Inauguration Security

A first-person account of the security surrounding the second inauguration of President Obama. Read it more for the details than for the author's reaction to them.

Posted on February 8, 2013 at 6:16 AM • 23 Comments

Comments

EricaFebruary 8, 2013 6:49 AM

Prohibited items list.....Not allowed to take firearms to a constitutional event?

You'd think the nazis had won the cold war.

George H. H. MitchellFebruary 8, 2013 7:05 AM

I have many happy memories of visiting Washington in my youth, when one could wander almost anywhere, and the stairway in the Washington Monument was still open. But the whole feel of the city became gradually more repressive in the years past 1980 or so, and when visiting since 2001, it has seemed more and more as if one had passed through the Twilight Zone into an enclave of Cold War paranoia.

The 2009 inauguration was a moment of great promise -- which, to say the least, has not been fulfilled.

ChrisFebruary 8, 2013 8:03 AM

The author of the blog post has a very sour attitude to life.

Yes, there is a balance to be struck between liberty and safety (of the president, of the dignitaries, of the public). But to state that he should be able to "wander around" during the inauguration and "explore the area" is naive.

DaveFebruary 8, 2013 8:20 AM

+1 to Chris's comment. Any other day you can explore the capital to your heart's content. Just about every building is open to the public and free (well, not free if you count taxes, but I digress).

wiredogFebruary 8, 2013 8:34 AM

That has to be the most clueless thing Bruce has ever linked to. At least, without Bruce commenting upon the cluelessness.

As to the military presence that the author complains about? They seem to think this is some sort of post 9-11 thing. Not so, as any local could tell you. In 1989, when I was in the DC Guard, I was stationed at a checkpoint outside the White House on inauguration day. There were snipers on the roofs of various buildings in the area, too.

@George Mitchell: The stairway up the Washington Monument isn't closed for security reasons, it's closed because the entire Monument is closed. Because of the earthquake damage.

StylePoliceFebruary 8, 2013 8:39 AM

Land of the free? It is sad to see that the terrorists have won - by getting the government of the US to destroy the US way of life out of fear for terrorism.

Kim Il Sung would have been proud of such a demonstration of police and military power over the citizens of his own country.

Dr. I. Needtob AtheFebruary 8, 2013 8:52 AM

Funniest comment so far:

"You'd think the nazis had won the cold war."

CFebruary 8, 2013 8:53 AM

I agree with wiredog. This blog entry is extremely unfortunate. Without commentary from Bruce, it comes off as implicit endorsement of the article's author's opinions and thoughts on the situation.

Steve WildstromFebruary 8, 2013 9:09 AM

The use of the National Guard for traffic control goes back at least to 1977, the first inauguration I attended. So does the use of a military cordon along the parade route, which is more for ceremony than security (most if not all of those troops are unarmed.)

TimFebruary 8, 2013 9:16 AM

I'm guessing the author has never been to a large event of any kind before - He says that fencing should never be used to corral people. Whenever you have tens or hundreds of thousands of people all coming to an area, you have to control where they go and restrict their movement to avoid utter chaos and confusion. I wonder if he similarly takes issue with using fences and walls to corral people at sports games like the super bowl...

When I've run the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, the 15,000 runners are similarly cordoned off by large fences, and there are many public roads you aren't allowed to walk on any more. This type of corralling is not something reserved to the government - if he wants, he can a permit to close down all kinds of public areas to hold a private event of his own.

He claims that freedom of assembly rights were curtailed. Has he ever been to a concert at a public park? They don't allow everyone to go backstage, even though those areas are publicly accessible on other days - is this curtailing your rights?

It sounds like he's just ticked off that he had to walk around a lot before he could get back home.

DmanFebruary 8, 2013 12:04 PM

Just wanted to add to the ignorance of the article, none of the military shown are "standing at attention" and putting your hand on someones shoulder to get their attention in a crowd is not a security goon assaulting you.

QMFebruary 8, 2013 12:16 PM

That has to be the most clueless thing Bruce has ever linked to.

No, that would be the link to the post that says QM is wrong.

