I thought this first article was a good little run down of some commonsense moves for protecting members of congress.  Of course all of this is coming out after the recent shooting that killed six and critically wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona. The other two articles detail the potential for copycat killers, and what members of congress think about their own personal security or lack of it.

     Although I would have liked to have heard more of a discussion about private security and specifically privatized executive protection services for members of congress.  We use highly trained private security specialists to protect members of congress in war zones through programs like WPS, but what about for members of congress in the US?  Perhaps a similar program could be started just to meet the needs of congress throughout the nation?

    Or a stipend could be given to members of congress with the idea that they could contract the services of competent executive protection specialists wherever they go in the nation.  To depend upon police departments purely for this type of security could be a strain on them in terms of man power and financially, or these officers could be the wrong tool for the job.  In some parts of the country, I don’t know if a member of congress would want a police officer watching their back. Meaning there are some cops out there that are very low paid and minimally trained for high end executive protection duties.  Private industry is very good at this task, and this is their bread and butter.

     Finally, the government could just ramp up the Secret Service and task them to get this going.  They could literally assign a detail to every member of congress, and give everyone custom tailored protection.  Of course the cost of this could be pretty high, but they are leaders of this country and they are public figures.  Or we could tell members of congress to wear a vest, a gun, and tell them to hope for the best. It is a dangerous world out there and executive protection services, either private or public, should be a priority. –Matt

How to Protect Members of Congress

Officials warn of Arizona copycat attacks

Lawmakers rethink security after Arizona shooting

How to Protect Members of Congress

It doesn’t have to break the budget to provide the security they need.

By Marc Ambinder

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On Wednesday, the FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police will brief members of Congress on basic security precautions they can take when they’re interacting with constituents. Also on the agenda: an explanation of how Capitol Police officers conduct threat assessments. What the members are likely to hear may be as simple as surrounding themselves with aides wearing suits or setting up a thin rope line to create a slight barrier between them and possible danger.

They will also hear about threats beyond the shooting in Tucson, Ariz. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrence Gainer told WTOP Radio on Monday that he had referred 49 threats against senators alone to the FBI within the past year. But the rarity of actual assassination attempts against members of Congress underscores the challenge for investigators.

“A lot of people will talk, but a tiny few will act; and most who act tend not to talk beforehand,” is how one current federal agent describes people who threaten public officials.

Killing the president or vice president might significantly jeopardize national security, which is why merely threatening to kill the commander-in-chief and his deputy are Class De felonies. It’s much tougher, however, for prosecutors to build cases against people who threaten members of Congress.

No central database exists of every e-mail sent to a congressional office, and most members of Congress would be horrified if it did. If an assault occurs, the FBI takes over, as it would for an incident involving any federal government employee, from letter carriers to lawmakers.

Still, according to former Secret Service agents and current physical-protection specialists, members can take commonsense steps to reduce the likelihood of an incident, steps that only mildly compromise their access to the public, if at all.

According to a federal official who is preparing the advice, the Capitol Police will recommend that when members hold well-publicized outside events with uncontrolled access, they should request the presence of a police officer from the local jurisdiction. In most cases, the police will know about the event anyway, because congressional staffers would have obtained permits.

In a conference call with members yesterday, Capitol Police officials emphasized that local police agencies will rarely refuse a request from a member of Congress to provide an officer for such events – and that if those agencies do, members should ask the Capitol Police to intercede.

Local police officers tend to be less intimidating than private bodyguards and often are seen as members of the community, so their presence isn’t likely to deter anyone who is friendly from attending an event. They can watch members of the crowd for suspicious behavior or for people who just seem particularly nervous, as several witnesses described Giffords’s alleged assailant, Jared Loughner, moments before the shooting.

The mere presence of an armed police officer, even 20 feet away from the principal, can deter an attacker – a technique that personal-security teams use to great effect.

The 40,000-member New York City Police Department routinely assigns an officer to senators when they are in the city.  But it’s not reasonable to expect, say, the California Highway Patrol to provide officers for every congressional event held by all 54 members of the state’s congressional delegation during a recess. Nor are small-town police departments always able to spare officers. Moreover, the willingness of local enforcement to help out will probably diminish as this most recent incident recedes into the past.

