|Obama’s victory lap small scale but grand
Crowds may be smaller on Monday than when US President Barack Obama was first sworn into office in 2009, but security is tight and the occasion is still grand.
It falls on the holiday marking civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. It also marks the day 150 years ago Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery. The 50th anniversary of King’s I Have a Dream speech falls on the day, too.
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 with the 1.8 million spectators who came to applaud Obama four years ago, AFP reports.
More than 13,000 soldiers will attend the parade, behind a security cordon, to escort President Obama and his family and to keep watch on the Capitol, the seat of Congress where he will be officially sworn into office.
“We're prepared for a variety of threats,’’ said US Capitol Police spokesman 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.
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.’’
At an undisclosed location in the suburbs of Washington, a command center will monitor in real time any developments in and around the proceedings.
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 spokesman Brian Leary said the Multi Agency Communications Center “really gives us the ability to monitor and coordinate security from a central location.’’
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.