by Yang Qingchuan
WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (Xinhua) -- Although no credible
or specific threat targeting President-elect Barack Obama has been detected, the
U.S. authorities have stepped up inaugural security measures to an unprecedented
The secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, who oversaw the overall security plans for the inauguration, said it will be "the most security, as far as I'm aware, that any inauguration has had."
FBI special force members stand guard at the "We Are One" welcome concert, attended by U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden and kicking off the inauguration celebrations, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., the United States, Jan. 18, 2009. (Xinhua/Hou Jun)
In fact, the order to install a tightened and
sophisticated security apparatus, unseen even in recent presidential
inaugurations, came directly from the highest level of the U.S. government.
On Jan. 13, outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush
declared a state of emergency for the capital city from Jan. 17 to 21, when a
series of celebration events are being held.
The declaration facilitated federal help for the
Washington D.C. municipal government to handle security issues during the
So far, 15 million U.S. dollars of federal funds have
been transferred to the municipal government for that purpose, with more
expected. It is in addition to another 15 million dollars Congress set aside for
the Washington inauguration security costs.
In another rarely seen move, the Bush administration
designated Obama's inauguration as a National Special Security Event, which put
the U.S. Secret Service in a position to lead all the other agencies to execute
Including the Secret Service, the security efforts
involve an unprecedented number of 58 federal, state and local executive,
intelligence, law-enforcement, military and transportation agencies.
As the person in charge of all inauguration security
affairs, Chertoff will have one more day in office than any other Bush cabinet
member, including the president himself.
He will leave office on January 21, a day after Obama
is sworn in.
A joint command center to coordinate the actions of
all 58 agencies involved has been in operation since Jan. 17.
The sheer size of manpower assembled to secure the
inauguration is quite impressive, too.
Authorities have formed a security force of more than
40,000 people, including 7,500 active duty soldiers, 10,000 National Guard
troops and 25,000 law-enforcement officers.
The number surpasses the 31,000 troops serving in
Afghanistan and is undoubtedly the most-manned inaugural security plan to date.
Besides, another 25,000 active troops will also be on stand-by mode on
In areas near the West Front of the Capitol building
where Obama will be inaugurated, snipers could be seen on the top of every high
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is
reportedly sending out 155 teams of plainclothes agents to mingle with
pedestrians and metro-riders, searching for any abnormal signs.
A total of 5,265 surveillance cameras, put up around
the city, are feeding real-time images to the multi-agency joint security
A large portion of downtown Washington covering nine
square km will be open only to authorized vehicles, the security perimeter
covering more of the city than in previous inaugurations.
A smaller area near where Obama will be sworn in will
be sealed with security fences, accessible only to the 240,000 people with
People are allowed to walk freely to other secured
parts of the city, but they are warned not to carry anything on a long list of
prohibited items, including umbrellas and backpacks.
Fighter jets will provide air cover and Coast Guard
boats equipped with automatic weapons will patrol the Potomac River.
Chemical, biological and radiological detectors have
been installed around the city.
The official narrative for explaining the security
arrangements is terrorism, though there are no specific threats identified.
Officials said the high visibility of the
inauguration, the presence of dignitaries and the significance of swearing in
the first African-American U.S. president make the inauguration a "vulnerable
"We have to be prepared for the lone individual who
will try to interrupt the event all the way up to a terrorist organization,"
said Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan.
However, many will agree that security may not be so
tight if there is no estimate of a large crowd between 1.5 million and 3 million
descending on the city with a population of 580,000.
Malcolm D. Wiley, another spokesman for the Secret
Service, said, "We understand this is a historic event, but it is also tied to
the size of the crowd we expect."
The 240,000 people with tickets to the swearing-in
and the thousands of additional people with tickets to watch the parade are only
a fraction of the numbers expected to walk, take buses or subways to the
Most of those without tickets, if they see anything
at all, will watch on 20 Jumbotrons that the authorities, fearing that even a
small incident could provoke a stampede, hope will keep people in one place.
Joseph Persichini, head of the FBI's Washington
office, said the overall security plan was largely an expansion of emergency
response plans that have been in effect since the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
But the anticipated magnitude of the Obama
inauguration poses an unusual challenge.
"We're taking what we do every day and magnifying
it," Persichini said. "That's a challenge."