreign countries? The problem that will have to be dealt with in the near future is what do we do with all the workers who won't be going back to a job.

    December 30, 2010 at 1:33 am |
    • TOTAL FACTS

      Have you had any physiotherapy lately. You are brain dead if you think his plans are working. Any idiot can spend 10.6 trillion dollars in 18 months, take million dollar vacations and have a big reared wife who has to have 23 aides at a cost of $3,500, 000 annually. Do you think this rational actions are a baryard bunch of idiots ahold of the taxpayers money. They better enjoy it. America made one mistake they will not make two.

      December 30, 2010 at 9:28 am |
      • Robert

        You just stated that the Obama Adminstration spent 10.6 trillion dollars in two years...why can't you make your case against the President without making up numbers to back your case...He's no different from any other President we've had in the Whitehouse...he's right on some issues...wrong on some others...what is it with some you far outthere people...what joke some of you are...not because you disagreed with the man, we all have a right to do that, but to keep making up numbers...is just crazy!

        December 30, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
      • niya

        All president wifes have aides. Look at how many Laura had and what it cost the tax payers. But because she is white she can get away with it. Stop drinking the fox kool-aid and put 2 and 2 together.

        December 30, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
      • KevK

        October 2008, due to increases in domestic and foreign spending, the national debt had risen to $11.3 trillion ,an increase of over 100% from the start of the year 2000 when the debt was $5.6 trillion.

        The deficit jumped from about $450 billion in 2008 to $1.4 trillion in 2009 it appears as if Obama’s policies have led to an explosion of debt but On October 1, 2008, nearly four months before Obama took office. The budget for the entire fiscal year 2009 was largely set in place while Bush was in the White House.

        Much of the costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not been funded through regular appropriations bills, but through emergency supplemental appropriations bills. As such, most of these expenses were not included in the budget deficit calculation prior to FY2010.

        The Obama Administration also made four significant accounting changes, to more accurately report the total spending by the Federal government. The four changes were:
        1) account for the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (”overseas military contingencies”) in the budget rather than through the use of “emergency” supplemental spending bills;
        2) assume the Alternative Minimum Tax will be indexed for inflation;
        3) account for the full costs of Medicare reimbursements; and
        4) anticipate the inevitable expenditures for natural disaster relief. These changes would make the debt over ten years look $2.7 trillion larger, but that debt was always there. It was just hidden.

        December 31, 2010 at 7:20 am |
    • Jay in NC

      Obama spent over $350,000 per job created or saved. No, we do not need any of his bright ideas.

      December 31, 2010 at 10:36 am |
  5. Living in America

    Wow it just amazes the hell outta me that all he has done folks are saying that he isn't working or he hasn'd done enough. He is damned if he do and damned if he doesn't. Mr. President every black person in America feels your pain. Patcee ask your local officals about jobs before you blame everything on the President. It's funny how the CEO's of the copanies are not in line getting unemployment along with their workers. They are yatching. I guess that is President Obama fault as well.

    December 30, 2010 at 7:35 am |
  6. Baby Boomer

    This President (just like former Presidents) is always working is some shape or form. Those of you who think he should never take a vacation have issues with him that have nothing to do with his policies or how much he's getting done. Especially since he's gotten more done in 2 years than the average President has gotten done in a full term. We see you haters for what you really are. Just wanted to make sure you know...

    December 30, 2010 at 8:20 am |
    • TOTAL FACTS

      As long as he has Bill Clinton to pull his moran butt out of the ditch you mean. Talk about haters. It is you the black man who are racial.

      December 30, 2010 at 9:30 am |
      • JB Cal

        What exactly was in his post that tipped you off that he was black?

        December 30, 2010 at 11:31 am |
      • Ch1108

        Whine, whine, whine. If you so dislike over how Pres. Obama is handling things, you DO have options before election day. Whining solves nothing – no matter which side of the political fence one is on.

        December 30, 2010 at 11:47 am |
      • Disgusted by "Americans"

        You assume the writer of the post is black... interesting. Tells something of you. I am not African American, and am truely grateful for a president who cares about all people. Even those of us who are white middle aged and make 200K a year care for the country in which everyone counts.

