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Monday, Jan. 19 at Noon ET

Inauguration: Security

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Joseph Funk
Security professional, former Secret Service agent
Monday, January 19, 2009; 12:00 PM

Joseph Funk spent 21 years working for the Secret Service, including stints on the details for the first President Bush and President Clinton. Funk, now president of the private security firm U.S. Safety and Security, was online Monday, Jan. 19 at noon ET to offer some independent analysis of the security procedures on Inauguration Day and share his thoughts on the the Secret Service's role during the Obama presidency.

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The transcript follows.

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San Francisco: I heard we cannot bring any kind of bag into the inauguration. I have a heavy camera, and would like to be able to bring my small backpack in. Do you think they will make any exceptions? And more importantly, do you think they will let just my camera in, around my neck, without the bag?

Thanks!

Joseph Funk: The camera around the neck, yes. Regarding the camera bag I believe the answer is yes but the best thing to do is check the various Web sites for additional information.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I have questions regarding the benefits and possible problems of privatized security for government facilities and officials. Are there concerns that placing a further wall of separation between government and security could possibly allow greater risks to slip through? What are the advantages of a private concern over what can be done and controlled by government security? Does your company make a profit, and what makes that more efficient than government providing the services for themselves without worrying about making a profit?

Joseph Funk: I totally agree with you. I can not foresee any way possible a private company can support a government function. There are many reasons why, not to mention the legal side. My firm is only contracted to private individuals or companies.

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McLean, Va.: Any legitimate reason for closing Chain Bridge tomorrow? Isn't this overkill?

Joseph Funk: Yes, two reasons. Security plays a small part, but the major issue is safety for the crowd. With the numbers they are expecting there is not enough room on the Mall grounds therefore they will overflow into the streets.

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Rye, N.Y.: Mr. Funk: Is there such a thing as too much security when it comes to an event such as this?

Joseph Funk: In a sense yes. But I think when you look at the consequences I believe you need to do all that is humanly possible.

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Alexandria, Va.: What do you recommend to do and not do when you're watching the parade?

Joseph Funk: First and foremost dress warm. Other than that just enjoy the historic moment.

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Prescott, Ariz.: A white supremacist named Hal Turner is bragging on his Web site about the ability to drop bombs on the inauguration from remote controlled helium balloons. Do threats like this get taken seriously?

washingtonpost.com: Threats Against Obama Growing as Inauguration Nears (Southern Poverty Law Center)

Joseph Funk: No threat, even the one you mentioned, is taken for granted. However concerning the one described I can not think of any way possible that it would be effective.

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Newport News, Va.: I know that the worst nightmare is nuclear terrorism. There isn't much security people can do about some group who has smuggled in a weapon some time ago, which is now in an apartment somewhere in D.C. (at least there aren't many apartments within 2000 yards of the Capitol).

During the State of the Union, a cabinet member is always absent, just in case of some unthinkable catastrophe. But at noon tomorrow, there will be no cabinet. Is there anything planned to assure continuity of our government in the event of the unthinkable?

Joseph Funk: Yes there is someone already sworn in, plus you have the official transfer of power of the Presidency, for example to the Speaker of the House. By the quick answer is there is someone sworn in prior to the official Inauguration.

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Washington, D.C.: Greetings. My husband and I live on Capitol Hill, so we planned to walk to the Inauguration ceremony (and not the parade) tomorrow morning. We were discussing if it would be better to enter as pedestrians from the south or north side of the Mall. On maps, I can't see security points on the south side of the Mall, which makes me concerned that we'd have to walk all the way down to the Lincoln Memorial to enter if we go that way. Realistically, what time should we get going in the morning? Thanks.

Joseph Funk: My opinion, keep in mind I do not have any direct communication with the Capital Police, would be to enter from the north.

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Washington, D.C.: What additional variables does a temperature at or below freezing create for an event like this, insofar as they affect your responsibilities?

Joseph Funk: Other than personal comfort, the temperature does not have much of an effect on the security plans.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks to the Post for doing their best to inform everyone!

I feel like I've read and read and read details, and I am still confused. I think my brain is fried. So I will ask this as simply as I can:

If one were to head down to the mall just to be a part of it all, and had no tickets to the swearing in or the parade, can said person bring a backpack with food in it? Isn't it only ticket holders who have restrictions placed on items?

Joseph Funk: I believe you are correct.

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Washington, D.C.: Is Pelosi, as next in line behind the VP, offsite during the inauguration in case of the unthinkable?

Joseph Funk: Definitely she will be there.

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Newark, Ohio: From the Post's coverage of yesterday's concert: "By 1:30 p.m., however, the five checkpoints manned by Border Patrol agents and other security personnel were overwhelmed, and lines stretched for blocks.....Frustrated visitors complained of confusion and conflicting instructions as officials began closing checkpoints about 2:30."

How many security checkpoints will there be tomorrow to enter the Mall and do you anticipate that any or all may be closed prior to the beginning of the ceremony? Thanks.

Joseph Funk: That is really outside my knowledge I wouldn't want to give you the wrong answer....sorry

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Vienna, Va.: I am still confused about security checkpoints. Will everyone coming to the inauguration who expects to either get to a the parade, a ticketed area, or even just a Jumbotron area go through a security checkpoint? I keep reading that ticket holders have to go through security...what about non-ticket holders?

Joseph Funk: Ticket holders will go through security checkpoints. Anyone going to the mall will not.

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Chantilly, Va.: How have the tools available for establishing a security plan changed over the years? Has technology helped or hindered the planning process? I guess another way of saying that is, "how much information is too much?" Can the agents on the ground ever have too much information?

Joseph Funk: Great question that would take too much time to answer on this forum. However, as the "bad guys" employ better technology so must the various security elements. In my opinion technology can only assist the law enforcement agencies.

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Zurich, Switzerland: Are the existing command and control centres sufficient or were major investments in new technologies and facilities for this inauguration necessary?

Joseph Funk: Major investments, no. However the security agencies always update and improve their command and control centers. Therefore there is a marked improvement from 4 years ago.

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DC: You cannot enter the inaugural swearing-in locations from the north. All alerts and announcements have said that you have to come from the south, because the area north of the Mall is cordoned off for the parade.

Joseph Funk: Thank you for the information, that's the main reason why I also tell people to check the official web sites

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Washington D.C. - Warning: Security Backlash Developing: The security regulations and practices imposed by the various authorities have become grossly excessive. Security directives now conflict with other safety and health directives (for example, re bringing bottled water and Thermoses). And the Federal police personnel - exceptionally highly compensated, arrogant, and responsible to no one - have been behaving simply horribly, in as rude, invasive and over-bearing a way as possible.

Look for a really negative public reaction.

Joseph Funk: I really don't don't know what you want me to say. You have a valid argument. I can only say in my previous experience no decision was made without a credible reason or threat.

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Joseph Funk: Thank you.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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