All routes to D.C. guarded for Obama inauguration

Security tightens ahead of ceremonies

That blueprint has been built through many successes and a few failures. A president hasn't been injured in an assassination attempt since John Hinckley Jr. tried unsuccessfully to kill Ronald Reagan outside the Washington Hilton in 1981. (Reagan was shot and recovered.) But there have been threats, including against Obama. For instance, before this year's election, a couple of men in Tennessee were accused of planning widespread violence against blacks to be capped with an attempt on Obama's life.

The Service is always monitoring such threats, investigating each.

"The assets that are at the disposal of the Secret Service are unbelievable," said Ball, declining to say what they are capable of in terms of security.

Still, there is reason to believe that Obama could present more of a security task than, say, George W. Bush. Obama's events on the campaign trail attracted huge crowds, for instance. His populist politics could keep big numbers of people coming, too. His children now go to school in Washington, requiring protection.

A Secret Service detail was attached to Obama on the campaign trail earlier than usual.

Meanwhile, some news media reports immediately after Obama's election in November suggested an increase in the threats against him -- though there has been no recent indication of credible threats.

In fact, if anything, the last few weeks have shown Obama trying to escape the news media spotlight -- such as when he ducked the journalists covering him during his holiday vacation in Hawaii -- an early indication perhaps that he could be having a hard time living inside the bubble that now contains him.

There are times, says Ball, when the protective unit may urge a president to cancel an event, feeling it can't be secured. But they can't tell him what to do -- like getting out of his car during the inaugural parade, for instance.

So the Secret Service designs what security it can provide and makes situations as safe as possible -- like getting the president to walk on a particular block of the parade route that it can secure.

"You talk about being hyped up and your adrenaline pumping? You're ready," said Ball.

Contact TODD SPANGLER at 202-906-8203 or at

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