Tight security plans for Obama swearing-in

2013-01-18 12:00
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Washington - Crowds may be smaller on Monday than when Barack Obama was first sworn into office in 2009, but security is as tight as ever, with experts warning a "lone wolf" would pose the greatest threat.

Between 500 000 and 800 000 people are expected to pass through the National Mall, the immense greenway that leads up to the Capitol, compared to the 1.8 million spectators who came to applaud Obama four years ago.

Thousands of police - the official figure has not been made public - will fan across the area, with several posted at every street corner.

Airspace over Washington will be under tight surveillance, as will the Potomac River that runs along the city.

Teams on horseback and with bomb-sniffing dogs will crisscross the city looking for potential explosive devices.

More than 13 000 soldiers will attend the parade, behind a security cordon, to escort President Obama and to keep watch on the Capitol, the seat of Congress where he will be officially sworn into office.

Snipers

There will be cameras everywhere - surveillance, media and tourist alike - a number of roads around the Mall will be closed to vehicles and spectators will be thoroughly searched, controlled and screened at each checkpoint.

On the roofs of the main buildings in the area, snipers will stand watch.

"We're prepared for a variety of threats," said US Capitol Police spokesperson Shennell Antrobus.

He expressed confidence in the force's "robust, multi-task security plan" that has been in the works for months.

Michael Clancy, deputy assistant director of the FBI's counterterrorism division, said "the bigger threat, the thing that keeps you awake at night, are the lone offenders, regardless of their affiliation".

"Those are the ones that scare me the most, folks that we don't have on our radar. It's the Timothy McVeighs of the world," Clancy added in an interview.

Tight lid on details


He was referring to an American former soldier turned political extremist whose 1995 bomb attack on an Oklahoma City federal building killed 168.

"It would be crazy for anybody to try anything because of the law enforcement in the area, but those are concerns," said Stephen Somers, vice president of operations for AlliedBarton Security Services, one of the private security firms tapped to support the force.

"Any lone wolf is a tremendous threat that's why security is so tight," added Somers, whose staff will be dispatched to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

"Everybody needs to be on top of their game that day."

Worried about any leaks, officials have kept a tight lid on details about the security precautions.

At an undisclosed location in the suburbs of Washington, a command centre will monitor in real time any developments in and around the proceedings.

94 bases across the city

On the big day, agents will monitor a collage of massive flat screens and cutting-edge surveillance, while staying in contact with teams on the ground.

Each one of the 42 agencies involved in security - headed by the US Secret Service that provides protection for the president - will have representatives at the headquarters, the convergence of 94 bases spread across the city.

Secret Service spokesperson Brian Leary said the Multi Agency Communications Centre "really gives us the ability to monitor and co-ordinate security from a central location".

Antrobus, of the US Capitol Police, said this partnership helps ensure that everyone can "enjoy the democratic process and this historic day".

Officials are also keen on avoiding a repeat of the planning mishaps of 2009, when thousands of spectators were stuck in a massive freeway tunnel for hours in the freezing cold, and missed Obama's speech.

Survivors of the ordeal dubbed it the Purple Tunnel of Doom.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us
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