When President-elect Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States on January 20, a massive, multi-agency effort will roll out across Washington D.C. to ensure inauguration security. To get a sense of what that security effort looks like, Stratfor Chief Security Officer Fred Burton joins the Stratfor Talks podcast to share his experience having worked on security details for past presidential inaugurations. Then Stratfor Vice President of Strategic Analysis Rodger Baker and Senior Analyst Sim Tack discuss military options to address North Korea’s nuclear program and what the implications of a military strike would be.
Cole Altom [00:00:10] Hello and thank you for joining us for another edition of Stratfor Talks, a podcast focused on geopolitics and world affairs from Strafor.com. I'm Cole Altom and managing editor here at Stratfor and as we all know on January 20th, President Elect Donald Trump will be inaugurated as 45th President of the United States. The inauguration itself includes an immense multi-agency security operation and to learn more about that type of security we're joined by Strafor's Chief Security Officer, Fred Burton. Then Stratfor Vice President of Strategic Analysis, Roger Baker, and Senior Analyst Sim Tack discuss our recent series about options, including military options, to address North Korea's nuclear capabilities. Thanks for joining us. So Fred, thanks for joining us. We're here to talk about inauguration security for Donald Trump's big ceremony on January 20th. Now you've been to a couple of these things, right?
Fred Burton [00:01:09] Quite a few, actually.
Cole Altom [00:01:10] Quite a few, but it's been a while?
Fred Burton [00:01:12] It's been a while, absolutely. I'd love to go to this one though, but I have, I'm still waiting for my invitation.
Cole Altom [00:01:17] You mean, you got a couple days. I guess before we get into the, some of the finer points of the security, since we brought it up, let's talk about your experience there. What did you do when you were at these ceremonies?
Fred Burton [00:01:29] My job as a protection officer and a special agent with the state department was to provide support and security for the inaugurations in the past so I can vividly recall first Clinton inauguration and seeing President Clinton and Hillary Clinton and the Gore's on stage at Georgetown University after we escorted the entire diplomatic core to the actual event, which a lot of folks don't understand, Cole, there's a tremendous number of Washington luminaries, not to mention visiting Heads of State that come to these events, to include the entire Washington Diplomatic Court.
Cole Altom [00:02:12] I think that's a good Segway, I think, because for people like me who have not really worked in law enforcement or military, I think we tend to overlook the logistics of these kinds of enterprises. I mean, you've got like you said, the entire diplomatic core. You've got officials from every branch of the US Government. You've got, sometimes protestors, sometimes counter-protestors, you've got supporters. You've got a lot of stuff going on so it's tempting for us to think that the jobs that you all did is purely reactive. You're just keeping the peace there, you're making sure that no fights break out or nobody gets killed, and that's probably part of it, too. I guess, walk us through some of the more proactive aspects to it. I mean, you've got to do, there's background checks, there's transportation corridors, you've got to block things off. Give us a sense of how hairy that process is.
Fred Burton [00:02:57] In a 30,000 foot view it's organized chaos. It's scripted very well, though. Meaning, first off, Washington has held these events since I believe it was 1801 since—
Cole Altom [00:03:09] Since Jefferson, I think.
Fred Burton [00:03:10] Thomas Jefferson was elected president and then Inauguration Day has been scheduled in January since 1937. So from a geography perspective that doesn't change. So what the secret service does from a national special event is they'll pull that plan off the shelf from previous events and then they'll be planning meetings leading up to the actual inauguration that's held at the Secret Service headquarters, attended by the State Department, the FBI, the DC Police, the US Park Police, so there's a tremendous number of law enforcement meetings that cover everything from static venues such as Georgetown University Campus to the parade route to—
Cole Altom [00:03:56] Well, at least those don't change. Right, the buildings aren't really going anywhere so I guess that's somewhat of a respite for some of these planners, right?
Fred Burton [00:04:02] That's correct. So in essence, the Secret Service can look and say okay, we're going to have our counter sniper teams here. This is the area that the president is going to get out of his limousine and actually walk for a little bit. This is the parade route where they're going to stay. This is the dignitary location. And routes are frozen, that's the term, meaning if you look days ahead of time there'll be a stair step schedule that says okay, 72 hours, this is what streets we're going to freeze and we're going to sweep for bombs and hazmat and then we're going to actually post law enforcement officers there. And there'll be a lot of officers from the surrounding DC jurisdictions from across the country that are typically called to come and help with security as well so, it is a, one of these events in Washington that works seamlessly but the best way to explain it would be in that organized kind of chaos kind of environment.