So, aides who set up the events must assume some responsibility. “When these staffers go out and do these advance visits, [the events] are mostly scheduled and looked at from the perspective of what the VIP wants,” said Bruce Bowen, a former deputy director of the Secret Service. “They have to go into a new mode, if you will”: Start taking a look at from a quasi-security perspective.”  That is, look at an event the way a Secret Service agent might.

If the member is sitting at a table, make sure the table is positioned near some sort of concrete pillar that could provide cover.  Make sure that the member can quickly move to a vehicle if something happens.  A bit of training can help staffers detect unusual behavior in a crowd, said Bowen, who also ran the government’s federal law-enforcement training program and is now a principal at the Command Consulting Group.

“On the day of the event, you get there early, and you watch for early arrivals; you watch for outlandish behavior and clothing; you see if someone is sweating but it’s 45 degrees out; if someone has unusual clothing on which could hide a weapon; or if someone keeps moving to a different part of the crowd.”

(Bowen doesn’t recommend that the staffers intervene – simply notifying a police officer or their boss might be sufficient, he says.)

Indeed,  having an emergency plan – briefing the member on what to do in the event of an emergency – increases the likelihood that he or she will react quickly.

For particularly large events, Bowen said, lawmakers should request a threat or risk analysis from the Capitol Police and FBI, which would then dictate whether they should request additional help from local police officers.

Another bit of advice: Indoor events tend to be safer than outdoor ones, and even the presence of a sign-in table – constituents can bypass it if they want – might increase the anxiety level of someone who intends to do harm.

A simple rope line decorated with an American flag creates a safe zone. “Even though the cordon will be of something as fragile as a silken cord, it still creates a psychological barrier and slows anyone attempting to approach the platform from the crowd as they go over and under it,” Leroy Thompson, a professional bodyguard who has protected queens, kings, and celebrities, writes in an executive-protection manual.

Presidential candidates quickly learn that  a small entourage provides a security benefit. When Mitt Romney first ran for president, he was often surrounded by young aides wearing lapel pins. To the uninitiated, they looked like Secret Service agents or bodyguards, and I often heard members of the public identifying them as such.

Romney did not have Secret Service protection during his 2008 presidential bid, but the presence of a young man (or woman) in a suit, standing close to a famous person, marks them as a security officer, even though they are usually staffers who help the candidate wade through a crowd or write down requests from constituents or autograph seekers. In 2003, Howard Dean’s campaign team debated whether to hire private bodyguards to deal with the surging crowds he was attracting. They eventually settled for jersey barriers at large events.

What security pros call “set-back” can also be built into the event.

Gavin de Becker’s firm, which has provided security for Arnold Schwarzenegger and heads of state, conducted a study simulating conditions that a would-be attacker might face at a public event. It found that bodyguards stationed 7 feet away from the crowd have a good chance of intercepting an assailant before he or she is able to pull the trigger.

“Safety is nearly assured when the setup keeps the nearest members of the public more than 25 feet away from the protectee,” de Becker writes in “Just 2 Seconds,” a study of recent assassinations and protective methodology.

It is not clear that any of these methods would have prevent Saturday’s mass shooting. A police officer, for example, might have been reluctant to return fire if the assailant emerged from a crowd of innocents.

Chris Falkenberg, a former Secret Secret agent who now runs a private-security firm that has protected politicians and celebrities (including Martha Stewart), said that proactive threat assessment is the “most efficient and cost-effective way of reducing this threat.”  It’s the Capitol Police’s responsibility, he said, to brief members and their Washington and district staffers on the type of communications from constituents that could be dangerous. The follow-up is just as important.

The Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting about 20 executive-branch officials, former presidents, and members of their families – and also foreign heads of state and embassies in the U.S. – is able to devote significant resources to threat assessment because its agents are spread across the country and because of the relatively small number of people in their charge.  “You can’t do that for 535 members of Congress,” Falkenberg said.

