Security forces work together during papal visit
By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service
It comes as no surprise that security promises to be extremely tight everywhere Pope Francis goes during his U.S. trip in September –– so tight that no one is saying much about it.
The Secret Service, the lead agency developing the security plan, and local law enforcement authorities have declined or not responded to requests by Catholic News Service to discuss any aspect –– no matter how general –– of security preparations for the pope’s busy Sept. 22-27 visit.
The trip has been designated as a “National Security Special Event” by the Secret Service. Surely the trip is giving law enforcement and homeland security agencies a stringent test as they have worked for nearly year to shore up any potential weaknesses in the multimillion-dollar plan that might be exploited.
By law, the “national security” designation for the event automatically puts the Secret Service in charge of security protocols, leaving everyone else to follow along.
That’s not all bad, said Manny Gomez, president of MG Security Service in New York.
“This event is going to get more security than a presidential visit because of the ‘X factor’ and he is an international person,” the former FBI special agent said. “It’s going to be a huge production because it has to be. We’re not going to be the city that loses the pope.”
However, no matter how thorough the plan, it’s never 100 percent foolproof and if someone is determined enough to get through the protective bubble around Pope Francis, they will find a way, he cautioned.
The key for the Secret Service and its allies at the FBI is making sure any people who are a threat to the pope’s safety are under watch.
“When it comes to these events, the intelligence factor is huge,” Gomez told Catholic News Service. “We always try to find out if there are any threats, any actionable information we need to act on. For example if there is somebody actually out there threatening the pope, they will be visited by agents to see if that person is a viable threat and that person will be dealt with accordingly.”
Beyond such threats, the pope himself poses difficult challenges, especially because he is not averse to deviating from established protocols. Driven by a desire to be in touch with the faithful, Pope Francis has been known to make an impromptu stop every now and then to greet and bless the people of whom he is most fond.
“The pope is truly a man of the people and he loves to go out and press the flesh. He doesn’t provide much lead time when he gets off the popemobile, which itself is not very secure,” Gomez said.
“That’s the most critical time that agents, etc., will have to contend with because that is something that is not planned.”