The Secret Service worked around-the-clock to improve its security protocols during Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States. Although the organization acknowledged that the pontiff’s visit came with logistical problems, his trip was used by the Secret Service as a benchmark to gauge its level of preparedness. The trip came just after the Secret Service had issued an apology for dealing heavy-handedly with the cancer patients who had permission to use the park across the White House on Sept. 19, 2015.
Brian Leary, the spokesman for the agency, said the action taken on that day was “a standard U.S. Secret Service protocol,” which ensures the safety of President Barack Obama. This was then followed by an unparalleled level of security when Pope Francis landed on American soil. The pontiff’s visit was also designated as a National Special Security Event, usually reserved for the State of the Union and political conventions. This meant that the agency had access to federal resources and funds, so as to improve its security protocols.
Joseph Clancy, the Secret Service Director, told reporters that the main challenge during the pontiff’s visit was crowd control. Referring to the pope, Clancy said, “He does present some challenges, he loves to be out with people.” Clancy then noted that such a protectee as the pope required the organization to improve its security protocols, so as to avoid chaos. “You have to structure. If you don’t have structure, you have mayhem,” he said without disclosing the detailed structure of the plan used to escort the pontiff. Michael Carey, the commissioner of citywide events in New York also talked of having a “structure in place” since people wanted “extraordinary access to the Holy father.”
It is widely believed that such a “structure” put in place by the Secret Service to improve security protocols included input from the federal, local, and state agencies. The agency also sought help from the FBI, Homeland Security Administration, and Transportation Security Administration. Jack Tomarchio, the head at Agoge Group, a national security firm in Wayne, PA, told KYW Newsradio that it was important the Secret Service worked in concert with other security agencies in sharing intelligence. This collaboration improved the “structure” and helped in combating “lone wolf actors against whom the agency can never be 100 percent prepared.” Tomarchio was referring to the preventative measure, which was taken by the FBI in August, when a 15-year-old boy outside Philadelphia allegedly threatened to launch an ISIS-inspired assault on Pope Francis.
Last year, the agency was heavily criticized for not being proactive due to poor training and flawed decision-making. This led to the resignation of Julia Pierson as the director after Congress launched an investigation into the way the agency was managed. Under the leadership of Clancy, the Secret Service has made a turn around to improve its security protocols. The recent apology to the child cancer patients and their guardians has also given the Secret Service a humane face and showed that they are willing to include the views of ordinary citizens in the way they run their activities.
However, some citizens feel that the agency apology was a calculated move to cover up for its past mistakes. Michael Gillette, a filmmaker, told the Washington Post that the apology was a move done to “overcompensate glaring errors made in the past years.” Gillette went on to say, “We understand the need to keep our president safe, but we think a little consideration would have gone a long way.” Much as there is discontent in the way the Secret Service carries out its operations, arguably, the pope’s visit helped the agency to improve security protocols and event management.
By Shepherd Mutsvara
Edited by Leigh Haugh
CNN: Secret Service Sorry for Moving Cancer Patients
The Atlantic: Inside The Secret Service
The Straits Times: Girl, 5, Passes Letter to The Pope After Pontiff Waves US Secret Service to Allow Her Through
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