When the Capitol Police receives a threat, officers regularly check it against databases kept by the Secret Service and other agencies, officials said, and information interoperability isn’t a problem.

“USCP maintains several liaison positions within the intelligence community (i.e.: FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Homeland Security Department) enabling us to share and receive intelligence information,” said Kimberly Schneider, the Capitol Police spokesperson.

But counting threats, according to a veteran of protective threat assessments who is still in government, can’t take the place of a process that treats a threat “like a living document.”

“It takes into account a person’s visibility in the community, where they live, when they travel, whether the interests expressed are of a threatening nature. And it’s open and constantly being revised,” this official said.   The Secret Service, for example, has dozens of field offices across the country, and agents monitor threats dynamically.  It is not usual, for example, for an agent to take someone who is deemed to be a threat to the president to a movie the afternoon that the president visits.

A more efficient system for analyzing, processing, and diffusing threats requires personnel and training that the Capitol Police’s threat desk is unlikely to acquire – and, indeed, is at variance with protecting free expression.

After Capitol Police officers complete their basic law-enforcement training, they receive extensive training in executive protection at a specialized facility in Maryland near Andrews Air Force Base. Officers are often so well trained that they find themselves in demand by other agencies, who snap them up quickly, Bowen said.

Yochi J. Dreazen contributed

Story here.


Officials warn of Arizona copycat attacks

11 January 2011

Intelligence and law enforcement authorities informed U.S. lawmakers that they are monitoring for potential “copycat” attacks on lawmakers after the rampage in Arizona on Saturday; Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he expects to ask for a formal report on the shooting, addressing both the short-term concerns — including the likelihood of copycat incidents — and long-term issues with security; among the questions he wants answered, King said, are “Is this part of a larger movement? Is there any evidence he [the assailant] was motivated by organizational structure?” FBI director Robert Mueller said: “Given this tragedy, all logical precautions are in place to best ensure the safety of other public officials, but there is no information at this time to suggest any specific threat remains”

Authorities are monitoring for potential “copycat” attacks on lawmakers after the rampage in Arizona on Saturday, House members were told in a bipartisan conference call with their leaders Sunday.

Following the deadly shooting that killed six and critically wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) and injured several others, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority LeaderNancy Pelosi (D-California) urged lawmakers to take precautions. “I have also asked that the Sergeant-at-Arms, U.S. Capitol Police and FBI to conduct an in-depth security overview for members on Wednesday,” Boehner told members on the call, along with a “bipartisan security briefing for district directors” of congressional offices.

Sunday, Republican leaders called off all votes scheduled for the upcoming week — including the vote to repeal the health care bill — allowing lawmakers to stay in their districts rather than return to Washington, if they choose to do so.

Newsday reports that Representative Peter King (R-New York), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he expects to ask for a formal report on the shooting, addressing both the short-term concerns — including the likelihood of copycat incidents — and long-term issues with security.

Among the questions he wants answered, King said, are “Is this part of a larger movement? Is there any evidence he [the assailant] was motivated by organizational structure?”

FBI Director Robert Mueller, at a news conference in Arizona, echoed earlier advisories that there appears to be no connection between terrorist groups and accused shooter Jared Loughner, charged Sunday with the murder and attempted assassination of federal public officials. The killing of a federal judge is a murder charge.

“Given this tragedy, all logical precautions are in place to best ensure the safety of other public officials,” Mueller said, “but there is no information at this time to suggest any specific threat remains.”

King said he conferred at length with Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano about the case Saturday night, and said he was pleased to learn that Homeland Security agencies, including immigration enforcement, customs and border patrol, and the Transportation Security Administration assisted the FBI.

Story here.


Lawmakers rethink security after Arizona shooting

January 09, 2011

By Kristi Keck

Lawmakers are weighing the benefit of accessibility with the necessity of security in the aftermath of a shooting at a political meet-and-greet outside an Arizona supermarket.

Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords remained in critical condition Sunday after being shot in the head at the event Saturday. The gunman killed six people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, and wounded 14 others, authorities said. The suspected shooter is in custody.

