On January 20, Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. A crowd of well-wishers estimated at around 2 million will fill the streets, hotels and the area surrounding Washington, DC as they strive to take part in this historic event, one, in reality, that few will actually get the chance to witness. Security for the inaugural and the accompanying activities, designated as a National Special Security Event (NSSE), will see the US Secret Service (USSS), the FBI, and dozens of other national and local law enforcement agencies, plus the military, out in numbers never seen for such an event in the past. Almost 4 square miles of downtown Washington will be closed to traffic and all bridges leading into the District of Columbia from its neighbor to the south, the Commonwealth of Virginia, will be closed, making many Virginians feel like the Civil War had never ended. Meanwhile the new American President will be driven around in his equally new vehicle, an up-armored Cadillac with doors so thick that they can stop an incoming missile, this while onboard electronics, developed to defeat roadside bombs in Iraq, work silently to detect and disrupt any potential bomb along the parade route.
Enhanced security has been the word since the President-elect was just candidate Obama. As the first African-American to be elected President, there have been some whose racial prejudices see his presidency as a personal affront, not to mention the challenges to his eligibility or experience to assume such an office. The former Democratic Senator from Illinois, like former Republican Senator Abraham Lincoln before him, assumes office in a challenging time where once again we find "a house (in this case a house and senate) divided against itself…" While many people see or dream of parallels between Obama and JFK, others simply do not see him, or anyone else for that matter, up to the task of making our country whole again. Some resent his assent to office, and some may even attempt to deny him the chance to make good. Politics are one thing, bombs and bullets another, and it is the latter that the men and women of the Secret Service will try to detect and deflect as of the 20th of January, notwithstanding their efforts in this regard to date.
The President Elect has, by some reports, been the recipient of more threats than any other president elect in history. In my recent article "The Threat to High Profile People and Presidents," (http://clintvanzandt.newsvine.com/_news/2008/11/06/2080189-update-the-threat-to-high-profile-people-and-presidents), I point out that 17 presidents and presidents-elect had been targeted by assassins, including each of our last seven. Based on these numbers alone, it appears to be a statistical probability that our new President could well be targeted in a similar manner, with his potential assailants ranging anywhere from radical Islamic fundamentalists to lone wolf racists. Both have met with success in the past. Consider, for example, the small gang of lightly armed terrorists that attacked Mumbai, India, this past November, killing and wounding hundreds and shutting down a city of 18 million for three days as their murderous rampage continued almost unabated, or the death and destruction attributed to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
While international terrorist groups like to project power while ascending to the national media stage during attacks like that vested on Mumbai, they also know that softer targets exist in proximity to such events like the inauguration of a new president. The President (Secret Service code name "Renegade") and Vice President elect (code name "Celtic") will travel by train along a 140 mile route from Philadelphia to Washington's Union Station, and every mile will represent a potential target area for someone wanting to disrupt these activities and "become somebody;" somebody like Lee Harvey Oswald or John Hinckley, Jr. While the train carrying the two officials, their families and their friends to their January 20 swearing in ceremonies will, like the new presidential limousine, probably be part car, part truck, and part tank, it will be, nonetheless, vulnerable to attack from any point along its slow route to DC and history. Some have pointed out the ten or more chemical plants along the presidential train route that could present targets of opportunity, ones that if attacked in the right way could present a threat to the thousands of unknowing residents in the local area. This is why nuclear, chemical and biological detectors will be placed along the route and the 4,700 person strong US Government Consequence Management Response Force (CCMRF), one designed to respond to and deal with a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) "hot zone," will also be at the ready.
As for me, I see the thousands of law enforcement officers from every level, backed up by the military, fully capable of dealing with any type of threat to the new President; this from air, or land, or water. Fighter jets will be flying a CAP (combat air patrol) over the DC area and pity the poor Cessna pilot who happens to stray even close to the US Capital on inauguration day, or the private boat owner who tries to "hot rod" down the Potomac River anytime that week. The Air Force and US Customs have historically provided aircraft to police the skies above a presidential inauguration, and since 9/11 shoot-down authority can be quickly obtained if needed. I think all we may see in DC that day may be a massive traffic jam, and tens of thousands of people who wanted to see the special event, but in reality would have had a better, warmer and dryer seat in their own living room in front of an HD TV.
What I am worried about, in addition to the above, is a Mumbai or McVeigh-like attack on a venue close to Washington. One close enough to get international attention, but one far enough removed to avoid the immediate reaction of the thousands of first responders stationed along the parade route to and from the swearing-in ceremony. By this, a hostage situation or some type of suicide bombing, something designed to capture the attention of the world's media that will be in attendance at this event. My nightmare scenario could include a WMD incident, perhaps something like the 1995 Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. That act of domestic terrorism was committed by Aum Shinrikyo. Their band of terrorists used plastic bags filled with a deadly chemical mix that once placed on the floor of many different trains, was punctured with sharpened umbrella tips. As the liquid spread out and evaporated, vaporous agents filled the train cars, eventually killing 12, injuring close to 4,000, and, like in Mumbai, terrorized the watching world at the relative ease of the attack. Again, like in Mumbai, hostages could be taken, perhaps setting off an event like that seen worldwide for three days in 1972 after members of Black September took Israeli Olympic athletes hostage, eventually killing 11 team members and a local police officer. It was this event that led to the creation of many international counterterrorism teams that are now fully capable of dealing with such situations, one the Germans at the time were ill-prepared to deal with.
January 20th will see the beginning to two major undertakings. The new American President will need the combined wisdom of former Presidents Lincoln and FDR, the latter who said we "had nothing to fear but fear itself." We are afraid; afraid of terrorism, afraid of wars on multiple fronts, afraid for our financial security and even in our ability to make a living as we watch hundreds of thousands of jobs slip away in out faulting economy. Our new President will need to come up with "a rabbit from his hat," perhaps like FDR a "new" New Deal while like Lincoln, he attempts to heal the wounds that divide us as a nation. All the while another force, the USSS, will be silently working in the background, trying to anticipate any plan, foil any attempt to deny the new President the chance to try to mend our land, this while international terrorists and domestic lone wolves continue to probe Presidential and US security, looking for a weak link in our security to use as a path to attack us. We need our new President to succeed so that we can survive, and his survival will be in the hands of men and women sworn to take a bullet for him. I pray they need never test that particular skill…