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Obama’s Afghanistan Trip: ‘A Scene From a Spy Novel’

A small contingent of reporters accompanied President Obama on his surprise trip to Afghanistan yesterday. The trip’s pool report, filed Josh Gerstein of Politico, says that pool members were briefed on the trip Sunday “on an off-the-record basis with the customary tell-only-one-editor rule.”

Pool reporters were assembled at Andrews Air Force Base late Monday evening. “It was a scene from a spy novel,” pool producer Richard Coolidge of ABC News writes:

A little after 9:30 p.m. ET, I arrived at a back gate of Joint Base Andrews.  No guard or intercom, I just drove up and it opened. I was in. The security guards verified my identity and I made my way to the rendezvous point. Typically, I would meet traveling White House press aides at the base passenger terminal, but not tonight. Very few people knew what we were doing there, so we met in a dimly lit parking lot.

Our bags were screened and we gave up all our electronics — laptops, mobile phones, cameras, anything that might have tracking software — and put them into bins. We would get the devices back about an hour after takeoff, officials said. We rode a bus onto the tarmac where Air Force One was in shadow. No lights on, inside or out.

News of the trip was embargoed for news organizations until after Obama’s arrival at the Afghan Presidential Palace, which happened around 2:30 pmET. While the cable and broadcast networks held the news until 3pmET, word of the President’s trip spread via Twitter and was reported online, and subsequently taken down, by the New York Post while he was still en route.

After Obama delivered his speech at 7:30pmET, “we ran to the plane to make it out of there before sunrise,” Coolidge writes.

One more surprise was in store for the press pool on the return trip: Mark Landler of the New York Times reports Obama brought a birthday cake for Bloomberg TV’s Julianna Goldman back to the press pool on the last leg of the flight.

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