12 January 2021

US security services: We will be ready for Joe Biden’s inauguration

Security services will be ready for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration despite the events at the Capitol last week, the Secret Service agent in charge of inauguration security has said.

The inauguration will be held in the same spot at the US Capitol where a violent, pro-Trump mob descended last Wednesday. But the two events are not even comparable from a security standpoint, said US Secret Service special agent in charge Michael Plati.

The event is designated as a “national special security event”, which clears the way for communication, funding and preparation between multiple agencies in Washington, like the Capitol Police, Pentagon, Homeland Security and District-area police.

Other such events are the State of the Union, the Super Bowl and the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

Last week’s rally turned violent siege was viewed as a free speech event in the days before, despite multiple warnings about the potential for violence from right-wing extremist groups.

It is critically important that there’ll be a real serious focus on holding those folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage - that they be held accountable

Egged on by President Donald Trump and his repeated attempts to delegitimise Mr Biden’s win, the violent mob marched from the White House to the Capitol, where they occupied the building for hours to try to stop lawmakers from certifying Mr Biden’s win.

Five people died, including a police officer. Two explosive devices were found, but they did not go off.

“I don’t want to use the expression that we’re comparing apples to oranges,” Mr Plati said, but the event is planned over a year with contingencies, and they anticipate the possibility of extreme violence.

Mr Biden himself has not expressed concern about his own security at the inauguration.

“I’m not afraid of taking the oath outside,” he told reporters on Monday. “It is critically important that there’ll be a real serious focus on holding those folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage – that they be held accountable.”

Capitol Breach (AP)

Law enforcement officials never go into too much detail about security so would-be attackers are not tipped off. But Mr Plati said they have taken into account the siege.

“It’s a poignant reminder of what can happen,” he said.

And the inauguration will look different from other presidential inaugurations because of last week’s riot, with extremely tight security around the entire capital region.

At least 10,000 National Guard troops will be in place by Saturday. Some will be obvious: officers in uniforms, checkpoints, metal detectors, fencing. Some will not.

“There’s a variety of methods to ensure that we have a secure, seamless, safe environment for our protectees, but most importantly, the general public,” Mr Plati said.

Acting US Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman said in a statement that officials have “comprehensive, coordinated plans” in place to ensure safety and security.

Capital Breach Statehouse Security (AP)

She said the grounds of the Capitol will be closed to the public. The inauguration is a ticketed event.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is setting increased inauguration security measures in motion earlier than scheduled, citing an “evolving security landscape” leading up to the event.

Next week’s event was already going to be pared down because of Covid-19 – Mr Biden had asked supporters to say home and watch from afar.

In keeping with crowd size restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, traditional activities like the parade and the inaugural balls will be virtual.

The theme for the event will be “America United”, which the Presidential Inaugural Committee said “reflects the beginning of a new national journey that restores the soul of America, brings the country together, and creates a path to a brighter future”.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox