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The agents of Secret Service with whom Marc Ambinder spoke agreed – perhaps out of pride, perhaps out of experience – that if that agency had been in charge of security at the Capitol January 6th the assault would have stopped much more quickly. But it was not the case: never before has the certification of the votes of the Electoral College it had been a risky event. There were only those who led to then vicepresidente, Mike Pence, and several legislators, to a safe place. As a consequence, 130 of them were infected or in danger of contagion of COVID-19.
That day a lot changed with a view to future security of top officials. Chuck Marino, a former special agency supervisor, retired in 2015, explained to The Atlantic that internal threat, violent extremism and what we saw on January 6 “makes” the Secret Service adapt.
Even when the militarization of Washington DC is undone for the inauguration of the new President of the United States, Joe Biden, normality will not return for the White House trustees. “He Secret Service faces a challenge like never beforeAmbinder wrote in the post. On the one hand, “crowds can suddenly break through the perimeters”, for example; on the other, “the technology of drones it is cheap and therefore it is readily available ”.
Even when the militarization of Washington DC is undone for the inauguration of the new president of the United States, Joe Biden, normality will not return for the trustees of the White House.
Not announced neither when nor where will Biden’s first trip as president be, but it will not be a common security event. It is foreseen, for example, that previous inspections will change: JJ Hensley, who worked in the intelligence and recruiting divisions of the Secret Service, explained to The Atlantic what preparing a city for the visit of a protected official will be even more difficult than it already was.
“Leaves a week before the president or his vice president. Now we will have to attend to social networks and see what happens outside, ”Hensley said. “You have to trust your local peers, because they may have a lot more information than someone who just got off the plane from Washington DC. They will have the old threats and now new threats too: you have to worry about anything, from a switchblade to a drone that could have explosives. “
The fact that the Capitol robbers, who believed in electoral fraud that did not exist, were groups radicalized who supported Donald Trump it does not change the main problem: that they are a threat beyond their sign. “Violence is violence”Said one of the caregivers of Bill Clinton during the presidency, Stephen Monteiro. “There is violence on the left and there is violence on the right. We do not distinguish between the origins of violence ”, he stressed about the rigorous apolitical position Secret Service.
Snipers on a roof on Biden’s Inauguration Day. The Secret Service will have “the old threats and now also new threats: you have to worry about anything from a switchblade to a drone that could have explosives,” said a former agent.
To become an agent you have to pass intense panel interviews and a polygraph test. Throughout the race, officers are reexamined every five to seven years, to identify deficiencies in character or affiliations. “But radicalization, especially online, can happen much more quickly,” he observed. The Atlantic. “It requires a continuous evaluation process”Hensley agreed. “In five years a lot can happen.”
In the case of the assault on the Capitol, at least a case of an officer of a security agency (not the Secret Service), who is under investigation, who posted on his social media accounts that “patriots” should go “on the offensive” to avoid Biden’s certification.
While “the culture is rigidly hierarchical and unforgiving, and every aspect of an agent’s performance is subject to a scrutiny without margin of error”, As explained by Vic Erevia, in charge of the protection of Barack Obama from 2011 to 2013, a Ambinder, “el current period clearly feels more dangerous than any other time of my life. I think the challenges it presents are going to persist ”.
Secret Service agents go through intense panel interviews and a polygraph test; throughout the career, they are periodically re-examined.
The travel is the main problem for protection: “It cannot be deployed to the National Guard every time the president goes somewhere ”, illustrated Erevia. “There will be emboldened elements armed to the teeth,” he added, for which more local support will be needed than before. Although the police have been enough, today could not reach: “We didn’t have the emotional context of the environment that we have today.”
What has not changed is that a protection plan for a president has the maximum strength of its outermost perimeter. “The distance is friend of safety“Erevia synthesized. “One of the most immediate things I can imagine happening is that we see the potentially limited president travel, more than in the past ”.
Monteiro agreed: there will be a change in the usual “push and pull” between teams of the president, who want him to be seen in contact with citizens, and the Secret Service, who would prefer to keep him isolated in safe spaces. This time the balance will most likely tilt to the side of prudence. “Now I don’t think the staff wants to do anything. They have seen our political leaders under siege“, said. “So I think it is going to happen naturally that we are going to see a retreat of this type of risk exposure that we had before in the country.”
The tug of war between the president’s teams, who want him to be seen in contact with citizens, and the Secret Service, who would prefer to keep him isolated in safe spaces, will likely lean toward prudence.
Another possible change, anticipated The Atlantic, is the coordination between security agencies. “During the special events for national security, such as assumptions or speeches about the State of the Union, the Secret Service installs a Central Agency Command (MACC) in downtown Washington, ”Ambinder explained. There, in a room with no access to the press, officials from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Investigative Agency (FBI) and National Security Agency (NSA) “process intelligence in real time”, so that “the slightest incident, such as an agent losing the pin that identifies security, is a cause for alarm and analysis.”
However, outside of those special events, each agency has a separate central command, and generally they act the Secret Service, FBI, Capitol Police, and Metropolitan Police Department. While the commanders and senior officers talk to each other, there is not a flow of intelligence and update of the situation common to all.
Erevia suggested that, to avoid communication problems that hindered action during the assault on the Capitol, a model like the MACC could be useful for a single central command, operating 24/7, with the mission of preventing and responding to any event. “The only way it would really be possible to manage all of this is for everyone to have the same script,” he told The Atlantic. And that only happens when they are all in one place”.
The one in charge of protecting Barack Obama from 2011 to 2013 said that “the current period feels clearly more dangerous than any other.
For now, Biden will have the white house security, which has been strengthened several times since the attacks of the September 11, 2001. “An integrated air defense system tracks threats in the air, and the Secret Service Special Operations Division it is currently experimenting with a number of anti-drone lasers, ”the post described. “In 2019 several batteries were installed around it, one of which is armed with misiles Stinger. During Obama’s presidency the General Services Administration began working on a new shelter facility near the West Wing”.
Anti-assault teams use different weapons, including a device that can fire several darts electrified simultaneously. “If a mob tries to jump the reinforced fence of the White House – a response to raids that occurred in 2014 – would encounter several tactical units, ferocious Belgian Malinois shepherds, snipers authorized to kill and, in a short time, SWAT teams from the FBI and law enforcement agencies”Added the article.
Finally, the Secret Service completed a “Expensive upgrade” of your radio equipment, which allows agents and officers to be in secure and instant communication with other agencies in the region. “The armoring of caravan vehicles and the computerized defensive tactic trucks, which follow the presidential limousine, will soon be revamped with technology that creates a virtual fence around the sites on presidential trips, “he concluded.