When Pope Francis enters the United States Tuesday, he will bring with him the largest security operation in the country’s history.
Pope Francis will host events across Washington, Philadelphia and New York over the next week, some likely to see more than one million onlookers, and those events bring with them challenges for public safety officials.
“It is the largest security operation that i think we are ever going to see,” said Dan Bongino, a former Secret Service agent with more than two decades experience.
The pope’s five-day visit, his first ever to the United States, will kick off in Washington with a visit to the White House and a parade down Constitution Avenue, before heading to New York for a mass at Madison Square Garden and another in Philadelphia that is expected to draw more than 1.5 million revelers.
Bongino said a tour like this is unprecedented in terms of the security needed and likened it to having an inauguration for an incredibly popular president in multiple cities all at the same time.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has designated the pope’s visit as a National Special Security Event, which allows for enhanced cooperation of local, state and federal partners in establishing a safe and secure environment.
In this case, the Secret Service will be in charge of the the security logistics operation, but will cooperate closely with Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Capitol Police officers, and local police officers.
Onlookers can expect to see extra security on subways and the metro, long lines at metal detectors for papal events and unprecedented vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
“Once this security footprint steps on DC that’s what it’s going to look like,” Bongino said.
Bongino was heavily involved with the 2008 inauguration proceedings, and he said it wasn’t nearly as difficult as the papal visit is shaping up to be.
One of the main security issues with the pope, Bongino said, is one of the things people like most about him. His proclivity to get out and interact directly with crowds of people.
During the 2008 inauguration, Bongino was in charge of securing the area of President Barack Obama’s parade route where he got out of his limousine to walk and wave to onlookers.
Bongino said this was the most secure part of the parade route, and while it was hectic, the Secret Service agents were prepared for it.
“The president, when he got out and waved, we knew when that was going to happen,” Bongino said.
Pope Francis, on the other hand, has been known to randomly enter crowds of people to embrace them personally, which can cause major concern for security personnel.
In the pope’s case, the aggressive security foot print is going to be everywhere, not just in a pre-determined area where there is expected to be a lot of interaction.
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