Inaugural security chief: D.C. prepared for all contingencies
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush takes the oath of office for his second term Thursday in the first presidential inauguration since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the resulting increases in security.
CNN correspondent Jeanne Meserve, who covers homeland security, on Tuesday interviewed Timothy Koerner, a deputy assistant director in the Secret Service who is responsible for coordinating security for inaugural events.
MESERVE: Describe the security around this inauguration.
KOERNER: Robust, comprehensive and measured.
MESERVE: Measured. What do you mean by that?
KOERNER: I think that everything that we do, that the interagency does, is done with the backdrop of a competitive budgetary environment. So everything that we do takes into consideration the costs involved, not just the man-hour costs, but the costs to the local economy, the cost to the government, the costs to the local and state governments also.
MESERVE: What is your biggest fear ... as relates to the inaugural?
KOERNER: I don't fear anything with regard to the inaugural. I think that we are prepared. I will sleep well for the periods of time that I'm permitted sleep and knowing that people around the clock are working diligently to make sure that this event is safe and secure for everyone, not just the president and vice president of the United States, but for all the participants.
MESERVE: I read a newspaper article that one of the officials involved in this event said their biggest fear was a truck bomb. Do you share that?
KOERNER: There are contingencies and possibilities and vulnerabilities and threats that are out there that we are addressing all the time. To limit those to any one specific area would sort of give the bad guys the sense that we're not looking at other areas, and they could could change their plans. We're looking at all of them. So that -- although that would be a bad day for us -- there are other threats out there that need to be mitigated also, and we're mitigating all of them.
MESERVE: What is the current threat environment right now?
KOERNER: There's no specific threat to the inaugural as has been reported, but the general threat environment still is very bad after 9/11. We are at war, and there are people out there who are both al Qaeda and other elements who would want to see harm befall this great democracy of ours.
MESERVE: This is the first inaugural since 9/11. Is it significantly different in terms of security profile?
KOERNER: Well, the security profile is significantly different. This is not only the first inauguration since 9/11 but it's the first inauguration that the Department of Homeland Security has been stood up for. So I think that although in previous inaugurals -- both when they were designated National Special Security Events and previous to that when the Secret Service and the Washington D.C., Police Department and the Capitol Police worked together to come up with a security plan -- this is just a more robust plan. It involves more agencies that really utilize the strengths of those particular agencies and everybody has come to play. So it's a very strong security plant.
MESERVE: What are some of the sorts of things we'll see at this inauguration that we haven't seen at a previous inauguration?
KOERNER: Well, I don't get into discussing the means or methods by which security is being implemented. Suffice it to say that there will be security that is seen and readily detected by the general public and ... you can consider that the tip of the iceberg. There will be a host of security beneath the sea, supporting that tip of the iceberg, that's going to be invisible to the general public. But it is nonetheless critical to the overall security architecture that we built.
MESERVE: Is there a risk that D.C. becomes such a hard target that if terrorists want to draw attention away during what's a highly symbolic event that the rest of the nation, somewhere else in the nation, could be a target?
KOERNER: ... For this event, I'm the representative for the secretary of Homeland Security, making sure that all the overall federal resources are allocated properly. But we don't do that in a vacuum. We don't look at Washington, D.C., in the absence of the rest of the local community, in the rest of the metropolitan area, or the entire country for that matter. We have Department of Defense resources being allocated here as well as Secret Service, FBI, FEMA and a host of others. But we don't so skew our resources that we leave other areas vulnerable.
MESERVE: Is there a heightened sense of alert in the rest of this country around this day?
KOERNER: I think that's right. I think that during this period of war, everybody is extra alert, and I quite frankly disagree with the concept that things have gone back to normal since 9/11. I think for all Americans there's a new normal since 9/11. There's a new normal when you ride on an airplane. You pay attention more. I think that's true if you're in Texas or Oklahoma or California. People are more observant and really at a grassroots level, that's what's most important to our security.
MESERVE: I've talked to a couple of people in the past few days who think security is too extreme. How do you respond to that criticism?
KOERNER: I think it's, it's very difficult for somebody on the outside to look at the security measures and know all of them, because they don't know all of them. Or to know them in the context in which they are built. From somebody who's been permitted to see the entire process from the bottom to the top, from what the Secret Service is doing, from what the FBI is doing and FEMA is doing and seeing their counterparts with the Metropolitan Police Department, Park Police and Capitol Police, build this whole architecture together, it seems to be extremely prudent. Now when you succeed, it's oftentimes easy to sharpshoot those measures and say this wasn't needed and that wasn't needed, and ultimately you never know if those, if those measures are what actually deterred someone from actually trying some criminal act or terrorist act. But I believe that we are in a position to, first and foremost, prevent any terrorist act from happening. But in the event that something did happen badly, we are in a position to respond and recover from any event.
MESERVE: Certainly in the last four years technology has changed radically. And I'm wondering if you can tell us anything about how it's being employed in this situation.
KOERNER: I think technology is one of those invisible assets that the Secret Service and their partners in the operational security plan utilize. It's something that, that is really stealthy in a lot of regards. It's out there but not detected or seen by the general public. But those assets from communications, from the the air space security picture that we're employing, you know the security picture is 360 degrees from the top to the bottom. Underneath the ground to over in the sky. And we utilize technology to multiply the force of our individuals. So if we can utilize technology to enhance the work of the individuals, we're utilizing it.
MESERVE: Somebody suggested to me that perhaps the biggest threat in situations like this can be the lone wolf, can be the individual who comes in. Do you think that what you have in place here protects against individuals who may have some kind of gripe, who want to disrupt the inauguration somehow?
KOERNER: If the Secret Service or the Metropolitan Police Department or anyone of us could tell who the good guys were and who the bad guys were, we would only screen the bad guys. We would only subject those people getting on planes who were the bad guys. The fact is you can't tell. So everybody, regardless of message, regardless of group affiliation, and if they're the lone wolf, certainly everybody is going to go through the same security process, security screening process to get into the secure zone.
MESERVE: Personally, is this a huge job for you?
KOERNER: Really the job for me isn't as much as it is for a lot of the other people -- thousands and thousands of people have put forth hours, hundreds of hours of efforts to make sure that this event is safe and secure and represents the best that America has to offer. My particular job is really more of a strategic job ... I don't manage things at the grassroots level, and a lot of those people have a much more difficult job, I would say, than I do. I'm actually very privileged to have this particular job.
MESERVE: You say your job is a strategic position. Describe the strategy here when you're approaching an event of this magnitude, of this importance. What is the strategy.
KOERNER:, Yeah, the strategy, first and foremost, is to prevent.