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

Warren discusses security for the presidential inauguration


That’s one of the biggest challenges that the service has always had with protecting a high value dignitary like the president. They are elected by the people and they are serving at the will of the people and they all seem to feel like they need to have access to the people. Unfortunately, that’s a problem that’s always going to be inherit with the job.

What’s your biggest concern of fear at an event like the inauguration?

In the present environment of the world, I would say my biggest fear would be a suicide attack, either explosive or biochemical. We’ve been fortunate in this country that that specter of this war hasn’t affected us that directly yet. But, in personal my opinion, the key word there is “yet”. And because we are dealing with a very large parade situation, there are surveillance teams that are observing the crowds, but they’re estimating up to the millions of people showing up for this. That is a daunting, daunting job when you’re looking at trying to secure that many people. It’s not a piece of cake for sure.

What kinds of security technology do you have at your disposal?

The service, as we loved to say, is the most premier law enforcement agency in the country, and because of that, I can fairly attest to the fact that our technical securities group, which is the one I was a member of, is operating with the most state-of-the-art electronic surveillance and search equipment that there is. In fact, quite a lot of it they developed themselves. They are very much on the cutting edge of technology.

As far as manpower is concerned, how much is required to protect the president at an event of this magnitude?

Something this big, I would almost venture to say that they will probably pull just about as many assets out of the field as they can pull. We’ll be pulling members of the military in from their technical fields to assist and so we’re probably talking several hundred technicians coming in and probably in the area of 1,000 agents all told.

How do you coordinate security with other law enforcement agencies?

The service has an ongoing relationship with what we call OTAs or other treasury agencies. They work with ATF very closely; the FBI will have liaisons with us and it will be a joint law enforcement operation. They have a facility in D.C. called the Joint Operations Center, which will have overall control. In that center they will have representatives from each law enforcement agency with direct communication with their people. It’s a very coordinated effort and the service has gone far above and beyond in trying to make this an uncomplicated and smooth operating unit as possible, considering the magnitude of what they’re doing.

In the past, we’ve always had very good cooperation from all the other agencies in D.C., from the park services, D.C. metro police, the FBI, ATF, and all the other different agencies that do give help to us. The service has an ongoing training program with most of the other agencies where they conduct dignitary protection drills to keep them up to speed on what we’re doing when we’re doing a dignitary protection so that their agencies are aware, their officers are aware of what we do.

In your time with the Secret Service, did the presidents that you protected take time to get accustomed to the personal security that you provided?

A lot them don’t like the attention that they get, but because of the nature of the job it’s just a kind of accepted part of it. The agency tries to stay as anonymous as possible with them to try and let them have as much of their private life as possible, but because of the nature of what they’re doing and the exposure they have, there’s an amount of pressure that we have to put on them to make sure that they’re protected.

Some presidents accepted it gladly and really didn’t seem to protest it and then we’ve had other presidents who’ve protested about the protection from day one. When you live in a fishbowl, you need to realize that you’re going to have people around you all the time. It’s just kind of the nature of the position, when they take it they have to realize that that’s part of the responsibility of the office.