At the Frontline: Former U.S. Secret Service Agent Bill Warren

Warren discusses security for the presidential inauguration


According to Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama in January could draw record crowds. Fenty is predicting anywhere from 3 million to 5 million for the inauguration and surrounding festivities.

In anticipation of a record turnout, security preparations are already well underway to ensure that the historic ceremony goes off without a hitch. In fact, in a recent AP story, Washington D.C.’s police chief, Cathy Lanier, said that her department has requested an additional 1,000 officers on top of the 3,000 it typically requests from law enforcement agencies across the country to assist with the inauguration. Over at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit System, officials have made plans to temporarily close select stations for security reasons during the inauguration and to hold some trains until the presidential motorcade has already passed over those transit tunnels.

One man who is accustomed to protecting presidents and other dignitaries during large-scale events is former U.S. Secret Service Agent Bill Warren. Warren, who now runs Vectra Security Service, a security consulting firm in Atlanta, Ga., spent more than 20 years with the agency. Prior to joining the Secret Service, Warren served seven years in the U.S. Air Force working with the White House Communications Agency, which provides communication support to the office of the president.

Working primarily with the technical security team during his time with the Secret Service, Warren knows the types of challenges that authorities face in trying to keep the president-elect safe, having helped secure the inaugurations of presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and George H.W. Bush. Warren is also experienced in the realm of private security, having headed up the security department at the Georgia Tech Research Institute following his career with the Secret Service.

In this “At the Frontline” interview, Warren shares his insights on dignitary protection and what the projected turnout of people holds for Secret Service agents and other authorities charged with keeping the inauguration safe.

What types of preparations go into security for a presidential inauguration?

Because of the scope of what it is, months of preparation go into it. Because of the enormity of the size of what we’re dealing with, we’re dealing with an entire city that we’re going to have to secure. There’s very extensive planning. Numerous personnel are brought in. In fact, in the past, the service has brought in all their field techs from all the different field offices to join the Washington team to coordinate all the different searches. Not only do you have to secure the inaugural site itself, you’ve got the parade route through the city, you’ve got all the balls that night that we have to provide security for. It’s a very extensive operation.

Each [inauguration], by the nature of the beast that it is, just keeps getting more involved. Being that this one is very much of a history-making event, I’m certain that it is going to be something unlike anything the service has ever had to operate before.

What kinds of security challenges does an inauguration pose?

The biggest challenge that we face is a large crowd. There’s absolutely no way you can secure the entire city. We’d have to evacuate Washington, D.C. completely, seal the borders off and then bring everyone back one by one, which is totally impossible to do. So right there, security is almost operating at a disadvantage because there are situations where you’re going to be bringing the protectee through an unchallenged atmosphere of the crowds. That’s where your levels of security have to come in. You have your inner most secure perimeter; then you have your next perimeter which is secured a little bit less, and you keep going out in concentric circles in your security (levels) until you get into the crowds.

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