5 Ways the Secret Service Keeps the Pope Safe on US Soil

"If you don’t have structure, you have mayhem."

— -- An unprecedented level of security has surrounded Pope Francis’ historic visit to the United States -- including tactical teams and snipers, coordination among more than two dozen agencies and crowd control for a pontiff who likes to mingle with crowds.

In Washington D.C., some 30 miles of road were closed and temporary barriers erected around the city.

The Secret Service, which is the lead agency ensuring the pope’s safety, has to adapt to the needs and movements of each person it protects.

“Each protectee is different, whether it's presidents or certainly the pope,” said Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy.

The pope’s visit was designated as a National Special Security Event, usually reserved for the State of the Union and political conventions, which allows the Secret Service to access additional federal funds and resources.

“You have to have structure. If you don’t have structure, you have mayhem,” said Clancy.

Here are five ways the Secret Service is protecting the pope:

1. Unseen Protection

There was a massive public police presence at every event Pope Francis attended in Washington, D.C., but there was a largely unseen layer of protection as well.

Tactical teams and snipers were on standby as the pope traveled throughout the Nation’s Capital and undercover officers milled about in between the large crowds.

Additional surveillance cameras were deployed throughout the city as the pope made his way to the White House and Congress.

2. All hands On Deck

Numerous federal, local and state agencies were brought in to assist the with protecting the pope. The Secret Service has been meeting with partner organizations since January to prepare for the visit, according to Clancy.

The Transportation Security Administration, usually seen at airports, manned checkpoints along the pope’s public parade route and ahead of the canonization mass at Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, searching bags and monitoring as people passed through magnetometers.

The FBI, Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Capitol Police and Park Police all provided officers to supplement the Secret Service protection.

3. Constant Communication

Representatives from more than 30 agencies gathered in at the joint communication center outside Washington, D.C., where they remain on 24/7 alert, controlling an army of police and federal agents securing the pontiff.

The Multi-Agency Communication Center in Philadelphia became operational today and will remain in full effect until Monday to serve as the nerve center for more than 50 partner agencies.

“We’ve been coordinating with our law enforcement partners, here and abroad to ensure that we’re getting all the intelligence information possible, and providing that information to the right people, ” said Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge of Philadelphia,” John Kelleghan.

4. Stopping Threats Ahead of Time

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Director Clancy said that there was no specific threat to the pope while he is on U.S. soil, however federal and local law enforcement were on high alert ahead of the pope’s U.S. trip.

“We're all about being preventative, taking preventative measures, being pro-active and that we have a whole division that monitors the intelligence world out there,” said Clancy.

Preventative measures included the FBI’s arrest of a 15-year-old boy outside of Philadelphia last month for allegedly threatening to launch an ISIS-inspired assault on Pope Francis.

The NYPD, Philadelphia Police Department and Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. also issued a joint bulletin to law enforcement, warning that “[e]ven if the pope is well protected,” large crowds gathered outside event locations and on public transportation “can be attractive targets for individuals and groups looking to carry out attacks.”

5. Crowd Control

Pope Francis is known for going out into crowds to meet the people face-to-face. In Cuba last week, a dissident got close enough to touch the popemobile, before being pulled away by security.

“He does present some challenges, he loves to be out with the people,” said Clancy.

In Washington, D.C. the National Park Police were enlisted to line the streets of the pope’s parade route to keep people from getting close to the motorcade. However, a five year-old girl made it over the barrier, eventually getting a letter into the hands of the pope.

In the event that crowds get out of control or there’s a national security incident, the Secret Service prepares an exit plan in advance.

“You have to have routes available, so if there is an incident you can certainly get the Holy Father out of the city,” said Clancy.

Additional reporting by Mike Levine and Jack Date.