Obama and the Security of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel

President Obama won't stay at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York because of security concerns. The hotel "was bought last year by Chinese investors with deep ties to Beijing's ruling elite..."

Why can't they just erect the security tent for him?

Posted on September 16, 2015 at 6:05 AM • 31 Comments


Clive RobinsonSeptember 16, 2015 7:08 AM

@ Bruce,

The view from the tent is not good at the best of times.

Though I suspect the SecServ have warned him about "the air he breaths and food he eats" as well as the "Evil Maid" turning his bed down, after all Obama is not Billy Boy ;-)

ThothSeptember 16, 2015 7:11 AM

@Bruce Schneier, Clive Robinson, Nick P, EMSEC and COMSEC et. al.
Security isn't just ... a Security Tent. It is whole lot more than just setting up a EMSEC Tent. You have to ensure a safe perimeter around the Tent to detect intruders early on or to use the perimeter as a distance gap to ensure listening devices are less effective.

Maybe @Clive Robinson can weigh in on EMSEC measures and also protection of human voices and environmental noises in such a scenario.

We have not touched on physical security yet as we only assume EMSEC by specifically mentioning the Tent.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 16, 2015 7:13 AM

More seriously, those tents do not stop EmSec attacks, just reduce them by q given amount. Thus with 100dB antenuation but -170db/Hz noise floor you have a bit of "wriggle room" for close in attacks.

Which is why they have "zones" and if they can not guarantee Zone 0 distance of aprox a meter, then it's a no go for even the tent.

'curity in 'mericaSeptember 16, 2015 7:37 AM

Meanwhile, in Irving Texas...

An enterprising 14-year old youngster built a digital clock at home. The clock consisted of a power supply, a circuit board, and a digital display all inside a nice little case.

He then took this contraption to school, thinking it will impress his engineering teacher.

Unfortunately, the name of this slightly tan-colored kiddo was Ahmed Mohamed.

And the clock of course had to beep.

So he ended up taking it out of his bag.

The rest is in the news.

Irving 9th-grader arrested after taking homemade clock to school: 'So you tried to make a bomb?'

WaelSeptember 16, 2015 8:17 AM

I suspect others may share your question:

Why can't they just erect the security tent for him?

Very simple! Two reasons:

1- The specifications of the tent require it to function outside the geographical US locations. They aren't sure if it'll work within the U.S. boundaries :)

2- Shortly after the last time they used the tent, they discovered a small label on it saying: "Made in China". And that's how the pictures were leaked out. They rightly figured the Chinese must have subverted the tent. They are still looking for the camera... No luck so far ;)

But then again, doesn't this tent resemble a tinfoil hat on the grandest of scales? I mean this is a "Collective Tinfoil hat" after all!

CallMeLateForSupperSeptember 16, 2015 8:40 AM

Meh. I just nodded when I read about this. "Good call."

Why choose to sleep in the open if you expect a downpour? Why choose to pitch your tent on high, open ground if you expect lightning? In short, why knowingly and unnecessarily expose yourself to significant risk?

It's not as though the Waldorf is the only hotel in NYC.

JordanSeptember 16, 2015 8:48 AM

Makes sense. If he believes there's a danger, I don't doubt he should be accommodated. I had no idea about what had happened to the Waldorf Astoria, though!

AndySeptember 16, 2015 9:09 AM

Didn't I read a story a while back about some militant group who stayed in a hotel some weeks or months before their target was scheduled to arrive, tore down part of a wall, placed a bomb inside the wall, and rebuilt it plaster, paint, and all with no one the wiser...

Avoiding the Waldorf is not an unreasonable precaution. A bit like not walking down a street in the bad area of town wearing expensive jewelry and flashing a big wad of cash. And as one of the many bystanders who could get caught in the crossfire, I appreciate his paranoia.

ThothSeptember 16, 2015 9:25 AM

Oolong Cha is everywhere and is very common. Unstoppable stuff. Every Chinese eating house/restaurant has them and it's the default tea.

BerlinerSeptember 16, 2015 9:27 AM


In Berlin the President stayed at the Hotel Adlon, a building flanked by the spy nests called "British Embassy" and "Embassy of the United States of America":

Since 2004, the Thailand Crown Property Bureau has had a majority holding in Kempinski AG.