        December 30, 2010 at 11:51 am |
      • geecee

        You are in need of some serious mental health treatment. Are you just upset that Obama and Clinton get along and aren't trying to destroy each other like the Republicans do? Does that bother you? Awwwwww.

        December 30, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  7. Geoffrey Sperl

    Wow, Total Truthiness clearly has very little to do on a given morning but throw around insults. Glad to know the Internet lives!

    December 30, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  8. Joe

    And by 8:30 he's teeing off.

    December 30, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  9. Ahoi hoi

    If this guy "Total Facts " is in the majority with his beliefs, than America should be destroyed. If we could just get rid of the gods and the stupid inbred rednecks, we’d have a pretty good country. : ) What was GWB doing when we were attacked on 9/11? oh that’s right, he was reading to the little children. Isn’t that sweet? Not to mention a perfect alibi.............LOL

    December 30, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  10. EMMA

    Dudes!!!! LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!!! Last time I checked American's had choices. Sooooooo if you are just that unhappy, that angry, pissed off, want to go postal, etc MOVE TO ANOTHER COUNTRY!!!!!!!!

    December 30, 2010 at 11:36 am |
  11. Disgusted by "Americans"

    The fact that most of you cannot give your opinion with out name calling each other or the president (or is wife) is disgusting. This is the problem with America. We use to want to be respected and we showed respect for others. Now not only do children miss this but adults have lost it. Once you start name calling your opinion means very little.

    December 30, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  12. LIZ CARTER in GEORGIA

    geecee, I guess you can tell that 'TOTAL FACTS' is really 'TOTAL FACT-LESS'! Keep up the good work! I'm staying on the front line! I was told by@needaleader, that I needed to fight a little more quieter, though! LOL! It probably was true; I can do that! LOL!

    December 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  13. LIZ CARTER in GEORGIA

    @Baby Boomer, Thanks! You got that right! I'm a baby boomer/war-baby too! Let's stay on top of it, because we know what it is; We know what the REAL DEAL IS! @TOTAL FACTS; LOL! There you go again, going after OBAMAS' wife; the 'big reared wife' and your favorite fake gripe about her 23 aides! If you think what you said is profound, you're crazy! An idiot? LOL! An idiot couldn't 'pull that off', LOL! That takes a smart man, an intelligent man or woman! Hmmmm, YOU COULDN'T PULL IT OFF!! LOL

    December 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  14. Willy Brown

    Obambi makes Jimmy Carter look smart.

    December 30, 2010 at 11:03 pm |
  15. LIZ CARTER in GEORGIA

    @Willy Brown, Jimmy Carter was smart! I don't know why in the world you loons are going along with the 'systemic proverbial lynching' of that previous president! Where he went 'wrong', and the system is still making him suffer for it right now, is while he was in office, he promoted or elevated many blacks in the government; including CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER ANDREW YOUNG, AMBASSADOR. These are the same racists who are attacking OBAMA, but try to hide it under politics! JIMMY was smart enough to endorse BARACK!

    December 31, 2010 at 8:59 am |
  16. jpeagle

    Thanks CNN, for that mindblowing report. As if anyone with a brain thought that the President was sleeping late every day and not working. As if he gave a binder labeled "What the President does." to Joe Biden before he left and hasn't thought about the continental U.S. since. BTW, when did George Bush ever get this sugar-coated treatment when he went on vacay? All you in the MSM cared about was how many days he spent at Camp David. When did you ever tell us about how hard GWB was working and how many security briefs he got WHILE he was at Camp David? Oh yea, none, because you weren't trying to give him political cover like you are trying to do with this story on Obama.

    December 31, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  17. jpeagle

    Wait, let me go ahead and respond to myself before you do. I know, I know......I'm just upset because there's a black man in office, just like all other republicans are. I'm a racist, redneck, hillbilly because I don't like Obama's policies. Wait, no, I don't even care about his policies. It's just because he is black. That's why I don't like him. Yea, that's it.

    December 31, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  18. LIZ CARTER in GEORGIA

    @jpeagle; That's true! You said it, and we appreciate it! Honesty! You know what, THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE!

    January 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm |