President Barack Obama arrived in Kabul to sign a 10-year security agreement with Afghanistan. NBC's Chuck Todd and Jim Miklaszewski report.
When President Barack Obama arrived Tuesday in Afghanistan on the first anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, it was supposed to be a secret, like his earlier visits to the dangerous region. But news of the trip leaked out hours earlier, raising new alarm bells about the president's security.
The Afghan news station TOLONews reported early Tuesday that Obama had arrived in Kabul, hours before the White House's embargo on reporting the news was lifted. Other news organizations, including The New York Post and the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, cited that report, which was attributed to unnamed Afghan officials.
The U.S. National Security Council and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul both denied the report, and Obama's official schedule indicated that he was still in Washington, meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in the Oval Office:
President Barack Obama's official schedule for Tuesday indicated that the president was remaining in Washington all day.
In fact, he had left Joint Base Andrews, Md., aboard Air Force One shortly after midnight Tuesday morning.
In the face of the official denials, the Post removed its report, as did Buzzfeed, which deleted a tweet noting the news after an NSC official called it to argue that its report endangered Obama's life, it said.
Obama's previous visits to Afghanistan, in March and December 2010, were unannounced for security reasons, and news of them didn't leak out. And strict security measures were in place Tuesday as well, including a White House embargo that prevented journalists traveling with the president from reporting the trip until Obama arrived at the Afghan Presidential Palace about 11:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. ET), hours after the TOLONews report was published.
But this time the news did get out, and at an uncomfortable time for U.S. security officials.
The apparent breach comes in the wake of an incident last month in which members of the president's advance security team were reported to have picked up prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia, before Obama's visit to the Summit of the Americas. Eight Secret Service agents have been forced to leave the agency as a result of the scandal.
The Defense Department said it couldn't discuss the incident, and the White House didn't immediately return calls for comment. Editors at TOLONews did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Ronald Kessler, a longtime political reporter who interviewed more than 100 active and former Secret Service agents for "In the President's Secret Service," a book on presidential security arrangements, told msnbc.com that an early report on a surprise visit "clearly endangers the president when he's going into a war zone."
The biggest concern, he said, "is the possibility of attacks on the ground when (Obama) lands and thereafter."
NBC News and other news organizations learned about the trip Tuesday but withheld reporting it until Obama arrived at the palace. But "the fact so many U.S. reporters knew about it made it easier for it to disseminate," Kessler said.
Kessler suggested that the Obama administration follow the example of the administration of former President George W. Bush, "which did not let reporters know beforehand at all" when Bush traveled to Afghanistan.
"They told the press pool that they were going to go on a trip, (but) they weren't told where," Kessler said. "It was not until they got on the airplane that they were told they were going to Afghanistan."
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