Scope of Obama's Secret Service Protection Proves Daunting

In addition, Washington's police department is coordinating with 96 police agencies across the nation that are sending 4,000 officers to help secure the event, says D.C. police spokeswoman Traci Hughes.

Burke says challenges include providing the large crowds with enough space to "appreciate the historical significance of the event," while maintaining a high level of security for Obama.

Ray Mey, a former FBI agent who helped with security for the 1997 Clinton inauguration, says the crowds that gathered during the 2007-08 campaign and Obama's close interaction with them signal the new president will be "a tough guy to protect."

"He likes to get out in the crowd," Mey says.

The long election cycle and the enormous crowds at Obama's events already have stretched Secret Service resources. As a candidate, Obama began receiving Secret Service protection 1½ years before the general election after congressional officials such as Sen. Dick Durbin, Obama's senior Democratic colleague from Illinois, expressed concern that the large crowds Obama was drawing could obscure a threat to the candidate.

Durbin also told reporters in May 2007 that he was worried about the sharp rhetoric directed at Obama. Durbin, who did not publicly elaborate on the issue at the time, passed the information about the troubling rhetoric to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who went to the Secret Service with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to share their concerns.

This year, Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan told a congressional panel that the "tempo" of the campaign was "unlike anything we've ever seen before." Sullivan said the agency borrowed about 1,000 Transportation Security Administration officers to assist with screening at crowded campaign venues for all candidates.

The early protection given to Obama and the large field of 2008 candidates could push Secret Service security costs well past 2004 levels. Sullivan estimated the agency planned to provide a total 739 days of protection for all covered candidates, relatives and former officeholders, costing about $44,000 a day for each person receiving protection. In 2004, the agency provided 454 days' worth of security.

During the congressional hearing in April, Sullivan told the House Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee: "We pay an awful lot of attention to the threats out there."

Anxiety in Denver

That was the case when information emerged during a traffic stop before the August Democratic National Convention in Denver about a possible assassination attempt on Obama. An alarm was sounded that sent waves of anxiety from Colorado to Washington, D.C.

Investigators quickly determined that the three main suspects — initially feared to have ties to the violent white supremacist movement — did not pose a serious threat to Obama.

Yet the incident, as described by federal investigators, offers a rare glimpse two months before Inauguration Day of the intensity of security surrounding then-candidate and now President-elect Obama.

In the months leading up to the convention, an estimated 500 FBI agents and 1,000 Secret Service agents were dispatched to the city. Weapons experts prepared for a bombing or other terrorist attack. Federal hostage negotiators planned for a host of crises.

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