Highly-coordinated security operations for Obama visit

November 4th, 2010 - 6:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama By George Joseph
New Delhi, Nov 4 (IANS) A highly-coordinated security operation is being jointly conducted by Indian and US Indian agencies for the four-day visit of US President Barack Obama beginning Saturday, a senior Indian official involved with the preparations said.

“It is a highly-coordinated security preparation being jointly conducted by the Indian and US agencies,” the official told IANS, noting it was yet another concrete instance of closer cooperation between the two countries post 9/11 (New York) and 26/11 (Mumbai).

As part of the arrangements, a precautionary country-wide alert has been sounded, even as personnel of the Indian and US security agencies, equipped with high-tech gadgets, have moved into the locations in Mumbai and New Delhi where Obama will stay or travel to during his visit.

A full dress rehersal and security drill was conducted in Mumbai Thursday, security officials said in Delhi. The security drill in Delhi will be conducted Satuday as Friday is a holiday for Diwali.

“The government will provide fool-proof security during the US president’s visit,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters recently after US Amabassador Timothy J. Roemer met him to discuss the arrangments.

Indian government officials said a large number of officials of the US Secret Service have been supervising the security arrangements at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel and the ITC Maurya Hotel here where Obama will stay, as also the Taj Palace Hotel here where the visiting security personnel and mediapersons will be lodged. In fact, all the the hotels have been entirely booked by the US authorities for the duration of Obama’s visit.

The Secret Service has installed several high-tech gadgets including jammers, scanners and devices to prevent the possibility of CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) assaults on the hotels.

From the Indian side, personnel of the National Security Guard (NSG) and the police forces of Delhi and Mumbai will also be deployed.

The Air Traffic Control (ATC) at Delhi and Mumbai airports will be shared by US and Indian security personnel during the landing and taking off of Air Force One - the official aircraft of the US President - and other aircraft in the the entourage.

Indian Navy vessels have taken position along the Mumbai coastline as Obama will be staying at the Taj Mahal Hotel, which was one of the principal targets of the 26/11 attackers.

IAF jets and helicopters will guard the Mumbai and Delhi skies during the visit, security officials said. Aerial traffic will be banned in the two cities when Air Force One lands and takes off.

Intelligence agencies like the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Intelligence (IB) have been actively involved in giving inputs on the security situation while sleuths of their US counterpart - the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) - have conducted several reccees of the spots Obama will visit.

“The inner cordon of the US president will be managed by personnel of the US Secret Service,” security expert and former Border Security Force chief E.N. Rammohan said. “That is the US practise everywhere. They are very strict and professional about it,” he added.

However, the US personnel will not be in uniforms and “nor will they display arms,” he added.

According to another security expert, the movements of a US president are highly protected and the Secret Service team also carries the president’s “Football” - the briefcase containing the nuclear weapon’s launch mechanism - in case of an emergency development.

“It is a zero-risk security preparation being worked out by Indian and US authorities at the highest level,” security expert Ajai Sahni told IANS. “Nothing is left to chance in such an effort.”

“If you find a foreginer watching you in Paharganj (in Delhi whose low-budget hotels are popular with backpackers) these days, it need not be an ordinary tourist. It could be a CIA agent,” another security expert said. “The intelligence gathering exercise had begun months ago and is in close coordination with the Indian intelligence agencies,” he added.

In the run-up to the Obama visit, CIA chief Leon Panetta had met Chidambaram and top security officials in the first week of October to discuss the security situation.

Security agencies have alerted all the states against terrorist strikes during the Obama visit. Major city centres, Metro and railway stations, hotels and localtions frequented by foreigners should be especially guarded, the alert said.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told reporters recently that though there was no specific threat, the government would take all precautions.

“We do believe that the visit of of the president of the United States of America to India is, shall I say from the publicity point of view, is large enough to try and create something even if it is not in any place nearby where President Obama would be. But it could be somewhere else and, therefore, we would take all precautions.” he said.

Security experts recall the Chattisinghpora incident in the Kashmir Valley in 2000 on the eve of then US president Bill Cinton’s visit. Thirty-five Sikhs were killed in the south Kashmir village by attackers wearing army unifroms. The security agencies have blamed Pakistan-trained militants for the incident while Kashmir’s separtist leaders have alleged the army killed the villagers.

Pillai said that government was “very careful” in guarding against similar attempts on the eve of Obama’s visit.

On its part, the US embassy here declined to comment on the security arrangments. “We do not discuss security matters. If we discuss security preparations, then it ceases to be a security step,” an embassy spokesperson told IANS.

(George Joseph can be contacted at george.j@ians.in)

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