WASHINGTON – President Bush will be sworn in next month for a second term amid the tightest security in inaugural history, with police planning to search every one of the tens of thousands of people expected to line the parade route.
Behind the scenes, thousands of specialized law enforcement and military personnel will stand ready to respond to any emergency.
Security planners say they have seen no intelligence indicating terrorists will attempt to target the first inauguration since al-Qaida’s attack against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. But authorities are preparing for the worst, even as they strive for as open and accessible an event as possible.
“We are aware we are at war,” said Terrance Gainer, police chief at the Capitol, where the ceremony will be held. “The whole world will truly be watching. We have to be on guard.”
“We have it as well covered as it can possibly be,” said Michael Mason, head of the FBI’s Washington field office.
The Jan. 20 inauguration is designated a National Special Security Event, giving the Secret Service the lead among about 40 federal agencies involved in security planning and execution. A joint command center has been set up in suburban Virginia to enable top officials at these agencies to make quick, coordinated decisions in the event of an attack, violent protest or other problem.
“We’re going to work as a team,” Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur said.
The extra security measures include bomb-sniffing dogs, sophisticated sensors to detect chemical, radiological or biological material, and expanded use of police helicopters and military aircraft. Thousands of police officers from the Washington suburbs and other cities will arrive to help with traffic, crowd control and other duties.
More will be ready to respond behind the scenes. The FBI, for example, will have investigators, evidence technicians, hostage rescue teams, heavily armed SWAT personnel, hazardous materials experts and bomb technicians in place.
The military will have a heightened security role. This inauguration is the first since creation of the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region, set up after the Sept. 11 attacks to protect the Washington area. It includes all branches of the military.
Based at Fort McNair, Va., the command has access to all manner of military assets, from fighter jets to military police to mobile medical units. As many as 4,000 troops will be available to provide assistance with the inauguration, said Army Col. Nelson McCouch.