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Secret Service stages 'attack' on presidential motorcade to prepare for inauguration

BELTSVILLE, Maryland (CNN) - When George W. Bush is sworn in as the nation's president next Saturday, the U.S. Secret Service will take strong measures to protect him, as more than 700,000 people crowd the streets of Washington. An estimated 50,000 protesters are expected to be among them.

On Wednesday, the Secret Service staged a simulated attack on a presidential-style motorcade in a training exercise that capped months of intense preparation.

The Secret Service is training to protect the President during his inauguration  

An "assailant" launched a mock shoulder-fired missile at the president's limousine from a second-story window in an exercise designed to be realistic. The fake missile whizzed past the limo and exploded nearby as members of the news media and an invited crowd wearing protective goggles and earplugs watched.

The inauguration has been designated a national security special event, the first to receive that designation. Agents on duty will be responsible for protecting the public, in addition to their normal duties of protecting the president and other dignitaries.

The FBI heads crisis management, meanwhile, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency plans for and directs response to any catastrophic events.

Training chief pleased by exercise

Wednesday's event was staged at the Secret Service Training Center just outside Washington.

Secret Service training chief Larry Cockell, who headed President Clinton's protective detail for more than three years, said he was generally pleased with what he saw during the exercise.

"I'm a tough grader, and today, in the training exercise we just witnessed, I would probably give about an 80 percent," Cockell told CNN. He said coordination and speed among protective team members are crucial in responding to any such attack.

"Throughout the year, we try to continuously work on making sure that our people are prepared to deal with anything they face, and their skills are perishable, so it's repetitive and it's continuous and right now, what we are doing is especially focused training exercises that highlight the inaugural," Cockell said.

"We expect that when they are tested in this manner, that we get the optimal response and that we are successful in our response to any threat we might face, he added.

Washington police on alert

The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies, along with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, have trained extensively to prepare for any potential threats by terrorists, criminals or protesters.

"Our entire force is on alert," said Washington Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey. "We'll be activated and working long shifts, 12-hour shifts at a minimum. We will have about double the personnel we would normally have for a presidential inauguration, because of the threat of protests."

The FBI is contributing nearly 600 agents to a massive law enforcement presence at the January 20 inaugural. FBI Supervisor James Rice, who heads the bureau's effort, said the highly visible presence is intended to act as a deterrent to would-be lawbreakers. But that's not all, he said.

"For almost every officer you see, there's officers you won't see," Rice said. He said dozens of armed agents would be on rooftops along Pennsylvania Avenue, and undercover agents would be in the crowds. Rice said the FBI and other agencies would provide bomb squads, hazardous materials units, a hostage rescue team and divers.

"We have to be prepared to respond to absolutely any scenario or any situation that would come up that could affect this event, from a terrorist attack to bombing, a chemical or biological or nuclear incident, or demonstrations on the parade route," Rice said.

Although representatives of the several government agencies involved emphasized their massive planning effort and police presence, they also insisted the scope of their plan is largely business as usual for major events, ranging from international summit meetings to Olympics venues.

CNN Justice Producer Terry Frieden and Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena contributed to this report.


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Thursday, January 11, 2001

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