Byron York, Washington Examiner, December 14, 2013
It’s becoming increasingly clear that when President Obama arrived at the Nelson Mandela memorial service in Johannesburg, South Africa Tuesday, he stepped into an atmosphere so chaotic, disorganized, and unsafe that under any other circumstances the White House and Secret Service might well have insisted the president not appear.
FNB Stadium, where the memorial was held, seats 95,000 people. Even with a steady rain and thousands of empty seats in uncovered areas, there were tens of thousands of people in the area with the president. It appears most of them got in without going through any security.
“There were no security checks upon entry to the stadium,” a local South African activist wrote Friday in a letter to the Johannesburg Star newspaper. “I walked freely to my seat without passing through metal detectors, being searched or any other check.”
The stadium’s main entrance was “completely unattended,” a reporter for a Washington, D.C., television station told Politico. “There were no workers performing bag checks or pat-downs — there were no magnetometers to walk through, no metal detector wands being used — anywhere.”
Britain’s The Independent newspaper reported that “thousands of guests entering the FNB stadium in Soweto on Tuesday, especially those who had arrived very early, were not searched.” In addition, members of the media “were permitted to enter the press area directly beneath where politicians and dignitaries were seated without being asked to show passes.” And the Daily Mail reported that “the first crowds entered the stadium without being searched.”
The South African government promised tight security for the event. “Working off plans developed for years in secret, the South African government is using an elite military task force, sniper teams and canine teams to help secure the stadium,” CNN reported before the event. “In addition, helicopters and military jets frequently fly overhead.”
Even as Obama flew to South Africa, White House officials confidently told reporters that the South African government could take care of things. “The sheer number of leaders appearing in the same place at one time raises numerous logistical and security challenges, but the White House expressed confidence in the South African government’s ability to handle the event,” CNN reported. “‘We have not heard any concerns,’ Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters aboard Air Force One. ‘The South Africans hosted the World Cup, so they have experience hosting significant crowds and managing events like this.'”
Now it is clear that American confidence was misplaced. And the United States is lucky the president emerged safely from the confusion and disorder of FNB Stadium.