Inauguration Is Climax to Two Years Of Increasing Security Around Obama

At a stop in Baltimore, Md., bulletproof glass flanks President-elect Barack Obama.
At a stop in Baltimore, Md., bulletproof glass flanks President-elect Barack Obama. (By Charles Dharapak -- Associated Press)
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 18, 2009

As jubilant Democrats nominated Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for president in a Denver convention hall in late August, the U.S. Secret Service in Washington placed its largest ever order for bulletproof glass.

The service requested about 5 tons of "transparent armor," laminated with four layers of virtually unbreakable plastic to resist chemicals, flames and multiple gunshots. When Obama is sworn in as the nation's 44th president Tuesday, the ballistic shield will provide a final layer of safety in a massive exercise in presidential security, the culmination of two years of a steady ratcheting up of the protection around Obama to a level unseen for any of his predecessors.

"I don't think there could have been any higher-order target for [Osama] bin Laden than [President Bush], because this president launched the attack on Afghanistan," Bush Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, whose department oversees the Secret Service, told The Washington Post last month. "I think what will be different perhaps for the new president is [he] may excite the attention of some domestic groups that maybe were not that engaged previously. And so that's an issue we're going to have to be looking at."

Privately, current and former Secret Service and U.S. intelligence officials interviewed for this article confirmed that Obama's ascent has led to spikes in threatening "chatter" on white supremacist Web sites and a smattering of incidents around the country that led to intensive investigation.

"Ultimately, there are a higher number of threats," one former senior Secret Service official said. "My friends and family members certainly in the last couple months said, 'Oh, my goodness, the Secret Service must be having such a difficult time.' Well, they are in the sense that every one of these that comes up must be investigated. That takes time and effort and money. They just need to be permitted to do the job."

But the phenomenon that the Obama campaign became provided a test for law enforcement.

On May 18, an Obama event expected to draw 20,000 people in Portland, Ore., attracted 75,000. In July, about 200,000 showed up to see Obama in Germany, part of a 10-nation trip to Europe and the Middle East in which he was escorted by the Secret Service.

On Aug. 28, Obama accepted his party's nomination at Invesco Field at Mile High, a 76,000-seat outdoor stadium, instead of the 20,000-seat indoor arena where Democrats held their convention. The Secret Service was given about two months to prepare for the shift.

As the crowds swelled, the Secret Service implored Congress for more funding. Overall, the Secret Service spent more than $110 million on the 2008 election, about 50 percent more than the previous record $74 million it spent for the 2004 cycle.

During the past year, the Secret Service swept about 4.3 million people with metal detectors at campaign and official events, twice as many as the 2.2 million checked in 2004, the first election in which it began routinely using magnetometers for events by candidates other than sitting presidents, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan said.

"That was due to him and his message and his campaign," Sullivan said in an interview. "We saw crowds we had never seen before."

The service also credentialed about three times as many law enforcement and public safety personnel for Denver than for the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn.: 18,500, compared with 6,000, in large part because of additional or larger venues.

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