EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 21, 2009

Inauguration security tight; cold taking a toll


WASHINGTON (AP) — Fifty-eight federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and tens of thousands of police officers secured the inauguration of Barack Obama and parade that followed — and no one got busted.

There were no arrests or major incidents the day America's first black president took the oath of office in front of more than a million people.

Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan, whose agency oversaw security, lauded the various organizations involved and "cooperative, patient and orderly citizens who attended."

A smattering of protest groups with varying issues lined the inaugural parade route. One group waved signs that read "Arrest Bush."

In contrast, eight were arrested during Bush's second inauguration when far fewer people attended. Protesters had tried to rush a security gate three blocks from the White House and a flag was burned. Police briefly locked down the area, trapping some 400 to 500 spectators.

Authorities monitored a rush of intelligence leads yesterday, including a possible threat from an East African radical Islamic terrorist group.

The authorities stressed that the warning was posted as a precaution as part of the massive effort to monitor intelligence traffic and check out all leads in advance of Obama's inauguration. Intelligence officials had warned that the inauguration posed an attractive target for terrorists because of the large crowds descending on the nation's capital and the historic significance of the country swearing in its first black president.

A senior law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the terror threat, said as of yesterday morning, officials felt comfortable with security preparations.

There was no change to the terrorist threat level, which remained at yellow — or elevated.

The unprecedented amount of security drew from about 25,000 law enforcement officers from 58 federal, state and local agencies. Sirens keening, squad cars and utility vehicles swept along downtown streets even before dawn, racing to cordoned checkpoints as crowds gathered.

Law enforcement responded to several suspicious packages and vehicles throughout the day, FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said. Many of the packages were found in trash bins near check-in points. People who were prohibited from carrying certain items onto the Capitol grounds had to throw the items away to enter.

After the swearing-in, spectators tore down some fencing along the mall instead of exiting through designated areas. No one was injured, according to U.S. Park police, and the fencing was restored.

In addition, subway service was disrupted on one of Washington's main Metro arteries after a woman fell on the tracks at a downtown station. She was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries and was released later in the day. The Metro subway system was running at crush capacity since 4 a.m.

D.C. fire and EMS department spokesman Alan Etter said the Fire Department responded to more than 200 calls from people falling down or complaining of being cold. About 80 people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.

Frustrated visitors at one point yesterday morning began clambering over concrete barriers, ignoring outmanned police, until a group of military security officials arrived and secured the area.