TSG IntelBrief: Securing the U.S. Presidential Inauguration
January 19, 2017
Bottom Line Up Front:
• The events surrounding the January 20 U.S. presidential inauguration present immense and complex security challenges.
• A mix of federal, state, and local law enforcement and military personnel will collaborate to harden the areas surrounding the U.S. Capitol complex and inaugural parade route.
• While the threat of terrorism is a chief concern, the possibility of violent protests and other hostile activities also pose potential threats.
• The ability to effectively secure the inauguration while ensuring open access to the public and protecting constitutional rights to free assembly is an important democratic symbol, and significant security accomplishment.
The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States on January 20 will require—like all modern inaugurations—a massive security undertaking. The security challenges are made easier by the well-established protocols and experience of the agencies involved, including the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, the U.S. Capitol Police, and many others. Washington, D.C. is long accustomed to high-level security events, and the area between the Capitol and the White House is already among the most secure public venues in the nation. Bolstering the underlying level of security is the official designation of the 58th U.S. inauguration ceremonies as a ‘National Special Security Event’; the designation takes effect on January 19 and lasts through January 21. Road closures and increased police presence will be among the most visible of a massive security operation occurring behind the scenes.
While the 2017 inauguration will be the first since the so-called Islamic State seized global headlines in 2014, it is hardly the first to face the threat of terrorism. Every U.S. presidential inauguration presents a highly symbolic target for terrorists—both foreign and domestic. As such, the security protocols surrounding inaugural events are always robust and evolving to meet new or highlighted threats. For example, while vehicle traffic around the inauguration is always restricted, there will likely be greater focus on ensuring limited vehicle access due to recent truck attacks in Nice and Berlin.
In the days leading up to the inauguration, command posts and joint task force centers have set up across the D.C. area. Specific roads and venues have already been closed to the public as preparations are put in place. While acts of terrorism are a prime concern, they will not be the only focus for security officials. On normal days, security at the White House and U.S. Capitol deal with disturbances or emotionally disturbed individuals; the overwhelming majority of these incidents do not result in violence. Still, some individuals do present a threat, such as the gunman who killed two U.S. Capitol Police officers in 1998 and was found incompetent to stand trial due to severe mental illness. Law enforcement officials will plan to mitigate these types of isolated incidents just as they will plan to mitigate potential terror attacks to ensure the inauguration runs smoothly.
Another security concern surrounding the inauguration is the threat of violent protests—quite distinct from the constitutionally-protected protests that accompany every inauguration. This year will be no exception, and the heated political environment will only add to the challenge of preventing violence while permitting protests. Security officials will be alert for any incidents that might serve as a distraction from another area, as well as move to quickly contain any group of violent protesters that may seek to hijack a peaceful march. Balancing security needs with civil liberties is always a delicate task, and the spotlight will be focused on the interactions between law enforcement and the public. The peaceful transfer of power is a cornerstone of the U.S. experience. The presidential inauguration—with all its security complexities—is an important part of that experience.
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