Behind the scenes, the Secret Service is doing far more than blocking off streets to make sure Barack Obama is safe on Inauguration Day.
Despite a lot of ranting by white supremacists, the Secret Service has received no credible threat against Obama. Nonetheless, the fact that his inauguration is expected to draw crowds of 1 million to 1.5 million people and the fact that Obama is the first African-American to become president means that the inauguration would be considered a high value target.
Since the inauguration is considered a special national security event, the Secret Service is the lead agency in charge of security. The scope of precautions is unprecedented. Under the Secret Service’s plan, a large section of downtown Washington will be cordoned off from 4 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Inauguration Day. Personal vehicles will be banned from all Potomac River bridge crossings to the District.
As with previous inaugurations, the Secret Service will arrange to block every street in Washington leading to the motorcade route with concrete barriers or police cars. Since the 9/11 attack, crowds must now pass through magnetometers before entering the area of the motorcade route.
With military explosive experts, Secret Service agents will inspect manholes and underground tunnels along the motorcade route. Manhole covers will be welded shut. Mailboxes and trash cans will be removed from the street. If an item cannot be removed, it will be inspected and taped shut. If anyone tampers with it, the special tape, which varies in color with the event, disintegrates.
Bomb-sniffing dogs will inspect buildings, garages, and delivery trucks. Employees in offices along the route and hotel guests could be checked for criminal records. Agents will make sure they have access to every office and hotel room with master keys kept by building or hotel managers. They will tape shut utility rooms or electrical circuit boards. They will station agents or police officers on tops of buildings.
More than a dozen counter-sniper teams will be deployed at the most vulnerable points along the route. Helicopters will hover overhead and other aircraft will be kept away. High-resolution surveillance cameras will scan the crowds. A $350,000 loudspeaker system using sonar technology was installed in case instructions need to be given in the event of an emergency.
If agents encounter a problem, they will call for a special team that races to the scene, interviews the subject, and takes control of the situation.
In all, the Secret Service is coordinating the work of tens of thousands of officers and agents from ninety-four federal and local law enforcement, military, and security agencies. Police departments from across the country contributed officers, many wearing plainclothes.
Obama’s Secret Service detail will be augmented with counter-assault teams. The counter-assault team, or CAT, as it is referred to, is critical to providing protection outside the White House. A heavily armed tactical unit, it diverts an attack away from a potential target, allowing the working shift of agents to shield and evacuate the individual.
Obama will be using a new presidential limousine. Known as “The Beast,” it is a Cadillac built on top of a truck chassis. The vehicle is armor-plated, with bulletproof glass and its own supply of oxygen. It is equipped with state-of-the-art encrypted communication gear. It has a remote starting mechanism and a self-sealing gas tank. The vehicle can keep going even when the tires are shot out. It can take a direct hit from a bazooka or a grenade. The car’s doors are 18 inches thick, and its windows are 5 inches thick.
It goes with the territory that an agent may have to take a bullet for the president. But the actual instruction to trainees is a little more complicated.
“What we are trained to do as shift agents is to cover and evacuate if there is an attack,” an agent says. “We form a human shield around the protectee and get him out of the danger area to a safer location. If an agent is shot during the evacuation, then that is something that is expected. We rely on our layers of security to handle the attacker, while the inside shift’s main function is to get the heck out of Dodge.”
“People always say to me, hey, would you really take a bullet for the president?” says a former agent. “I say, what do you think, I’m stupid? But what we’ll do is we’ll do everything in our power to keep the bullet out of the event. And that’s what the Secret Service is all about. It’s about being prepared, it’s about meticulous advance preparation, and it’s about training properly so that, when you do your job, you kind of don’t have to bumble around for the steps that you take.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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