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

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

One Secret Service agent called the 1987 papal visit "the most stressful 10 days of my life."

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.