Inauguration Security

January 23, 2009

And today we’re looking back at one of the biggest days in the history of the United States. January 20th, 2009, the inauguration of President Obama. And security was the tightest ever.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello I’m Neal Schiff and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases, and operations. And today we’re looking back at one of the biggest days in the history of the United States. January 20th, 2009, the inauguration of President Obama. And security was the tightest ever.

Mr. Persichini: “It was without incident for us in the terrorism world, in the response world, in the law enforcement world, that’s a very successful day.”

Mr. Schiff: As part of the FBI’s personnel deployed, the well-known Hostage Rescue Team was there just in case.

Mr. Blecksmith: “The HRT, it’s the United States government’s domestic law enforcement counterterrorism tactical response team.”

Mr. Schiff: The Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office (WFO) in our nation’s capital, Joseph Persichini, says the FBI is just one agency out of many that put in many hours inside and outside of Washington, D.C. All told, there were nearly 30,000 law enforcement personnel on the job protecting the almost two million people attending the big event.

Mr. Persichini: “Well, an event such as the inauguration, that it wasn’t just inauguration, the National Security Special Event (NSSE) designated by the Secretary of DHS (Department of Homeland Security), in essence, was four days. So the planning of these events began over six months ago. There were 23 different subcommittees from intelligence to transportation to security to response. So we’ve been planning for over six months. The FBI is one of the primary leaders throughout this planning stage. Obviously we’re intricately involved in the intelligence side of the house. And of course, if anything should happen, the FBI would then be the lead investigation for that incident.”

Mr. Schiff: Persichini says that for such a tremendous event as the inauguration, everything that authorities can think of is covered with personnel everywhere. Maybe not seen, but close by.

Mr. Persichini: “A large number of our employees were obviously here at WFO and then we have about 155 response and intelligence teams. Those teams are usually one agent and one joint terrorism task force investigator paired up. We’ll be in different sectors around the city and also in the metropolitan area. As you know in the London bombing they used commuter lots to assemble prior to going into London. So there will be teams out there looking at individuals getting on subways and buses. We also have our technical teams; bomb technicians; the Hostage Rescue Team will be stationed in a facility; we have air-ops in a different facility. So we try to place the resources strategically around the region so we would have adequate response time if in fact an incident does occur.”

Mr. Schiff: The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group, known as CIRG, had personnel all over the place. Bob Blecksmith is the Assistant Director at CIRG.

Mr. Blecksmith: “The Hostage Rescue Team, or the HRT, that’s part of CIRG. It’s the United States government’s domestic law enforcement counterterrorism tactical response team. As such, we had portions of it deployed throughout the different venues of the National Special Security Event. The SWAT Operations Unit in CIRG is responsible for the coordination of the FBI’s SWAT teams around the country; every FBI office has a SWAT team. We brought in well over 200 FBI SWAT team members, which the SWAT Operations Unit handled that portion for us; they were pre-deployed in different locations.”

Mr. Schiff: CIRG has many technical and scientific experts and Blecksmith says they all played an inauguration day role.

Mr. Blecksmith: “The Crisis Negotiations Unit was responsible for bringing in the different FBI crisis negotiators; we had them deployed to various locations. Our Hazardous Devices Operations Center was responsible for bringing in the Special Agent bomb technicians that were assigned to the Inauguration Bomb Management Center as well as placing them on the various teams that would go out and do assessments and respond to any threats or suspicious packages.”

Mr. Schiff: Blecksmith says that if there was any use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), FBI personnel were alert and ready.

Mr. Blecksmith: “We have a couple of units, also, that are in CIRG: the Hazardous Devices Response Unit and the National Assets Response Unit. They responsible to deploy and respond to any WMD device that’s located to mitigate and actually render safe that device if one was found. So they were pre-deployed, ready to handle any calls that might come. The Aviation Surveillance Branch within CIRG; they coordinate and support the FBI’s aviation assets as well as all of the ground surveillance. Even our Behavioral Analysis Unit, which provides behaviorally-based investigative and operational support. The Counterterrorism Division actually requested some assistance during the inauguration so they actually responded. So virtually every aspect, every entity within the Critical Incident Response Group supported the inauguration.”

Mr. Schiff: We asked Persichini about any incidents that may have occurred that the nearly two-million in attendance didn’t know about.

Mr. Persichini: “Well, all through during the day we did respond to numerous packages. There were intelligence bulletins coming out on individuals that may or may not have expressed interest to do some kind of activity during the inauguration and we responded with the appropriate personnel, collaborated with our partners in the law enforcement community. But that’s kind of constant during the day. We’re always at a heightened level of alert and the United States Secret Service obviously has their intelligence base as it relates to individuals who had previously made some attempt or have expressed some interest in doing harm to the President. Those are also individuals of interest.”

Mr. Schiff: And what was learned by law enforcement? We asked Persichini what he, the FBI, and the many law enforcement agencies learned is the key to making security work to the fullest in the future?

Mr. Persichini: “Patience. Every agency, every individual brings something to the table that is vitally important. Each one of us in the agencies involved have different missions and we have to understand each one of those missions; each one of the responsibilities. And then as we plan, we have to meld that together for success. So I think as we go back and say, ‘Well we planned, you know, for six months.’ Probably the only thing that may have caused at least some concern were the lack of knowledge of what, in essence, was the final schedule? What were the events? One topic would be we didn’t even know who the performers were at the concert. We didn’t know the size of the concert. So for us that’s a concern; for the United States Park Police. Do we prepare for 100,000 people? Do you prepare for 500,000 people? So, again, it’s a learning experience. We’ve never experienced this in our history for an inauguration. So all in all, again, I think it was very successful and we all walked away with a lesson. And I think that’s very important.”

Mr. Schiff: Lots of planning; lots of people. From the huge crowd attending to some 30,000 law enforcement personnel working side by side, sharing information and helping make the inauguration of President Obama a tremendous success. There’s more, much more, on security for the event on our Internet site, That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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