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U.S. airport guard accused of Obama threat

By Victor Epstein -AP Writer- | Last updated: Oct 30, 2009 - 2:22:51 PM

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Secret Service operations strained

President Barack Obama at The White House. Photo: Courtesy of The White House
NEWARK, New Jersey (AP) - A private security guard at Newark Liberty International Airport was arrested on charges of threatening Barack Obama the night before the president was to fly there.

A Continental Airlines employee reported overhearing John Brek make threatening comments at an airport coffee cart Oct. 20.

The 55-year-old security guard was arrested several hours later, Port Authority spokesman John Kelly said. He denied making the threats, said Malcolm Wiley, a spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service.

Mr. Obama was in New Jersey the next day to campaign for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine.

Mr. Brek allowed police to search his Linden home and officers found 43 firearms, Mr. Kelly said. The firearms were still being processed, but no illegal guns had been found.

A message left by The Associated Press at Mr. Brek's home was not immediately returned.

His father, John, told The Star-Ledger of Newark that his son has the guns because he's an avid hunter.

“We take every threat very seriously,” Mr. Wiley said. “We don't have the luxury of ignoring even the allegation of a threat.”

Mr. Brek is employed by Floral Park, New York-based FJC Security Services Inc., which has a contract with the Port Authority. Its employees screen airport workers to ensure they have proper credentials, Mr. Kelly said.

Mr. Brek was arrested by Port Authority Police and charged under state law with making terroristic threats against the president. He had not been arrested on federal charges, Mr. Wiley said.

Patrick J. Conroy, executive vice president of FJC, said the company is working with authorities investigating the alleged threat.

The alleged threat came days after the Boston Globe said the U.S. Secret Service was facing a crisis as a 400 percent increase in threats against President Obama and “a rise in racist hate groups, and a new wave of antigovernment fervor threaten to overwhelm the U.S. Secret Service.”

The Globe said government officials and reports were questioning the overall mission of the Secret Service, which includes more than simply protecting the president and first family. It also “investigates financial crimes such as counterfeiting as part of its original mandate,” the Globe noted.

The newspaper cited an internal report by the Congressional Research Service in August.

“The job of protecting presidents started in 1894 with Grover Cleveland, who was guarded part time. That role expanded after the assassination of William McKinley in 1901, and it became a crime to threaten the president in 1917. Today, guarding the president and other top officials accounts for most of the Secret Service's budget, which totals about $1.4 billion per year and continues to grow,” the Globe reported. The Secret Service is an arm of the Dept. of Homeland Security.

“The agency has been directed by Congress to guard what it describes an ‘unprecedented' number of individuals, including presidents, vice presidents, their immediate families, former presidents and vice presidents, and visiting dignitaries—as well as presidential candidates during campaigns lasting longer than ever before,” the Globe said.

According to the Globe, the Congressional Research service report concluded that the agency's work “has increased and become more urgent, due to the increase in terrorist threats and expanded arsenal of weapons that terrorists could use in an assassination attempt or attacks on facilities.''

“The domestic threat is also growing, fueled in part by Obama's election as the nation's first black president, according to specialists who study homegrown radical movements,” said the Globe. “Obama, who was given Secret Service protection 18 months before the election—the earliest ever for a presidential candidate—has been the target of more threats since his inauguration than his predecessors,” it added.

The Globe observed: “A key difference this time is that the federal government—the entity that almost the entire radical right views as its primary enemy—is headed by a black man,'' and cited the Congressional Research Service report.

“One result has been a remarkable rash of domestic terror incidents since the presidential campaign, most of them related to anger over the election of Barack Obama,” the Globe said.

The threats against president Obama have been constant.

A Northern California man accused of sending threatening e-mails to President Barack Obama and other officials pleaded not guilty to federal charges in mid-October.

Federal authorities said 59-year-old John Gimbel of Crescent City sent a new batch of messages on Sept. 28 after previously being warned to stop. Authorities say the e-mails contained racist, profane language and included threats to the first lady.

Mr. Gimbel was arrested Oct. 6 by the U.S. Secret Service and was indicted before President Obama appeared in San Francisco for a fundraiser.

Randall Davis, Gimbel's former attorney, said Mr. Gimbel argues he was exercising his free speech rights.

A federal public defender has been appointed to the case, which was been transferred to San Francisco.

(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)

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