Cole Altom [00:05:00] That's a real who's who of agencies, right? It's probably alphabet soup up there. You've got what, Secret Service, you've probably got DSS, you've probably got DCPD, you've probably got the fire department. Who else, it's like a symphony of coordination that seems like any little thing could go wrong, right?
Fred Burton [00:05:16] Correct. But at the end of the day, protection, body cover for whether it be dignitaries such as the diplomatic core or the president or the former presidents, you still have your concept of concentric rings of security. So the closer and closer you get to the actual president or the former presidents, the tighter, the tighter that protection level is. And so that symphony that takes place in the past from a logistical perspective is always kind of amazing but it is well organized and, again, having the benefit of doing it since 1937 on Inauguration Day gives the Secret Service a good bit of time to learn what went wrong in years past.
Cole Altom [00:05:59] We talked about some of these things that are aesthetic, these things that do not change and some buildings and some routes and those are all pretty much set in stone. Which makes sense. And without delving into the actual politics I think you could maybe make a case that the upcoming inauguration might be a little different. You've got a Million Woman March. There's 200,000 women coming in protest. There's also the Marijuana Advocacy Group up there that's like handing out a bunch of free marijuana 'cause it's illegal to sell it but it's not illegal to possess it so that probably, they didn't have that at Jefferson's in 1801, right? So—
Fred Burton [00:06:32] I wasn't there for that one.
Cole Altom [00:06:33] Yeah.
Fred Burton [00:06:33] I'll take your word for it.
Cole Altom [00:06:35] Yeah, so I guess these are probably, I'm being a little facetious here but at the same time there probably are some new challenges every single year. Right? That's probably going to be true this time. Do you see anything different this time that might not be as true for inaugurations of the past?
Fred Burton [00:06:54] I don't. When you look at it from a protective security perspective, nobody does their job better in the protection field than the US Secret Service and when you look at Washington DC which is, everyday's a protest, we used to say. There's always some group there always protesting regardless of what issue it might be. So there'll be designated protest areas. The DC Police and the US Park Police, I must say, plays a huge role in this because they use their horse division, they use their helicopters to monitor protests so there'll be designated areas. There's designated arrest teams. And so the process works fairly orderly, much like what the New York City Police Department does every year at the United Nations General Assembly. So as we used to say in the business, and I know this might not be viewed by a lot of my law enforcement colleagues favorably, but I'll say it anyway. The US Park Police is probably one of the best, if not the best, mass protest kind of police organizations, to be able to corral and herd and fence off large scale demonstrations because they deal with it everyday.
Cole Altom [00:08:06] Interesting, I didn't know that.
Fred Burton [00:08:07] I don't think that's going to be an issue at all. What scares the agents and the officers, and I can tell you this just from first hand experience at working these kinds of events, is even though you have threat briefings, even though you've listened to the threat assessments, which at times can paint a very scary picture, because they talk about the probability from everything from weapons of mass destruction to airplanes into events and so forth. It gives you pause to say boy, maybe I should call in sick that day. But what you're worried about is that lone assassin. You're worried about that Sirhan Sirhan kind of person. The Lee Harvey Oswald. And you're hoping that the intelligence division of the Secret Service and the State Department and the FBI has done their job trying to catalog and surveil those persons that pose a physical threat to your protectee.
Cole Altom [00:09:02] I guess that's as true for the inauguration as it is for anything else. You simply cannot account for the whims and fancies of mentally disturbed people. And as it is, that does happen. We're going to shift gears. The Trump name, the Trump brand, is everywhere. And so a lot of tension is going to be focused on Washington DC soon, he has a lot of properties all over the world and do those pose any particular security threat? Most presidents don't have a lot of buildings with their names on it overseas. He's got some in like Turkey and India and all over the place, it's very expansive. Do you think necessarily being the president makes targeting those places any more likely than it would otherwise?
