Inauguration safety: 'No room for mistakes'

January 20, 2009 5:37:49 AM PST
When Barack Obama holds up his hand to be sworn in as the nation's 44th president, he will be protected by an army of police and military in the largest-scale security operation in U.S. history. Heavily armed U.S. Coast Guard boats will patrol the rivers. SWAT teams will be at the ready. Military jets are expected to canvass the restricted airspace surrounding the nation's capital. A brand-new, fortified limo is ready for Obama.

Security for this inauguration promises to be the most expensive in the nation's history. And make no mistake, federal officials are deadly serious.

"The question usually comes up, 'Do you think you can do it?'" said Col. Dave Miles, the Air Force liaison to the Department of Homeland Security for the National Capital Region. But he says he is "completely confident" that the pilots tasked with patrolling the skies are up to the job.

"It'd be a terrible day if we had to shoot down an airliner to defend folks on the ground, but that's the way it is and everyone's willing to accept that and prepared to do it," he added.

The security effort will be massive. More than 8,000 police officers and an estimated 11,000 military personnel -- in addition to thousands of federal agents and undercover teams -- will look for any hint of trouble in the huge crowd expected to show up.

Joseph Perssichini Jr, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, said he's conveyed the importance of Tuesday's events to his agents.

"I just met with all the intelligence teams that'll be out on the street being our eyes and ears and I told them that the American people are depending on you and that's what we look at every day," he said.

"We cannot let our guard down, we have to give it 100 percent. There is no room for mistakes and that's the motto we look at," he continued, noting that the agents understand that many variables could affect the security situation.

High Security Protecting Obama and Attendees

Authorities say the potential threat ranges from al Qaeda-inspired terrorists to so-called lone wolves, who operate outside a major terror network, and the deranged, who could attack without warning.

"You will see some of the police officers in every area of the city on horseback, motorcycles ... Segways, just about every way you can imagine," in addition to the numerous officers assigned to traditional foot patrols, said Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier.

Lanier said that with the influx of people, the department started doubling its staffing Friday.

Beyond the boots on the ground, the law enforcement agencies and military will deploy the latest in security technology. From satellites and surveillance cameras aimed at the city, to electronic sensors sniffing the air for signs of radiological, biological or chemical weapons.

U.S. Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan says no resource will be spared.

"Whether it has to do with human resource asset[s], technology asset[s] -- there's no asset that we're not going to use to make this a safe event."

Sullivan added that the security preparations have been "very, very collaborative," a massive undertaking which involves "58 different federal, state and local law enforcement agencies," military and public safety entities.

"Everyone [is] working together to make this an event, an event that is not about security, but an event that is about the president and our country," he added.

Though no specific threat has been identified, with millions possibly in attendance, law enforcement officials say they have to be prepared for the worst.

"It is going to be an interesting time here and no one is sparing any expense or holding back any capabilities that they have," Miles said.

"Everyone understands you do not want to be second-guessed. ... But the measures in place, he said, should allow them to address "any contingency that's going to arise."

(Information taken from