Federal officials deny reports that "eye in the sky" drones are monitoring the GOP convention venue in Tampa, but the security at the Grand Old Party’s quadrennial meet-up remains unprecedented nonetheless.
Five police and U.S. Coast Guard motorboats with flashing lights can be seen patrolling a mile-long stretch of the waterway running south of the Tampa Times Forum arena to block any access from the channel by boat. Above, a police helicopter hovered to keep a watchful eye on movements below.
Longtime NBC newsman Tom Brokow stated on the Morning Joe program Monday that the event in Tampa has “the most onerous security I’ve ever seen.”
Grass-roots activists have been warning in recent weeks that extremists are ginning up their followers to intimidate convention-goers generally, and especially the grass roots.
Scottie Hughes, spokesman for TheTeaParty.net, told Newsmax:
“Occupiers and other groups like the New Black Panthers have definitely made public statements that they’re coming to Tampa to ‘get’ the RNC. There is one thing that really makes these types of groups angry – the tea party. We have definitely become a target, and we know that the rallies have become a target.”
Last week, the Secret Service denied a Tampa Times report that unmanned aerial surveillance drones are being used to monitor activity in the Tampa area during the convention. The agency cryptically stated that it was “not aware” of any such surveillance taking place, suggesting there could be drone activity of which it was unaware.
The GOP convention is classified as a “national special security event." As such, elaborate federal security measures are in place.
That was in full evidence Tuesday as delegates and the media made their way to the arena. Passage through at least three checkpoints was required to reach the parking area between the convention center and the Forum arena. Vehicles must have special parking passes to gain admittance and drivers must have credentials.
Tall metal structures have been erected to line key Tampa thoroughfares, in order to block pedestrian access should anyone leave their vehicle. In addition, Secret Service agents have deployed hydraulic, mobile metal barriers to block off access to parking areas and streets near the arena. They can raise or lower those barriers at the flick of a switch.
Each vehicle entering the perimeter is inspected by Secret Service officers, who take other measures to ensure that the venue remains secure as well. No weapons are permitted inside what police have designated as an “event zone.”
On surrounding streets, police wearing Kevlar vests patrol in large details consisting of half a dozen or more officers in each unit. They sport military-style khaki-color fatigues specially purchased for the event, intended to enhance crowd control. Military service personnel have been deployed as well.
Police in full riot gear have been seen on horseback, presumably in case protesters try to create a disturbance. Protesters have been relatively subdued so far, perhaps due to the Hurricane Isaac-spawned showers now clearing out of the Tampa area. But on Sunday an incident demonstrated the security threat is real.
Police arrested a man with a machete strapped to his leg after he made it inside the outer security perimeter. The suspect, 31-year-old Jason Wilson, was reportedly walking with a group of Occupy Tampa protesters when police tried to stop him. He ignored their commands to stop and continued on his way, until police caught up to him.
Police subdued Wilson after he allegedly resisted arrest. The Associated Press reports he faces charges of resisting arrest and carrying a weapon in a restricted area.
Anyone seeking to disrupt the GOP convention, however, will likely gain a newfound respect for the efficiency of the national security apparatus in the post-9/11 era. To convention-goers, some aspects of that capability are obvious and reassuring. But other capabilities are kept under wraps until they’re needed.
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