Here come the men in black


I was super excited about US president Barack Obama’s visit to South Africa last weekend. Not because of his agenda, but simply because I’ve always been fascinated with the US Secret Service. I LOVE the ‘‘curly-earpiece-talking-into-your-sleeve’’ mannerisms. The stoic faces being shielded by sunglasses as they survey the crowd.

And one of my favourite authors, Vince Flynn, always featured Secret Service agents in his political thriller novels featuring Mitch Rapp. Sadly he passed away a week ago at the age of 47 from prostate cancer.

As a youngster I spent all my spare time on CB radios (you know you’re old if you remember those!) When I was in high school I made my dad erect a 15-m antenna mast in our garden so I could perch my aerial on top and have the strongest signal in town (my handle was Captain Chaos). When I left home and went to university I erected a 2-m high antenna on top of a building in Berea (which is still visible if you travel along Tudhope Avenue!)

My wife always curses me when we go on holiday to Mauritius because I want to take walkie-talkies along. I see the benefit of being able to communicate while one of us is in the room and the other on the beach but Nicole thinks strapping a walkie-talkie to her bikini bottoms isn’t cool.

I read that 650 Secret Service agents were deployed during Obama’s visit to Africa. In the days before he landed the US Air Force and men in black were doing dry runs over my house with Blackhawk helicopters. Very cool! In his convoy there’s even a truck which has the sole mission of scrambling any communication signals within their proximity. So if you were near the cavalcade, you may have noticed that you lost your cellphone signal!

A bit of interesting trivia is that in 1997 a new law was passed that from that point past presidents would only be given Secret Service protection for 10 years after being in office (unless they decline the service earlier). That means Clinton is the last of the presidents to be given lifetime protection by the Secret Service.

So during Obama’s visit I remembered my boyhood dream of being part of the US Secret Service. And if you see me in Sandton City wearing sunglasses and my television earpiece, pretending I’m chatting to Command Control, my call sign is Bald Eagle One. Over and out.

- Mark Pilgrim

* Mark is a freelance radio and TV presenter and is a DJ on 94.7 Highveld Stereo and 94.5 Kfm.

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