OK, OK, that was before he was elected.

Since then, he also tried the Ritz-Carlton at the Potsdamer Platz, which is one of the last real estate developments built by former SS Otto Beisheim. It only came to light recently that post-war commerce magnate was also one Hitler's personal bodyguards.

Nick PSeptember 16, 2015 9:46 AM

@ Wael

While using a phone probably assembled in China. He got peace of mind when their security services certified it free of implants.

ianfSeptember 16, 2015 9:59 AM

Save your laffs for when the same hotel (or a Hollywood-sound-stage-built replica of, which amounts to the same thing) appears in Obama's lame-duck video, with soon-to-be-out-of-office-Prez applying for a job at the Waldorf-Astoria as a Bellhop Supervisor (Top Custodial Grade) or equivalent. After all, he has to up the ante of Bill Clinton's Final Days video, or he's cooked on the comedy circuit.

Sancho_PSeptember 16, 2015 10:42 AM

”… security concerns …”

While I feel the term “Security” at @Bruce’ headline is used as mockery,
I think the White House wants to use “security” as a white wash.
It’s not security, it’s secrecy.

What a miserable life. That’s the price for being dishonest.
“Outstanding contribution in peace”: I hear ya.

blakeSeptember 16, 2015 11:02 AM

@Nick P

> While using a phone probably assembled in China. He got peace of mind when their security services certified it free of implants.

His staff told him they weren't seeing his number turn up in the 3rd party extractions they were pulling through their Chinese breach - and so figured it was probably fine.

SteveSeptember 16, 2015 12:52 PM

What are the odds that the white house is concerned about Chinese ability to collect information on the tent itself (and other countermeasures)? How much of a concern is DNA collection?

JohnPSeptember 16, 2015 2:24 PM

He needs the "cone of silence." Ah - MrC - good thought.

But I'm ok if Americans don't want to stay in a Chinese-national-owned hotel in NYC.

ianfSeptember 16, 2015 3:47 PM

Actually, I think that a tent made from a conductive metal mesh, more or less a Faraday cage with the President wearing a full-scull woven metal cap or helmet, both connected at all times to a Flux Capacitor guarded by a detachment of Marines, would offer pretty good thought security all around. Also it'd be easily portable even in the Marine One, or whatever they call that White House-lawn helicopter.

tyrSeptember 16, 2015 5:04 PM


That's a lawnmower built for the government by a defense
contractor on cost plus overrun basis.

The redesign is in progress to make it cut the grass.

rgaffSeptember 16, 2015 7:03 PM

@Lawrence D’Oliveiro

What a shocking thing to say! The emperor has wonderful new clothes!

ianfSeptember 16, 2015 8:33 PM

@ tyr,

I figured out they couldn't just get any garden-variety lawnmower over the counter @ Home Depot on account of security concerns, and due to having to maintain the Presidential Mystique. But a Marine flying one still seems like an overkill to me. But what do I know; perhaps that's what it takes to be of presidential material, ability to accept such gizmos as entitlements at face value—which apparently I lack. WOE IS ME.

Tim#3September 17, 2015 3:55 AM

Andy, Justme, I don't know of the film but the 1984 IRA terrorist bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton was very much like that, except the bomb was placed under the floor IIRC.

uh, MikeSeptember 20, 2015 10:20 AM

@ianf, no need for a Faraday cage. Do the same as with the audio: put some noise near the source, attenuate the signal, and add noise again.

Or, a handy decoy would work. For example, if they can see your computer screen, give them three or four to look at, and make the decoys more interesting. Move the live session between devices from time to time.

Sometimes the surprise of a new or difficult attack, distracts us from old and effective countermeasures.

ianfJanuary 20, 2016 5:47 PM

Regarding POTUS-brainwaves-protective metal-mesh-woven tents (Faraday cage or not), I just saw a 2 part BBC documentary on Col. Gaddafi's fall where it was stated in offhand manner, that the ceremonial desert tent that he traveled with, and slept in to underline him being one of his people, allegedly was bulletproof. As befits always-shallow BBC, neither the caliber of the weapon, nor bullet exit velocity or the projected shot's distance, were stated. And yet all it'd have taken would have been a simple follow-up question of “also RPG-7-proof?”

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