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The Los Angeles Times May 19, 2005

Live Grenade Was Near President, FBI Says

By Edwin Chen

WASHINGTON - The FBI said today that a hand grenade was hurled toward President Bush, and landed within 100 feet of him, as he addressed a massive crowd in Freedom Square in Tbilisi, Georgia, on the afternoon of May 10.

The Soviet-made fragmentation grenade failed to detonate only because the blasting cap malfunctioned, authorities said.

U.S. officials said a joint criminal investigation by American and Georgian officials was underway and declined to reveal many details about the apparent assassination attempt.

They said Georgia was offering a reward equivalent to about $11,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible, and appealed to the public for videos or still photographs of the event.

After the grenade-tossing incident, Georgian officials inexplicably waited two hours before informing U.S. authorities.

By then Bush was on his way home after a five-day trip to the Netherlands, Latvia, Russia and Georgia. Enroute to Washington, Air Force One skipped a planned refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland, and instead flew nonstop to Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland.

The decision to bypass Ireland was unrelated to the grenade incident, according to White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. "We did not even learn about the incident until well after that decision was made," he said by e-mail today.

As news of the grenade-tossing incident became public on the night of May 10, shortly before Air Force One touched down on U.S. soil, White House and Secret Service officials played down the incident, insinuating that the grenade was a dummy. Law enforcement authorities changed their mind after inspecting it.

When it was thrown toward Bush, the grenade was wrapped in a dark Tartan-colored cloth handkerchief. Georgia officials also said it was an RGD-5 grenade, which was first made by the Soviet Union but since has been widely copied and reproduced worldwide.

The grenade weighs about 11 ounces, and contains about four ounces of TNT, according to globalsecurity.org, a military watchdog group.

Bush was first informed of the FBI's conclusion by his senior staff Tuesday night, and then again this morning by FBI Director Robert Mueller as a part of the president's regular daily briefing.

Despite the Tbilisi incident, McClellan said, Bush retains "full trust" in the Secret Service, which is charged with protecting the president.

In Tbilisi, tens of thousands of Georgians had jammed into the city's central square for Bush's early afternoon speech on a beautiful spring day in the capital; and at entry points most distant from the speaker's platform, some overran security checkpoints.

Although officials said little today about the incident, two former high-ranking Secret Service officials discussed the Tbilisi incident as well as the general procedures used by the agency to protect the president - a particularly challenging job when overseas, they said.

"What people have to understand is, the Secret Service does not have authority" on foreign soil, said Bill Pickle, a former deputy assistant director of the Secret Service and now the U.S. Senate's sergeant at arms.

When the president is abroad, he said in an interview, "everything [related to security] is done through negotiations with the foreign governments, which are usually very anxious to cooperate," added Pickle, who also was the agent in charge of protecting former Vice President Al Gore.

"So most governments allow the Secret Service to do things like bring cars, electronic equipment to prevent bad things from happening, metal detectors, even K-9 dogs," he said.

In the end, however, "the protection is only as good as the training [and the proficiency] of the locals," said Pickle, who retired from the Secret Service two years ago.

 


Copyright 2005, Los Angeles Times