Fred Burton [00:09:43] I think in all probability, yes. When you look at this from a threat matrix or if I was doing the threat assessment for the Trump branded properties since he has been elected president, that certainly has placed those venues in a much higher category. And that's not loss sight on the US intelligence community either because the Secret Service and scraping the world for threats in intelligence is going to want to look at any kind of vandalism or potential threats, bomb threats, anything that is suspicious in nature affecting a Trump property anywhere in the world because at some point in time the president may travel to those countries, but it also helps you understand much like we do here with our threat lens process, we want to be able to factor that into your overall threat assessment of whatever you're trying to look at so when you're thinking of this in context, during the inauguration, when the eyes of the world are on Washington DC, anything that goes boom in the night anywhere is going to capture the news cycle and immediately take over the next 24 hours. So that's something like we experience everyday here at Stratfor when that happens. Anytime there's a major bombing or terrorist attack.
Cole Altom [00:10:58] I guess, too, those places abroad are going to need to be secured and I'm sure when Trump travels that, that Secret Service, excuse me, is going to play a part in that. But on any other day when Trump's in the White House doing presidential things, to whom does the responsibility of protection fall? Is that sourced locally and privately? Is that, are those US Government resources do you think?
Fred Burton [00:11:23] Yeah, it's really an interesting phenomenon from the protection business, too, when you look at a global protection umbrella and trying to scrape the world for threats against Trump branded properties, meaning they're all going to be looked at and depending upon the venue of that property, you might have enhanced, paid for, corporate security patrols, you might have enhanced police protection. But let's not lose sight of the politics behind this, Cole, that these nation states know that the man in the White House now has his name on this building and whatever venue it is, and so they're going to have, hopefully, a vested interest in keeping that building safe and there's going to be a lot of liaison back and forth with those host government security services through the respected US Embassies to say look, we really would like you to keep an eye on this property. Can you ratchet it up a notch? So those kinds of conversations are going to take place but in many ways you don't have to say that. You're going to have very good security services that are going to be doing that anyway because they don't want anything bad to happen to these properties to begin with. But you're right, we're in uncharted territory here. I've been asked this before in some of the interviews that I've done, I think you have to go back to, I don't know what exactly, when we had Teddy Roosevelt as President, his name was on what in buildings that whether it be in New York City or academic institutions he may have attended. Just based upon the Roosevelt name but this is something that's far bigger
Fred Burton [00:12:56] and certainly outside of the United States that needs to be factored into the threat matrix.
Cole Altom [00:13:02] All right, so getting back to the inauguration, I guess, I guess it's fair to say if you're working these types of events, it's hard to enjoy them. You've got a job to do. You're on the clock, you're thinking about what you have to do. You've got boxes to check, you've got all these things that you must do. Does that prevent you from sitting back and actually taking stock of the moment and enjoying what's actually there? I mean, these are like, these are historically pivotal events. Right, so again, you were there for the Clintons, you were there for Reagan as well, correct?
Fred Burton [00:13:29] Correct. When you look at some of the inaugurations that I've worked, whether that be going back as far as the Reagan inauguration into the Bush and Clinton inaugurations, the one thing that I look back and think about is the weather. It's always cold. And it boils down on a practical level that you're worried about your basic human necessities as you're standing post. And you're somewhat envious as a low man on the totem pole of those that have assignments on the inside of any kind of venue because if you're stuck on the perimeter, whether you're a police officer or a special agent, you're worried about are your hands warm. You're also thinking about when can I have my next coffee break and those are the kinds of practical things that come into play on a realistic basis. Meanwhile you're worrying about your area that you're responsible for and that might be as limited to a doorway or a hallway or a staircase or X number of feet on any given street. But I look back on these memories, Cole, as very fond having been a part of these. Whether it be the inaugurations or the Middle East Peace Conferences or the visits of Princess Diana, as having experienced unique venues and snapshots of American history that I'm proud of having been there and witnessing and I'm also proud of the fact that at least some of the venues that I've worked in the past, we've never had any security failures. Now you always have issues that surface but you never have any kind of, we've never had experienced any kind of catastrophic event, at least on those venues that I was there.
Cole Altom [00:15:26] Thank you and thank you for taking the time today. With me was Fred Burton, Stratfor's Chief Security Officer.
Roger Baker [00:15:47] I'm Roger Baker. I'm joined here today by Sim Tack and we're going to discuss a little bit about a recent study that we've been working on. Looking at options for dealing with development of the North Korean nuclear program. So Sim, as we got into looking at this, what are some of the driving reasons why we're looking at these options at this moment?
