POLITICS

Amid Camp David's lush splendour, U.S. Marines enforce tight security

05/19/2012 04:28 EDT | Updated 07/19/2012 05:12 EDT
CAMP DAVID, Md. - It's one of the most storied political retreats in the world, a lushly verdant paradise nestled in the northern reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

It's also guarded so heavily by U.S. Marines that those living near the rustic presidential compound have complained of soldiers leaping out at them from the pristine woods if they dare wander too close or look suspicious.

"I love living nearby because it's so beautiful, but it's a shame people living here will never, ever see Camp David, and also that security can be so over the top," a waitress at the Eisenhower Hotel in nearby Gettysburg, Pa., said Saturday.

"It can be a pain sometimes living so close to it," said the waitress, who lives in the area surrounding Camp David and didn't want her name published for fear she might spark the ire of the Marines.

With the G8 summit held for the first time at the compound, security was even more intense than usual — including for members of the international delegations in attendance.

They were sternly prohibited from wandering along many of the compound's tree-lined winding trails without escorts.

They were ordered to disable the cameras on their cellphones and were not to snap any photos of the grounds under any circumstances.

The Russians, in particular, allegedly vodka-infused, were said to have had trouble following those instructions in the hours before the summit officially kicked off with a Friday night dinner. They were ordered repeatedly to stop taking photos of the grounds and to cease roaming the trails.

Reporters faced similar smackdowns.

When a pair of French journalists snapped some shots inside the stately, oak-lined Camp David chapel, which served as a holding station for reporters waiting to cover various media availabilities, a U.S. Marine angrily demanded they delete the photos or else he'd confiscate their phones. They quickly obeyed.

Reporters were not allowed to have their phones or Blackberrys out of their bags at all unless explicitly told by Marines that they could.

Even on the buses carrying reporters to and from Camp David to a media centre a short distance down the road, cellphones and cameras were to remain under lock and key until the vehicles were officially off the compound's grounds.

A Canadian reporter was not permitted to leave the chapel for a discussion with a senior government official on the building's stone patio, despite the fact it was already milling with U.S. government support staff. Instead, a Marine told them, they could have their chat inside a darkened chapel closet.

It all seemed incongruous with the serene splendour of the surroundings, replete with burbling brooks, rocky ridges, towering oaks and poplars, dense tree canopies, brilliantly hued ferns and mosses, warbling song birds and frolicking chipmunks.

Nature, nonetheless, was always close at hand despite the deluge of international visitors and the sea of Marines ensuring they behaved themselves.

Just before the leaders emerged late Saturday morning for a group photo on a sunny Camp David hillside, a hawk circled overhead for several minutes. The bird's ominous presence finally silenced a songbird that had been gleefully warbling from a tall oak for about an hour for assembled reporters.

Teams of Camp David workers emerged twice, all of them armed with several cans of bug spray, to mist the platform where the leaders were to pose for the photo.

"I hear the gnats have been getting you guys, huh?" a sympathetic Obama asked reporters when he took to the platform, perched in front of a Camp David golf green, with his fellow leaders.

Obama, unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, hasn't spent a lot of time at Camp David since elected president in 2008. The summit is his 23rd trip to Camp David, according to a CBS White House correspondent who keeps track of presidential travel.

Bush, on the other hand, had been to the retreat 81 times at the same point of his presidency.

When British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived at Camp David on Friday night and told the president: "This is a nice, peaceful spot," Obama replied: "It's not bad."

Perhaps he's not a fan of gnats and heavily armed Marines on constant patrol.

Not so for Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

"This is my new place!" he joked to Obama after his arrival.

Note to readers: DROPS extraneous word 'of' in para 2; ADDs details about how many times Obama has been to Camp David