On Sunday, Jill Biden made an unscheduled trip to western Ukraine. The first lady drove to Uzhhorod, just ten minutes from the Slovakian border, and spent around two hours in Ukraine.
Being at war with Russia, having no diplomatic personnel, no Embassy, and no actual resources makes this visit difficult and risky.
The Secret Service has transported presidents and other high-ranking government officials into war zones, disaster zones, and other locations of acute suffering. Whether it was President Franklin D. Roosevelt visiting frontline troops during WWII, President Lyndon B. Johnson visiting Vietnam during the war, or Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama visiting Iraq and Afghanistan, the Secret Service has always made these trips happen while keeping the protectees safe.
It all starts with preliminary preparation by the Secret Service, whether domestic or international. The Secret Service and White House officials presumably worked closely to plan the first lady’s visits. After that connection, security planning commences, frequently including colleagues from other federal and state authorities.
A correspondence is formed with the host country’s security forces via the Secret Service offices stationed in that geographic region and the U.S. State Department and its Diplomatic Security Services (DSS) Regional Security Offices. Depending on the nature of the visit, the host nation is usually notified by diplomatic notice.
When severe security concerns exist, such as in a warzone, the embassy is usually notified. The visitor information is generally kept secret to prevent the spread of information that bad actors might use. The White House, State Department, and Secret Service all employ secure communication channels.
The ability to tap into or carry in US military and Secret Service assets to facilitate the visit is one of the significant security and logistics issues. Support and logistics are more accessible when the US military is present or can operate. When neither of those resources is available, as in Ukraine, the Secret Service must liaise with local security forces to determine how much and what kind of Secret Service help they will allow.
These visits often include aspects of covert operations to protect the protectee’s whereabouts and particular places. Secret tactics include “covers for action” and diversion of the first lady’s itinerary and the agents and military assets supporting her visit. A powerful tactical team such as the Secret Service Counter Assault Team, DSS Mobile Security Deployment, and US Military Special Operations may be among these assets.
All of this is done to guarantee that both the Secret Service and the host nation can arrange a safe visit for the protectee, and any adversary’s capacity to breach the procedures used to create the visit remains classified.
In regards to Ukraine, the rhetoric has been high that Putin is a madman who could unleash devastation on the region at a moment’s notice. The secret service wouldn’t be able to safeguard a thing. What does the secret service know that we don’t, that this “warzone” is a safe place for the first lady?