There was no security at the political gathering, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said. At such events, “there’s never security unless there’s advance intelligence that there may be a problem of some kind,” he said, noting that Giffords often attends as many as eight events in a single day.

“But it’s not unusual for all public officials to get threats constantly, myself included. And that’s the sad thing about what’s going on in America. Pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to find reasonable, decent people who are willing to subject themselves to serve in public office,” Dupnik said.

The lack of security is nothing out of the norm. Members of the House and Senate leadership have security provided by Capitol Hill, but rank-and-file lawmakers don’t receive a constant security detail. They can, however, request security if there are safety concerns.

Members of Congress, including Giffords, saw heightened threats during the health care debate. Giffords’ district office in Arizona was vandalized.

Former Democratic Rep. John Boccieri of Ohio also received threats, including one from a man who went to trial for threatening to burn down the lawmaker’s home.

Boccieri praised the Capitol Police but told CNN on Saturday that some public events “could use a degree of more security.”

“I don’t know there’s anything that could have been done more in terms of the type of security that could be provided in instances where we’re out in front of the public and being accessible. My hope is that we’re better than this as a country,” he said.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, one of Giffords’ Democratic colleagues, told CNN she fears Saturday’s shooting will “have a chilling effect” on members of Congress.

“Sometimes there are people who come before you who are angry. We take it as part of our job,” Pingree said. “We never travel with security. It’s our goal to be out amongst people, but this is a horrible reminder that there are those people in our society who would choose to do things to undo that.”

“We are all subject to occasional threats, to angry letters, phone calls. And honestly this does give you pause for the security of our staff, our own families,” she added.

Rep. Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, said in The Wall Street Journal, “I hate to put this in the newspaper, but we don’t have any security. … The word ‘balance’ implies your life is a compromise between constituents and security. For most of my colleagues, there isn’t any balance; you just get out there.”

California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters told Politico, “We’re vulnerable, and there’s no real way to protect us.”

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina both told Politico they planned to carry guns while in their home districts.

Assistant House Minority Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina told “Fox News Sunday” that lawmakers need to look at beefing up funding for security instead of cutting it.

Providing security to protect all 535 representatives and senators would be a daunting task, especially considering it would take more than one guard per person.

“You can’t do anything. You know, the very nature of being a public official is one where you need to press the flesh. You’ve seen it at the White House with the president. You have to get out and touch people,” William Pickle, former U.S. Senate sergeant-at-arms, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Republican Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona said while all threats are taken seriously, getting them is just part of the job.

“But the danger is, some of these people you dismiss as crackpots, you know, a crackpot with a gun is dangerous, and that — that is worrisome. And I think what really hit home to all of us on Capitol Hill yesterday was that you’re not only putting yourself in danger if you ignore these kind of threats; you’re putting staff in danger, as well,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Bill Livingood, the House sergeant-at-arms, held a conference call to discuss the shooting with lawmakers, their spouses and staff on Sunday.

Livingood said in an e-mail Saturday that the Capitol Police are involved in the investigation, and there is no indication that the incident is a part of a larger threat against Congress.

He urged lawmakers and staff to immediately report any suspicious circumstances to their local law enforcement agency and the Capitol Police Threat Assessment unit.

“We will continue to review our security posture and make adjustments as necessary,” he said.

The U.S. Capitol Police on Saturday also sent a message to all House staff advising them to “take reasonable and prudent precautions regarding their personal security.”

Tom Fuentes, former assistant director of the FBI, told CNN the statement “means nothing.”

“What is reasonable? Call the police and say, ‘I’m going to be holding a rally in a parking lot could you put a couple police officers out there to watch me?’ I’ve been telling members of Congress to hire their own private security at their own expense when they appear in public,” Fuentes said.

While many lawmakers are on edge, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee indicated he had no plans to change his schedule.

“I’m going to be at the basketball game on the front row, I’ll be at the grocery store in a few minutes,” Alexander told CNN on Sunday. “We’ll be out just like elected officials are supposed to be.”

Story here.