Military on high alert for inauguration
The U.S. military will be on high alert during Barack Obama’s inauguration, increasing air defenses and deploying chemical attack experts and medical units, a general said Wednesday.
Air Force Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr., who heads the military command that oversees security for North America, said the Defense Department had not been told of specific Inauguration Day threats. Nonetheless, he said, the armed services must be ready.
“It would make news for a terrorist element or rogue element to interrupt that event,” Renuart said. “So it is prudent to plan for the possibility of that event and to deter it or to respond to it.”
The preparations come amid heightened security concerns during the presidential transition. The Bush administration is planning to provide the president-elect with a series of contingency plans for potential international emergencies, including terrorist strikes and electronic attacks, that could occur after Obama takes the oath of office.
The Secret Service is in charge of security for the inauguration. The agency is coordinating with local police departments, as well as with 4,000 law enforcement officers from 96 jurisdictions. About 11,500 military personnel will take part.
Secret Service officials have established 23 planning teams but have provided few details. Inauguration organizers are considering a loudspeaker system to broadcast evacuation instructions in the event of an attack.
Renuart said the military’s preparations were meant to support civilian-led efforts.
After 2001, the U.S. Northern Command, frequently called Northcom, was given broad responsibility for assisting with domestic security. Renuart is also the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which guards U.S. airspace.
The military response is not unprecedented. Northern Command officials said they provided security for inaugural activities in 2005, as well as for national political conventions and major athletic events such as the Super Bowl.
Some military personnel will be part of the inauguration, playing in bands, marching in parades and conducting honor ceremonies. But Renuart said much of the force would have a security role.
About 4,000 National Guard members will provide support to local law enforcement, boosting security on the National Mall and around Washington, where millions of people are expected. There also will be 7,500 troops under federal control, including emergency medical teams and experts in chemical attacks.
Air defenses around Washington are always tight, but Renuart said the number of patrols would increase.
The contingencies to be conveyed by the White House to the Obama team are separate from the inaugural preparations. They are meant to ensure that the new administration is as prepared as possible on Jan. 20.
The White House briefing, first reported by the New York Times, is part of a larger transition effort by the National Security Council to identify international trouble spots for the new administration.
Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said: “We want to provide them, especially in the first few weeks, the basis for which they can have some information to make their decisions. This is a menu of contingencies and possible options.”
Obama is trying to fill key national security jobs, hoping the Senate will confirm many of his appointments on the day of the inauguration or soon after.
Johndroe said the Bush administration would make sure there were career officials ready to act should a crisis develop before Obama’s appointees were confirmed.
Josh Meyer in our Washington bureau contributed to this report.