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.

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Ecuador Wants Base… In United States?

Reuters – Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa said Washington must let him open a military base in Miami if the United States wants to keep using an air base on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.

Correa has refused to renew Washington’s lease on the Manta air base, set to expire in 2009. U.S. officials say it is vital for counter-narcotics surveillance operations on Pacific drug-running routes.

“We’ll renew the base on one condition: that they let us put a base in Miami — an Ecuadorean base,” Correa said in an interview during a trip to Italy.

“If there’s no problem having foreign soldiers on a country’s soil, surely they’ll let us have an Ecuadorean base in the United States.”

The U.S. embassy to Ecuador says on its Web site that anti-narcotics flights from Manta gathered information behind more than 60 percent of illegal drug seizures on the high seas of the Eastern Pacific last year.

It offers a fact-sheet on the base at: http://ecuador.usembassy.gov/topics_of_interest/manta-fol.html

Correa, a popular leftist economist, had promised to cut off his arm before extending the lease that ends in 2009 and has called U.S. President George W. Bush a “dimwit”.

But Correa, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, told Reuters he believed relations with the United States were “excellent” despite the base closing.
He rejected the idea that the episode reflected on U.S. ties at all.

“This is the only North American military base in South America,” he said.

“So, then the other South American countries don’t have good relations with the United States because they don’t have military bases? That doesn’t make any sense.”

What saddens me, is that we will probobly negotiate. No, I’m not saying that we will let them build a base on our soil, but that in order to keep our troops off our own homeland, Bush and the next President will give an arm and a leg. The fact that we have any bases on any foreign soil is an affront to their nation’s sovereignty. Let us dismantle our own war machine before we criticize others’.