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How Does The Secret Service Create Code Names?


This week, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum got their secret service code names. Mr. Romney is Javelin. Mr. Santorum is Petrus. We asked Ian Chillag and Mike Danforth from the NPR podcast How to Do Everything to look into how secret service code names are assigned.

IAN CHILLAG, BYLINE: Presidents have been getting codenames all the way back to Harry Truman. The secret service called him General.

MIKE DANFORTH, BYLINE: Here's historian Michael Beschloss.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: Truman had been in the military. He'd been a captain in World War I, so maybe this is his Walter Mitty fantasy that he would might've been a general.

CHILLAG: So Truman would have chosen that?

BESCHLOSS: Usually, a president or anyone else who's protected gets a list of possible codenames, and they get to choose. And if it's something too awful they can choose something else.

DANFORTH: Sometimes the names the secret service pick are problematic, like when Nelson Rockefeller was vice president.

BESCHLOSS: Someone came up with the bright idea of calling his wife Shooting Star. Using the word shooting as a secret service code name was maybe not the best choice.

DANFORTH: Once the president gets his name, his family gets names that start with the same letter. President Reagan, for instance, was Rawhide.

CHILLAG: And the Reagan children got names like Radiance and Riddler.

DANFORTH: Larry Rowlett was in Mr. Reagan's security detail.

CHILLAG: Larry, did you ever call President Reagan Rawhide to his face?

LARRY ROWLETT: Yes. He was always very congenial and just kind of one of the guys. You know, if somebody referred him to him as that he'd get a chuckle out of it.

CHILLAG: And what was Mrs. Reagan's codename?

ROWLETT: Rainbow.

CHILLAG: And now, would you ever call her Rainbow?

ROWLETT: No, she's Mrs. Reagan.


DANFORTH: The president's chief of staff gets a codename, too. Rahm Emanuel was Black Hawk and Josh Bolten was Fatboy.

CHILLAG: But that's actually after his Harley Davidson motorcycle.

DANFORTH: The White House press secretary's codename works a little differently. Scott McClellan served that post under President George W. Bush.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN: On my very first day as White House press secretary, I was coming through the checkpoint when one of the uniformed members of the secret service said to me, good morning Mr. McClellan. You're Matrix now, which happens to be the secret service codename for all press secretaries, at least those preceding me that I know of.

CHILLAG: So all press secretaries get the same codename?


CHILLAG: Scott, when you talk to Dana Perino do you call her Matrix?

MCCLELLAN: Do we, hey, Matrix. This is Matrix calling?


No, we haven't ever done that.

DANFORTH: Back to secret service agent Larry Rowlett. Now, it's not a hard and fast tradition, but Rowlett's team picked Rawhide for President Reagan because he had a ranch and because it matched the first letter of his last name - Reagan, Rawhide.

CHILLAG: So Larry, do you think you could come up with a code name for the host of this show? His last name starts with S and, he's a writer.

ROWLETT: Scripts.

CHILLAG: Scripts?

ROWLETT: Yeah. Easy.

CHILLAG: All right, Scripts. What do you think?

SIMON: Actually, gentlemen, my code name is Scooter. Ian Chillag and Mike Danforth at the NPR podcast How to Do Everything.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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