Images can be more powerful than words and this week we will see how true this is when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take their respective oaths of office. I’ve been asked “Can they do this safely in public”? The answer is “yes” But first, a bit about images.
Consider this picture:
It’s President George W. Bush, on the pitcher’s mound at Yankee Stadium, throwing out the first pitch. The date was a few days after the attacks of September 11. As hard as it is to admit, for one day this diehard, lifelong Red Sox fan rooted for the Yankees. And a lifelong Democrat watched proudly, perhaps the most proudly ever when thinking of a Republican President. In front of 55,000 fans “W” threw a perfect strike. The security plan had to have been a nightmare, yet it needed to be done. It told Al-Qaeda, terrorists everywhere, that we, The United States of America, may have been bloodied, yet we would not back down, not live in fear, not cower under the threat of any terrorist, anywhere. Two weeks after the attack on our nation’s Capitol, on one of the world’s premier symbols of Democracy, Biden and Harris will be sending the same message on that same Capitol’s steps. Yet will they be safe?
I heard recently someone say, “But they got Kennedy”. Yes, “they”, or at least he did. In the nearly sixty years since, how a President is protected has changed drastically. Kennedy was guarded, or more specifically, failed to be protected, because the theory then was about threat response, act on a threat to the President and stop it. Every prior Presidential assassin had killed in close proximity. Had Oswald attacked that way then the Secret Service could have protected Kennedy. They hadn’t conceived of a sniper’s bullet so therefore didn’t plan to protect Kennedy from one. Things are different now, yet it took a long time to get there. There were two attempts on Gerald Ford’s life. 1975, in Hartford, CT, there was a significant security failure when a lack of coordination resulted in an intersection not being closed, a car crossing with a green light, and broadsiding the President Ford’s limo. Many of us remember John Hinckley’s attempt on Reagan’s life. So what has changed?
Protecting the President has evolved over the years. No longer does the Secret Service rely on “threat response”. Now it’s about threat analysis and prevention. It relies on a careful thought and planning, asking the question “in this situation how would a would-be assassin try to attack the President?”. We see one layer of protection in the President’s limo, “The Beast”. We see it now in the multiple layers of protection being prepared around the Capitol. Consider just one threat: a sniper with a gun. The Secret Service and other agencies will have looked at every possible place a sniper could act from – it’s likely that one couldn’t even get close enough – and will have secured them. Yet there is one significant threat that still remains: an insider.
Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India, was killed by her bodyguards. So was Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt. Sadat was killed in retaliation for signing the Camp David Accords and making peace with Israel. As history shows, the insider threat is real. Yet with Biden, it’s on the table, being looked into, and addressed. And absolutely, the FBI does not have time to vet every one of the 25,000 members of the National Guard deployed to Washington. But they don’t have to. Consider that there are multiple layers of security around Biden and Harris. The further the layer is away, the less of a threat are the security forces. Hence, the closest layer will be the most trusted. Some that are part of the security detail are acting in capacities where they won’t be armed. Is any security system completely invulnerable? Absolutely not. We can’t prove any system can’t be breached, we can only show if it has. What can be done is to make it too difficult for anyone to penetrate. So yes, Biden and Harris will be safe. And? The images will be powerful.