Washington Mobilizes 42,500-Strong Security Force for Inaugural
Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- When senior FBI official Joseph Persichini takes his 5 a.m. jog down Washington’s National Mall, he imagines everything that could go wrong at Barack Obama’s inaugural next week.
He said he thinks about the possibility of a sleet storm, bombing, chemical attack or -- perhaps hardest to guard against -- the lone gunman bent on turning a celebration into a national tragedy.
“I’m thinking about what the schedule is, and what we’re doing, and what are the issues we’re facing,” said Persichini, assistant director in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington Field Office. “You don’t understand the magnitude until you go out there right on the Mall.”
As many as 2 million people -- double the number for any previous inauguration -- are expected to fill the Mall on Jan. 20 to witness the swearing-in of the first black president.
While officials said they haven’t received any credible threats, they have prepared an unprecedented security effort. It will be overseen by the U.S. Secret Service and will include 7,500 active-duty soldiers, 10,000 National Guard troops and 25,000 law-enforcement officers, security officials said. Federal officials haven’t projected the total cost, though Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia said they are spending tens of millions of dollars.
For the past six months, security officials have been trying to identify gaps in their planning, and for the past month officials have been testing their responses to scenarios with table-top exercises.
Many days, Persichini and other federal, state and city law-enforcement authorities are on the phone by 4:30 a.m. to discuss security concerns.
On Inauguration Day, the city will be honeycombed with communication command centers staffed with officials from the Secret Service, FBI, police and fire departments, intelligence agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department is working with 99 federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies to double its force of 4,100 officers. The FBI will have 600 agents on duty, a 20 percent increase from the 2005 inauguration. All 1,600 Capitol Police officers will be on duty.
The U.S. Army will have a brigade at Fort Stewart, Georgia, ready to respond to a chemical and biological attack. Within 48 hours, hundreds of planes and helicopters could fly to the Washington region if needed.
Even the ceremonial guards at the inauguration are prepared to change out of their dress uniforms to help out in the event of a security event.
The effort will even include inspectors, behavioral experts, air marshals and canine teams from the Transportation Security Administration, who are usually deployed at airports. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is sending bomb experts and dog handlers.
Helping to monitor crowds will be 94 surveillance cameras spread throughout the city as well those in subway stations and in helicopters, Washington Police Chief Cathy Lanier said.
The 16 U.S. intelligence agencies are providing a stream of information on overseas terrorist groups.
Obama supporters drawn to the president-elect’s promise to make government more transparent and welcoming may be jarred when they see the Mall, which in the days preceding the event is beginning to resemble a fortress wrapped in fencing and fortified with concrete jersey barriers. Security officials said the record crowds will make these security measures essential.
“No one should be in an environment that they’re losing their life for celebrating the inauguration of the president of the United States,” said Major General Richard Rowe, commander of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington.
City of Charter Buses
Inaugural activities will be spread over four days for the first time. They begin with a concert Jan. 18 featuring Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce Knowles and will culminate in with 10 official balls and a plethora of unofficial celebrations on the night of Jan. 20.
So far, 3,000 charter buses have registered for parking spaces; officials said as many as 10,000 may come.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will provide rush-hour service from 4 a.m. on Jan. 20 through 3 a.m. the next day, City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said. The Metro usually closes at midnight on weekdays.
More than 20 Jumbotron TV screens will be set up on the Mall and along the parade route so people won’t crowd parts of the city for a better view, officials said.
Lanier said city officials realized they would need a different plan from previous inaugurals after the spontaneous response to Obama’s victory on Election Night.
Thousands took to the city’s streets, setting off sparklers and shouting from cars. Although “they were hugging police officers,” the size of the crowds signaled potential problems, she said.
Anyone wishing to stand along the route of the inauguration parade will have to go through some type of screening, including metal detectors, said Mark Sullivan, director of the Secret Service.
On Inauguration Day, two bridges connecting Washington to Virginia will be closed to all traffic except tour buses, emergency vehicles and pedestrians. Vehicles also will be restricted within a seven-block section west of the White House.
Security officials are taking special care with buildings near the festivities. Parking garages in some will be shut down the day before. Guests attending the Air Transport Association’s party at its Pennsylvania Avenue headquarters -- along the parade route -- will have to be pre-cleared because the building has balconies, spokesman David Castelveter said.
While most of the crowds are expected to be in a celebratory mood, the Washington Peace Center is staging a rally of 3,000 outside the FBI building, calling for President George W. Bush’s arrest.
The group is protesting the Iraq invasion and the use of interrogation techniques on terror suspects that critics said amounted to torture.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the Westboro Baptist Church, a Topeka, Kansas-based group known for its anti- gay slogans and its description of Obama as “an antichrist,” will picket at a Washington park.
Mark Potok, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization in Montgomery, Alabama, that monitors racist and extremist groups, said white supremacists angered by Obama’s election are likely to stay home rather than tangle with hordes of his supporters.
If you’re a racist in such a crowd, “you might not come back with your nose intact,” he said.
Officials are asking those attending the inaugural to send text messages rather than call. They are concerned that if too many people send pictures from their cell phones, the mobile communications network could be overloaded.
Public officials also are warning anyone who comes to the city to be prepared for cold weather and lots of walking.
“This is not throwing the family in the van and heading down for a visit at the Air and Space Museum,” Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley told reporters this week. “You need to have a plan.”
One resident said he felt hemmed in by the security and expected crowds.
“Everyone is very concerned about the ability to move around,” said Wright Andrews, whose lobbying firm on Pennsylvania Avenue is hosting an inaugural party. “We’re not making as big a deal of it as usual” as a consequence.
For his part, Rowe, the Washington military commander, said he would sleep on an air mattress in his office to ensure that he is at his post on Jan. 20.
Security officials said the measures may seem like overkill, though they would rather do too much than too little.
In the event of an incident, “we would be criticized heavily after the fact for not taking precautions up front,” Lanier said. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601070&sid=arV52TnPtSII&refer=politics