Monday, January 19, 2009

Measuring DC's Inaugural Security Blanket

Well, tomorrow is the day, as you well know, Barack Obama will take over for good ol’e George Bush Jr. as the new Prez. Finally, someone is officially taking over, barring any “extraordinary” political shenanigans, I suppose. I don’t know, Bush is just such an avid stuntman I can’t wait for noon tomorrow to come and pass so this historical changing of the guard is incontrovertibly in the books.
It’s also the day the greatest show on earth that major cities all over the world have come to reckon with – Fenceland – will bring an equally historic setting for the occasion. The show has been going on for years borrowing city spaces for the ultimate show of security theater, and tomorrow it will do so again what it does best, that is turn Washington DC (home of the Grand Wizard of Oz-works behind much of the global production of Fenceland) into a full fledged mock occupied territory. And as you’d expect this latest installment is going to be bigger and badder than ever before. Perhaps, as some suggest, the single most complex security event ever assembled.

So big this time around President Bush even declared tomorrow a state of emergency!
Ha! What a fitting last-minute declaration for a president who will go down in history as nothing other than a complete ‘state of emergency’ himself, one who’s legacy will clearly represent a lack of limitation and power to abuse democracy in order to lead and operate in a total state of exception, above the law, outside the law, in a war with everyone and everything including perhaps most of all the law itself. In fact, he couldn’t have made a more predictable move in his final moments of glory. It’s perfect! Well done Dubya – no one can ever say you weren’t unflappably consistent. It’s said to be the first time in U.S. history that an advance declaration of emergency has been used for a “non-disaster.” Go figure.
Actually, what it means is that the government set aside an extra $15m to fund additional security or medical aid in the event Washington needs it – whether they did (or do) or not I am not sure. But, the idea of millions worth of surplus security waiting in escrow to just be dropped like some hypervigilant net down over the city, adds another creepy dimension to the domesticization of the security zone that has already turned DC into a strategic stage for military occupation.
Noah over at Danger Room likened it to turning DC into the Green Zone, which is pretty much what Fenceland is: the Green Zone packaged and made mobile; security architecture performing a grand scale transplant of exceptional sovereignty. It’s a nomadic fortress (normally reserved for the world’s superfluous populations) tailored now for the upper class participants in the inner cities of Empire.
So, for all you lucky detain--, I mean attendees out there who have paid the price of admission for tomorrow’s prestigious affair, and for those who haven’t but just plan to join the millions or so other diehard Fenceland fans, here’s a little break down of the security pomp and circumstance that is making this the most fortified inaugural celebration in history to date, or at least until the cavalcade of military urban orthodoxy sets its sights on the next city.
CNN’s guides to this affair first informs us that the Secret Service is responsible for coordinating the entire security act, “which will involve 58 federal, state and local agencies. All of them are represented at the Secret Service command center, where they can communicate and work together to respond to any report of a possible problem.”

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

In addition to Secret Service agents, the security effort will involve 8,000 police officers from the District of Columbia and other jurisdictions, 10,000 National Guardsmen, about 1,000 FBI personnel, and hundreds of others from the Department of Homeland Security, the National Park Service and U.S. Capitol Police. Another 20,000 members of the National Guard are ready to respond if there is an emergency, according to Chertoff.

The New York Times, which offers fanboys this groovy guide, says law enforcement agencies will operate from a network of centers to command ground, air and waterborne forces together. But, don’t worry, there’s a lot more.

Less visibly, federal authorities will deploy 155 intelligence teams of plainclothes agents throughout the region including at Metro subway stations in the outer suburbs of Virginia and Maryland.

Teams of intelligence analysts, evidence response technicians, bomb experts, cybersecurity specialists, hostage negotiators, emergency medical personnel and SWAT units will also be nearby and out of sight in off-site locations unless they are needed.

Still not satisfied with the set design?

“With roads and five major bridges leading into the city closed for the inauguration, and vehicular traffic excluded from large parts of downtown, transit officials have warned riders of “crush conditions” and long waits for buses and subways.

Fighter jets will provide air cover and Coast Guard boats equipped with automatic weapons will patrol the Potomac River. Chemical, biological and radiological detectors, installed after the Sept. 11 hijackings, are already in place.

Businesses and hoteliers have been briefed to be watchful during the inaugural events

“Public and private buildings will be closed to normal business near where Mr. Obama will be sworn in and along the parade route up Pennsylvania Avenue. No one will be permitted to enter a nearly two-square-mile area without a bag search and passing through a metal detector. Officials have warned people not to bring strollers, folding chairs, coolers and umbrellas.” (NYT)

For the FBI’s part, well, in addition to running around behind the scenes in this mobile command center they’ll also be deploying at least one (how many exactly I'm not sure) of these MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected – of which similar vehicles are being used by US forces in Iraq and Afganistan to shield against roadside bombs). New Scientist has a gallery of all the bells and whistles, including bomb-detonating robots and this bomb containment vessel.

I don’t think it's been officially stated just how much all of this is costing, but DC officials fessed to dolling out roughly $50m, while Maryland and Virginia both have pitched in another $12-16m each. If this isn’t an exercise in how to effectively take over and shut down the heart of a city, or how to scale it for perhaps the greatest MOUT crash course ever designed, then I don’t know what is. Now, I’m all for protecting Barack Obama and the million or so members of the public from any tragedy, but WOW – this is an urban security planner’s tactical orgy dreams come true.

Sorry for the bulk reposting on this one, but those are at least some of the bare bones factoids on DC’s security state, be advised -- which just goes to show the kind of Washington Obama is really inheriting. I mean, here is a man making history on numerous fronts, who may indeed be the most globally applauded U.S. president to ever take office, but as he's doing so it is painfully obvious that the entire nervous system of the nation is all the more desperately sheathed in Kevlar myelin right where the Bush regime has left it.
Sorkin sums up the inbred insecurity of this landscape simply enough by saying: “What makes the new War on Terror more singular – more sinister – is that the convergence of unsettling fear, shadowy demonized foe, hyper-technology of ubiquitous reach, and the communal power of the corporate state, has truly globalized the condition of fear. If every space is susceptible to attack and every person a potential attacker, then the only recourse is to watch everyone and fortify every place. If every communication is potentially a fragment of conspiracy, then all must be recorded. Walking the streets nowadays, with troops at the subway entrance, barricades around buildings, cameras staring from lampposts, metal detectors and card swipes at the office door, cops profude, newsstands billboarding alerts from every corner, involuntary anxiety at the sight of handbags and kerchiefs, it feels – more and more – like the battle for freedom is being lost.”
That's the quick and dirty of it. Take Patience and Good Shoes, and prepare to be screened to death.

(Thanks to Pruned for sending me lots of bits there!)

[Previously: Architects of Nebulous Detention; G8 Walls; "Fenceland" (The Greatest Show On Earth!); Subverting "Military IKEA"; Return to Panic; fortress urbanism: Super Bowl City (Detroit); Getting Ready for a Radical Roundup in Denver.]


Blogger Nick Sowers said...

It is a bit of a dramatic stage set of military occupation, but it does make you wonder about the pervasiveness of the infrastructure that is there 24/7. How much more is not measured by physical checkpoints and bomb sniffers? Having just come back from Cuba, I can still sense acutely that feeling of being watched.

All the while I was watching the inauguration from Cuba I was wondering how much effort it was taking to secure the area. Thanks for the post.

1:47 PM  

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