It Will Take 30 Agencies to Protect the Pope During His Visit

Security preparations at the White House, in anticipation of Pope Francis' visit Wednesday. Security preparations at the White House, in anticipation of Pope Francis' visit Wednesday. Carolyn Kaster/AP

Thou­sands lined the streets as Pope John Paul II rode in the pope­mo­bile to the cheers of an en­thu­si­ast­ic Miami crowd in 1987. Dressed in plain clothes and in the thick of the masses, then-Secret Ser­vice Spe­cial Agent Cheryl Tyler worked the crowd, scan­ning the area, ana­lyz­ing pos­sible threats.

The para­met­ers of pro­tect­ing someone don’t change, Tyler said, but pontiff vis­its come with dip­lo­mat­ic pro­tocol, in­volve­ment of myri­ad se­cur­ity per­son­nel, hours upon hours of in­tel­li­gence work, and more. “Everything is scru­tin­ized over and over,” she said.

Tyler’s former col­league Joseph Petro called the trip, “the most stress­ful 10 days of my life.” After Pope Fran­cis’s six-day, three-city tour start­ing Tues­day, many agents will be able to sym­path­ize.

Last week, House Speak­er John Boehner called Fran­cis’s ad­dress to Con­gress “one of the biggest events in the his­tory of the Cap­it­ol.” And “it’s go­ing to be one of the largest lifts in the na­tion’s his­tory for na­tion­al se­cur­ity events,” James Yacone, the as­sist­ant dir­ect­or of the team lead­ing the FBI’s ef­forts dur­ing the pope’s vis­it, said in a press re­lease.

Fran­cis’s stops in Wash­ing­ton, Phil­adelphia, and New York are des­ig­nated as na­tion­al spe­cial se­cur­ity events, a con­sid­er­a­tion that’s been giv­en to in­aug­ur­a­tions, pres­id­en­tial nom­in­at­ing con­ven­tions, some ma­jor in­ter­na­tion­al meet­ings, and even the Winter Olympics. And col­lab­or­at­ing agen­cies have been prac­ti­cing: from dry runs at the Cap­it­ol with a fake pope on Sept. 1 and Sept. 14 to tab­letop ex­er­cises in the three cit­ies that the pope will vis­it from Tues­day un­til Sunday.

Of­fi­cials are tak­ing an abund­ance of se­cur­ity pre­cau­tions. All at­tendees will un­der­go a se­cur­ity screen­ing be­fore en­ter­ing the pope’s D.C. events and his mo­tor­cade route. Tick­ets are re­quired for all Wash­ing­ton events, ex­cept the parade. Streets with­in a three-block ra­di­us of the Cap­it­ol will be closed start­ing Thursday at mid­night in an­ti­cip­a­tion of Fran­cis’s ad­dress to Con­gress, with a host of oth­er road clos­ures throughout the pope’s time in Wash­ing­ton.

And it’s meant many months of prep work, not just from the Secret Ser­vice but from 30 agen­cies: from the Wash­ing­ton Met­ro­pol­it­an Area Trans­it Au­thor­ity to the Cap­it­ol Po­lice, the De­fense De­part­ment to the Met­ro­pol­it­an Po­lice De­part­ment, the Park Po­lice to the may­or’s of­fice and many more—and with the Secret Ser­vice helm­ing event se­cur­ity and the FBI charged with in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing.

An­ti­cip­ate crowds. That’s what of­fi­cials are do­ing, as they mon­it­or hotel book­ings, trans­port­a­tion per­mits, and more to get a sense of how large these crowds could be for the pope’s Thursday ad­dress to Con­gress, Sen­ate Ser­geant at Arms Frank Lar­kin said. Secret Ser­vice Dir­ect­or Joseph Clancy headed to Italy in June and saw firsthand what pro­tect­ing this pontiff is like, get­ting a feel for how Fran­cis in­ter­acts with crowds and meet­ing with the head of Vat­ic­an se­cur­ity.

Be­cause Fran­cis has a par­tic­u­lar style. He’s gregari­ous. He talks off the cuff. He likes to be with the people. And Cap­it­ol Hill is mak­ing sure that mem­bers don’t try to chat with the pope or even shake his hand dur­ing his brief time in the House cham­ber. Both parties are cre­at­ing a team of law­makers—who prom­ise not to break those rules and throw Fran­cis off his jam-packed sched­ule. So, Roll Call re­ports,lead­er­ship is seek­ing about 50 mem­bers to sit in the three chairs on either side of the aisle in each row.

Agents are trained to move with their pro­tect­ee through crowds and build­ings, in and out of cars, and wherever they may go. “Be pre­pared for the un­known, ” said Tyler, who now is CEO and pres­id­ent of CLT3 Se­cur­ity Con­sult­ing. “And that’s the life of an agent … you’re pre­par­ing for the un­known al­ways.”

And some will act in ways un­seen. When John Paul II made his first trip to the United States in 1979, the Secret Ser­vice dis­guised an agent as a priest, ac­cord­ing to a high-level Cath­ol­ic of­fi­cial in Petro’s book, Stand­ing Next to His­tory. The Secret Ser­vice will have cov­ert as­sets, said Mickey Nel­son, a former as­sist­ant dir­ect­or now at Com­mand Con­sult­ing Group, al­though per­haps not of the fake monk vari­ety. (A Secret Ser­vice spokes­per­son wouldn’t com­ment on op­er­a­tion­al pro­ced­ures.)

“I don’t think there will be a need to go to that ex­tent … this time,” said Nel­son. “But they will be us­ing a lot of things that are not vis­ible that the gen­er­al pub­lic—any­body at­tend­ing the event—will nev­er see and nev­er have the need to see, as far as se­cur­ity as­sets [go].”

“The Secret Ser­vice nev­er wants se­cur­ity to be the fo­cus of any event,” he ad­ded.

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