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CBS News Exclusive: Secret Service Director Assesses the Shoe-Throwing Incident in Baghdad

From CBS News' White House Correspondent Mark Knoller

Did the U.S. Secret Service react quickly enough when that Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at Pres. Bush last month in Baghdad?

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"In looking at our reaction, in looking at where our agents were staged, looking at that event – I am satisfied that our people did everything that they could do," says Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan.

In his first public comments on the incident, Sullivan said it transpired in just 2½ seconds – and there were limits to what his agents could have done.

"Quite frankly – the only way an agent could have been there to intercept that – would have been if he were right on the shoulder of the president during a major press conference – which we all know we don't do," said Sullivan.

"If the reaction of our agents had been to draw their weapons, to evacuate the President – potentially we would have been accused of an overreaction. We depend on our people to use common sense out there. I believe the agent that was in charge of that detail did the appropriate thing."

The Iraqi's shoes had been thrown so quickly, the incident was over before U.S. or Iraqi security began moving. Luckily, Pres. Bush ducked out of the way of the airborne footwear.

"Like every American, I was outraged when I heard what happened," said Sullivan in a radio interview with CBS News. "Am I happy that somebody was able to take their shoes off and throw them at the President? I'm not. I think that was insulting and that was an assault. And none of us want to see that happen."

He noted that the Iraqi press at Pres. Bush's appearance that evening with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "went through four different levels of screening to get into that room."

"You know, the bottom line is when you go into an event like that, we're looking for people who are carrying weapons. We're looking for people who have any type of instrument that could hurt the people that we protect. And I'm sure that there are people that would argue that a shoe would hurt you – and I would agree with that as well."

So should the Secret Service demand that guests at presidential events be compelled to removed their shoes? Sullivan says no.

"You have to think about being reasonable. Do we take a look at that and now say people going into an event, we want you to leave your shoes at the door? I think people would say that's unreasonable. And I don't think we would ever ask people to do that."

Sullivan says the Secret Service is its own harshest critic. "We have looked at that situation and if we can make improvements, we're always going to make improvements. That's one more thing we're going to take a hard look at."

He lamented that though he had accompanied Pres. Bush on his three previous visits to Iraq – Sullivan was not able to go on the one last month. He said he learned of the incident in a phone call from his agents in Baghdad.

It would certainly make it easier on the Secret Service if the President didn't go to war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan as he did in December. But Sullivan says "we're gonna go where he wants to go."

Has he ever had to tell a President, "No sir, you can't go there?" Sullivan is doesn't answer the question directly but says "we're going to make it known if there's something that doesn't make us comfortable."

Sullivan has served in the Secret Service since 1983, including a four year assignment with the Presidential Protective Division in 1991. He became Director of the agency in May 2006.

You can watch video of the original incident below:

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