BryanFebruary 8, 2013 12:58 PM

I think, while security for the inauguration is important, the writer is highlighting the lack of communication of where he can go and what to expect. From that standpoint his surprise is both understandable and to be expected.

Why aren't detailed map handouts given out, customized for each colored ticket attendee? These maps could show the traffic flow, so that people could cooperate and not be unexpectedly physically assaulted. This would vastly improve everyone's experience, and manage expectations appropriately.

Why have such an event at public expense and not try to minimize negative perceptions?

Clive RobinsonFebruary 8, 2013 1:07 PM

Hmm a look at the authors pictures and maps does not bring across the impression he is trying to give. For instance the soldiers appear to be unarmed and wearing high vis vests so acting in effect to protect "public safety" in the prior 9/11 meaning. Likewise others appear to be in cerimonial dress which used to be worn in public as a mark of respect for official events.

A look at the maps gives the impression that certain major routes have been used to alow good emergancy vehicle access for the likes of medical emergancies etc. Which you would expect from sensible planning for the number of expected official and unofficial visitors of all ages and fitness. Baring in mind that at the time of the planning the weather would be an unknown variable --and let's face it DC has had a run of bad luck in that area in recent times-- so it might well have been snowy weather conditions with tempratures well below freezing.

I get the feeling the author has a yearning for the "good old days" that in reality were anything but when poor planning and croud control would lead to hospitalisation and even deaths for quite a few people.

I further guess the author did not come to the UK during the summer whilst the Olympics were on (they would have had an even worse vibe).

Royal Greenwich (as now is) is a beautiful place with lots of interesting nooks and crannies that can reward the curious with little jems of architecture etc, and is a popular venue during the summer for tourists and more recently Cruise liners. Also film makers, Pirates of the Carabian had some sceens shot around the Navel Museum and Johny Depp payed some surprise visits to some local schools.

However for the olympic visitor no joy [1] places of interest were shut up and baricaded from them and other visitors. And as some of the readers on this blog know some residents found anti-aircraft instalations being put on their roofs without consultation.

[1] On arrival Olympic venue ticket holders were coraled and "route marched" from public transport point to olympic security check in, in narrow file over a specialy constructed bridge by soldiers and other service personnel[5][6], and ticket holders were not "officialy" allowed to even use the shops or other amenities of Greenwich [2][3].

[2] Apparently the 'official sponsors' such as JunkieD's, a well known and loathed US fizzy drinks manufacture who has been banned from some countries and a fake scandinavian beer manufacture would not be happy [3][4].

[3] Local traders were absolutly out raged by this "you are not going to sell to visitors" attitude because they had been repeatedly assured by all the Lococ Olympic Officials right up untill the games started that the Olympic visitors would be allowed free run of Greenwich, and thus be there in effect to boast their sales etc. Most retailers actually lost significant trade in the period they would normaly make their main annual takings from summer visitors and tourists. Which has sadly resulted in some of them to "cease trading".

[4] The joke of the 'official sponsors would not be pleased' was JunkieD's and a well known UK retail outlet both have stores in Greenwhich which were also officialy 'out of bounds' and actually made significant losses during the Olympic period.

[5] The soldiers and other armed services personnel were not particularly happy with the "Official Sponsor" view for many reasons [6] and provided various "Lococ Olympic Officials" were not around did let visitors out of the coral if asked, provided it was not onto the emergancy vehicle access routes.

[6] The armed forces personnel were not supposed to be at the Olympics [7] except as some small specialist units in case of terrorist activity (which has happened a number of times in the passt long prior to 9/11).

[7] The Ministry of Defence had originaly offered to make personnel available but had been told by Lococ Olympic Officials and the current UK Gov that they would not be needed as their favourd (via payments to the political party etc) private sector security firm Group 4 Services (G4S) were going to do it all with the unemployed and volunteer groups [8].

[8] G4S are unfortunatly an organisation with a history of failing when taking over what were public sector services such as prisons and prisoner transport. So much so they are sometimes refered to as "Grope4Success" (partly due to accusasions of assult of various types carried out by their staff at amongst other places "family detention centers") and partly because they appear to have all the ability of a blind drunk crawling in the gutter groping for pennies to get the next drink. Unsupprisingly they compleatly and utterly messed up and rather than try to sort things out kept it hushed up untill the last minute[9].

