Unprecedented Threats Drive Secret Service Inauguration Security

WASHINGTON — Members of U.S. law enforcement will deploy countermeasures to prevent a large truck attack, such as those that killed dozens in Nice, France and Berlin last year, from happening during the upcoming inauguration of Donald Trump as president.

But Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy and his partners are convinced attempts to launch other violent and dangerous acts are well within the realm of possibility.

Clancy works phones checking on details as inauguration approaches. (WTOP/JJ Green)
Clancy works phones checking on details as inauguration approaches. (WTOP/JJ Green)

According to Clancy, the threat environment for this inauguration and the campaign that led up to it is “different” from previous ones.

“I think people today are willing to do things they may not have been willing to do in the past,” Clancy said.

He cited several episodes that took place during the campaign, “where people jumped over those bike racks or security zones into our buffer. In the past, it was very rare for somebody to do that. Today, in this past campaign, people were willing to do it.”

Clancy was quick to point out, however, without saying how, that Secret Service agents know what to do when it happens.

Impulsive or preplanned incidences of people jumping barricades are among the least of their concerns. But the willingness of lone wolves and terror organizations to develop more creative plots are concerns.

“We know that this (Washington region) is a high-profile [terror] target. It’s been attacked in the past, historically,” said Paul Abbate, the FBI’s executive assistant director for the Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch

Other FBI officials have confirmed that Washington is mentioned on a daily basis as a potential target in intercepted terrorist chatter and communications. “We, from the FBI standpoint, are ready to counter terrorist attacks and are working with our partners in building out the intelligence picture,” Abbate said.

On Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson spoke to reporters about preparations for the inauguration.

“We know of no specific credible threat directed toward the inauguration,” he said. But in the same statement, he acknowledged, “that is only part of the story.”

Other parts of that story include the unknown, according to Clancy, and that is causing him to lose sleep.

“Every night I wake up and I wonder do we have some issue covered,” Clancy said.

Violence from U.S.-based groups may figure prominently, according to a top private sector security firm.

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