Roger That: Code Names Not So Sexy Now

Secret Service code name. It sounds so James Bond. The glamour. The intrigue.

But in this sophisticated communications age, it’s really not all that sexy.

“Given the modern capability to secure our communications through encryption, there’s no longer any security relevance to the protectee call signs,” said United States Secret Service spokesman Darrin Blackford.

Uh, buzz kill. These days, the codes names are about as exciting as their official “protectee call sign” designation makes them sound, and they are no longer secret at all.

The Obamas join a list of first families to get them, going back to Harry "General" Truman. Barack Obama received his — “Renegade” — more than 18 months ago. Michelle Obama got hers — “Renaissance” — in January after her staff requested a Secret Service detail. Their daughters, Malia — “Radiance” — and Sasha — “Rosebud” — have also had theirs for some time.

(Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, who will be moving with her family in Washington, doesn’t have one yet, but Blackford said she’ll probably be assigned one soon enough.)

And from the talk about the Obamas’ code names this week, after the Chicago Tribune reminded everyone about them, it appears their modern purpose is for the public to ponder what the names say about the first family.

“[D]oes the first lady-elect's tag of ‘Renaissance’ indicate a fashion commentary by the Secret Service?” asks a Los Angeles Times blogger. “We can only guess the Secret Service secretly approves of her fashion sense — after all, they could have dubbed her ‘Ready-to-Wear,’ right?”

Major presidential and vice presidential candidates, and their spouses, get code names along with their Secret Service protection within 120 days of the general election. John and Cindy McCain were “Phoenix” and “Parasol.” Sarah Palin’s was "Denali," like the national park in Alaska, while her husband, Todd, an oil worker, was "Driller." Hillary Rodham Clinton was given the moniker “Evergreen.”

Presidents, vice presidents and their spouses keep their Secret Service protection for 10 years after leaving office (although spouses who remarry are on their own). Former presidents’ children continue to be tailed by Secret Service agents until they turn 16, so “Radiance,” 10, and “Rosebud,” 7, will probably have agents along for their first dates.

The White House Military Office apparently uses these names for communication and official use, although it’s unclear exactly what that means.

The names usually all begin with the same letter, and the first, and second, families get to vet them before they become official.

The code names for Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill: "Celtic" and "Capri."

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