NEW YORK - His holiness Pope Francis is planning to take a drive through Central Park during his upcoming visit to New York. It is just one event on a busy schedule and the challenge for the United States Secret Service will be to strike a balance between protecting the pope from many threats while allowing this holy man to spread his message of love. Known for his distaste of the trappings that come with his prestigious position, including heavy security, Pope Francis is also known for his spontaneous forays into crowds to touch the faithful.
Former Secret Service Agent Dan Bongino, who was assigned to President Obama's protection detail, said this presents a tremendous challenge.
"There's simply no way to secure someone with the threat footprint the pope carries with him with the discreet profile that he likes to carry around," Bongino said.
The NYPD said it will have an overlay of security, including thousands of officers on the streets and special teams on standby. But the Secret Service will be overall in charge. Bongino said the pope will get similar protection to what is given the president, and a strong visual deterrent is part of the plan.
"It requires hard assets, assets you can't hide, you can't do discreetly. In other words, say, counter-assault teams who are going to be dressed in black BDUs, battle dress uniforms, these are SWAT-type teams," Bongino said. "You're going to have counter-sniper elements. You're going to have military officials from EOD, explosive ordnance disposal teams."
Bongino said the planning for the pope's visit has been going on for many months, with agents devising response strategies from option A to option Z for every possible threat -- what he calls "the big 6."
"You have tactical assaults, medical emergency, chem/bio attack, an IED -- improvised explosive device -- attack, airborne assaults, and fire, and maybe you throw in 7: geologic -- an earthquake," he said.
Bongino said no detail is too small to be analyzed and that agents repeatedly drive every single inch the pope will be traveling to know the territory and potential escape routes. The hope is they won't need any.
The pope's visit, combined with these other events, has prompted Homeland Security to declare this a national security level event, which will also provide the NYPD and city with federal resources.
The NYPD officers we see on the streets will be out in full force -- that's a given. But there's also a lot of coordination and planning that's been going on, without losing sight of the special nature of the pope's visit.
The NYPD is not just coordinating with the secret service and other law enforcement agencies, it is working with building owners and transportation and communication specialists so that the city will continue to function during this important time.