US mounts record security to keep Obama inauguration safe

January 20th, 2009 - 11:02 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 20 (IANS) Barack Obama will be sworn as America’s first black president Tuesday under the tightest security ever, shielded by a new, heavily armoured Cadillac limousine, bullet-resistant glass, fighter planes overhead and Secret Service SWAT teams toting automatic weapons.The president-elect himself will wear bullet-resistant clothing, speak behind a protective glass shield and ride in the inauguration parade in an armoured Cadillac limousine, with doors and windows so thick that he probably would survive a bomb blast, according to law enforcement officials.

Nicknamed “the Beast”, Obama’s 2009 Cadillac Presidential Limousine built by General Motors is a hulking, snazzed-up upgrade from previous presidential limousines, and will give him a better view of his inaugural parade than his predecessor George W. Bush

Nondescript boxes that can detect the airborne releases of chemical or biological weapons such as lethal anthrax spores will be scattered among the crowds and snipers will be positioned on rooftops and balconies along Pennsylvania Avenue along the inaugural parade route.

With 58 law-enforcement and other agencies working on security, every one of the 240,000 people attending the actual swearing-in ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol will be screened by walk-through or hand-held metal detectors.

From land, water and air, tens of thousands of police officers, federal agents and National Guardsmen are being deployed in an unprecedented effort to make sure Obama’s inauguration is safe.

But in case something does go wrong Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who has been tapped to remain in his post by Obama, has been designated to stay away from Tuesday’s inaugural festivities “in order to ensure continuity of government.”

By custom, one government official stays away when others in the line of presidential succession attend public events.

“Right now, we have no credible threat that there is any direction of interest on the inauguration,” Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told CNN.

FBI agents and intelligence officials have been checking with sources around the United States and the world to make sure no leads are overlooked.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said intelligence will be scrubbed and rescrubbed right through the inauguration. “We are literally going to be watching this every minute between now and the conclusion of events on the 20th.”

Federal officials acknowledge the inauguration of the first African-American US president could be an attractive target.

Airspace restrictions around the Capitol are being tightened. The US Coast Guard is closing portions of the Potomac River. Miles of roads will be closed, along with most of the bridges into the capital city. Checkpoints are going up, and undercover teams are being deployed to look for suspicious people or vehicles.

Explosives-sniffing dogs will be on hand to nose out bombs, and horses trained in crowd control are on duty. Thousands of security cameras are being used to monitor activities, sharpshooters are being stationed, and sensors will be used to detect chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.

A major unknown is how large the crowd will be for Tuesday’s activities. Estimates have ranged from 1 million to 2 million. An FBI official said only that “we know it is going to draw a lot of people here to the nation’s capital.”

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