Sim Tack [00:16:07] So the point is that North Korea right now is reaching kind of the big decision moment where they're getting to the last stages of development of an actual feasible nuclear weapon. Both in terms of having a functional nuclear device but also being able to mount it on a missile and having a missile that can actually reach its intended targets. So as they are getting closer to the point of combining all of those elements, they're speeding up their program and then there's of course some political situations in the United States and South Korea ended up making an opportune time for them to be pushing for this.
Roger Baker [00:16:45] So as we're looking at the North Koreans then, in some ways we're not seeing the nuclear program anymore as a bargaining chip. It appears that the North Koreans are very serious on the development of this program. And that would mean that there's a very limited moment now between where they're at right now which is incomplete, and potentially complete which may change the calculus of how countries could deal with North Korea.
Sim Tack [00:17:12] I think one of the important things to keep in mind as well at this point is while we studied the military option to go in there and take out the nuclear program or potentially deal a much more significant blow to North Korean military capabilities, that's not the only option on the table. We are studying this particular option to see how feasible is it, what are the costs, so that we can understand what that part looks like but separate from that, there still is the negotiated solution that's on the table or the potential for North Korea to simply have a nuclear weapon.
Roger Baker [00:17:49] Right, so similar as we do the study in the past on Iran, for example, and looked at what would it take militarily to be able to delay or destroy the Iranian nuclear program? Ultimately that wasn't the decision that was taken by the United States. The decision taken was a negotiated delay in the Iranian program. It doesn't mean that there aren't potential future military options still on the table but right now that's the path it's taken.
Sim Tack [00:18:14] Correct. And one of the big influencers at going into that decision of, you know, whether you may want to conduct that military strike or whether you want to negotiate the North Koreans out of their nuclear program, is going to be how comfortable the United States is with that option. There's a massive gap in intelligence when it comes to defining what exactly is part of the North Korean nuclear program. Which facilities exist that we might not know about or which facilities exist that might not be that easy to get to in terms of underground facilities and then separately there's a cost that will come with this. There will likely be a North Korean retaliation. One could hope that there would not be one but that's a, that's kind of a big gamble to take. So when we're thinking about that then you need a very clear intelligence picture of the North Korean conventional capabilities. And even then, even if you have that full picture, you're going to take damage. Most particularly within the region in South Korea, Japan.
Roger Baker [00:19:20] So when we look at this, are there some similarities or differences between the studies we've done on the Iran options and on the North Korean options? Particularly in terms of the potential counters?
Sim Tack [00:19:31] One of the main differences there, particularly on the counters, would be that in Iran one of the most notable counteractions that we were perceiving would be its potential to disrupt global oil trade. It's location near the Strait of Hormuz at it's, the very narrow strait that it could easily disrupt, that's a case that's not really present in North Korea. In North Korea, we're talking much more about physical damage done to South Korea, Japan and how that basically shapes that regional relationship. The US, if they conduct an operation like this, they're going to have to deal with aftermath from South Korea and Japan or they'll have to have significant buy in from those countries before they do that.
Roger Baker [00:20:18] Well, and beyond that, we have to look at the other countries in the region. China and what role they may be interested in playing. Russia and how they may perceive US action and things of that sort. Without giving away the entire study, what do you think is one of the key final takeaways?
Sim Tack [00:20:34] I think one of the key takeaways is the significant damage that could be done to the northern areas of South Korea through North Korean artillery fire. When we look at the numbers, there's been several studies in the past by other groups that have tried to build these assessments of what exactly can North Korea do when a war starts. Whether that is for a strike on the nuclear program or for any other reason. But I think we've been able to really build a nice picture that shows just how vulnerable South Korea would be if North Korea chooses to go all out with their retaliation. That's going to be a very difficult barrier for the United States to cross if they ever do want to move to the point of a military action against North Korea.
Roger Baker [00:21:25] All right. Thank you Sim.
Cole Altom [00:21:31] That concludes this episode of Strafor Talks. If you'd like to learn more about inauguration security we'll include a link to an article by Fred Burton that'll show notes. We'll also include a link to part one of our series on addressing North Korea's nuclear threat. If you have a question or comment about the podcast or if you have an idea about a future episode, let us know. You can reach Strafor Talks at 1-512-744-4300, extension 3917, or email us at [email protected] And for more geopolitical intelligence analysis and forecasting, visit is at Strafor.com or follow us on Twitter @Stratfor.