You Don’t See This Happen Often

ABC News

Synopsis: A 16 year old Icelander decided to call the President; on the Number, supposedly secret. He doesn’t know how he got it, and he doesn’t know why it caused such a hubbub.

When Vífill Atlason, a 16-year-old high school student from Iceland, decided to call the White House, he could not imagine the kind of publicity it would bring.

Introducing himself as Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the actual president of Iceland, Atlason found what he believed to be President George W. Bush’s allegedly secret telephone number and phoned, requesting a private meeting with him.

“I just wanted to talk to him, have a chat, invite him to Iceland and see what he’d say,” Vífill told ABC News.

A White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore insisted to ABC News that the young man did not dial the private number but instead dialled 202-456-1414, the main switchboard for the West Wing. But that was not the case. The student gave ABC News the number. It is indeed an extention off the White House switchboard and goes to a security command post office in the building next door to the White House.

Vífill’s mother, Harpa Hreinsdottir, a teacher at the local high school, said her son did, in fact, get through to a private phone.

“This was not a switchboard number of any kind,” she told ABC News, “it was a secret number at the highest security level.”

Vífill claims he was passed on to several people, each of them quizzing him on President Grímsson’s date of birth, where he grew up, who his parents were and the date he entered office.

“It was like passing through checkpoints,” he said. “But I had Wikipedia and a few other sites open, so it was not so difficult really.”

When he finally got through to President Bush’s secretary, Vífill alleges he was told to expect a call back from Bush.

“She told me the president was not available at the time, but that she would mark it in his schedule to call me back on Monday evening,” he said.

Instead, the police showed up at his home in Akranes, a fishing town about 48 kilometers from Reykjavik, and took him to the local police station, where they questioned the 16-year-old for several hours.

“The police chief said they were under orders from U.S. officials to “find the leak” — that I had to tell them where I had found the number,” he said. “Otherwise, I would be banned from ever entering the United States.”

Vífill claims he cannot remember where he got the number.

“I just know I have had it for a few years,” he told ABC. “I must have gotten it from a friend when I was about 11 or 12.”

Atlason’s mother Harpa, who was not home at the time, said she was shocked to find her son had been taken away by the police but could not quite bring herself to be angry with her son.

“He’s very resourceful you know,” she said. “He has become a bit of a hero in Iceland. Bush is very unpopular here.”

Vífill was eventually released into his parent’s custody, and no charges have been brought against the high school student.

When ABC verified the number, it was the Secret Service Uniform Division, which handles security for the president.

“If the number were not top secret, why would the police have told me that I will be put on a no-fly list to America?” Vífill asked.

“I don’t see how calling the White House is a crime,” he added. “But obviously, they took it very seriously.”

The Secret Service told ABC News this was not its investigation.


A Moment of Clarity

After searching forever through this morass we in America call news, I stumble upon things that separate seem inconclusive, but when pieced together with a dozen other incidents with the same headline, make me tired. They make me question why I choose to do this, why I choose to try and wake people up. It is a simple fact that most people in America are sheep. It is a simple fact that is more than likely true in most places of the world. As a member of the iGeneration, it brings me real pain to see the blank faces of my peers when I tell a friend what happened the day before, or the sighs and groans when I bring something up in my American Government class(a required class for seniors in my district). I personally know of no one in my entire school who really cares. To be clear, I do know a few who keep more or less in touch, however they seem to not really understand the global consequences of each individual atrocity.

I’ve heard it quoted that people in their youth ought to be radicals, and try to change the world. I look around and see nothing. Eyes devoid of any emotion at all at every statement. Then, the ultimate slap in the face. They go on to talk to friends about the party last weekend.

I wonder if it is like this everywhere. Is it just here in the land of excess and sunshine, or is it spread out, like a cancer through the liver and lungs? I tend to find out eventually, however, at the moment, I lack resources to do so.

Throughout our once-great nation minds are tuned into television and mind-numbing advertising. I believe mass media is the reason for this mass uncaring. I’ve seen two different methods used together to create this travesty. First, they pummel a young, malleable mind into the ground with images of violence, murders, and car accidents to create a ‘shit happens’ outlook to the world. Then, they placate, by only showing pleasant things, such as celebrities, reality shows, and advertising. However, we as humans know that nothing is without conflict, so, in order to keep us silent, they continue to occasionally through strife into the mix, such as elimination rounds and terrorism.

Without sounding to sappy, I am almost crying now. You can read whatever you like into it, whether a patriotic ‘for his country’s plight’ or a more cynical outlook, it matters not. All that matters is trying to help other people see the truth and getting them to care. I not nearly as interested in how this belief system changes, but merely the fact that it changes at all.