[9] G4S's failure was so bad they had recruted less than a very small percentage of the people they required and many of those they had were shall we say "not tempramentaly suitable" for such work and appeared to think they were on some "power kick". The result was in an emergancy the UK Gov had to use armed forces personnel to do the job, most of whom were only in the UK from frontline activities in the Middle East to have a few precious days with their loved ones. And quite justifiably were upset that they had lost precious time, however as far as I'm aware they all did their best to make the games as good as they could for the visitors, perhaps in some cases contrary to the wishes of the "Officials & Sponsors" ;-)

pointless_hackFebruary 8, 2013 1:53 PM

It amused me to imagine the blog author as actually a Russian agent, sent to meet a spy on that day, by disappearing into the crowd.

@Clive Thompson Congrats on your junket to the UK.

FigureitoutFebruary 8, 2013 11:31 PM

There used to be "Open House Inaugurations" and balls, where any citizen could go (by horseback or foot) to drink punch and dance along side the president. I think they were even permitted to stay the night (if their lips got a little too wet). Many probably didn't go b/c they were busy being pioneers or didn't care for the journey. It's a little tidbit that really stuck w/ me from an American history class. How odd it must've been for a gov't to trust its citizens b/c covert foreign agents perverting society couldn't easily travel in w/o raising some brows; so from a security standpoint, a significant bottleneck.

FugetaboutitFebruary 9, 2013 12:56 PM

@Figureitout: Hell, you used to be able to walk up to the White House, stick your nose up against the glass, knock on the front door, and ask to see Mr. Lincoln.

Sam JFebruary 10, 2013 1:24 PM

@Fugetaboutit - Yeah, in fact, I remember this one time when I went to see Lincoln, but it turned out he was at the theater, and, you know, as he guard was off duty I just decided I'd walk into his private box, and...

Seriously though, it's not over the top. As noted a lot of the military presence was ceremonial, and large public events (especially in DC) almost always have guardsmen present as adjunct law enforcement.

Ollie JonesFebruary 10, 2013 2:13 PM

It's rare that Godwin's Law shows itself in the very first comment on Dr. Schneier's blog. But it happened this time.

HarryFebruary 10, 2013 3:01 PM

The overwhelming majority (if not all) of the uniformed military was there as crowd control and for ceremonial purposes. Actual protection would be generally be provided by people in civilian suits or, for sniper teams and such, SWAT-type suits.

The overwhelming part of restricted access is for crowd control and ease of access for safety personnel (such as ambulances, as has already been pointed out). One can tell this is true because the same crowd control measures were in place before 9/11 and before spectators were required to file through metal detectors.

Bob GFebruary 16, 2013 5:17 PM

I'd like to ask a different question about the presidential inauguration. I wonder whether Obama's second will be the last outdoor one. Will drones become a threat that can't be defended against? I know nothing special about drones and nothing at all about defenses against them.

But I do know that drones can be small, and that has to make defense hard. If all you want to do is kill one individual (or any individual to cause panic), and if drones are cheap, then could a fleet of a couple of dozen drones overwhelm any defenses? Would an old-fashioned overhead net work? Will all major outdoor events be vulnerable in the same way?

Am I guilty of Bruce's movie plot scenario syndrome?

Does anybody who actually knows something have a comment?

All-in-OneFebruary 19, 2013 9:09 PM

A risk-free life is an impossible thing. Is there really such thing as "safety" or "security" or are these concepts euphemisms for social control?

There is no discussion here of working to create a society where "security" means everyone having enough money, food, shelter, and necessities to live a dignified life.

Stephan EngbergFebruary 20, 2013 1:44 AM

@All-in-one

Sure, a risk free life is an illusion.

But security can be designed to minimize risks and thus ensuring that citizens can focus on a and manage the actual risks.

For instance eliminating identification of people and devices serverside would have a drastic positive effect on security.

We can then reverse the question asking how to ensure anti-crime and anti-terror as real issues, that would however be much easier to manage.

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