Thousands lined the streets as Pope John Paul II rode in the popemobile to the cheers of an enthusiastic Miami crowd in 1987. Dressed in plain clothes and in the thick of the masses, then-Secret Service Special Agent Cheryl Tyler worked the crowd, scanning the area, analyzing possible threats.
The parameters of protecting someone don’t change, Tyler said, but pontiff visits come with diplomatic protocol, involvement of myriad security personnel, hours upon hours of intelligence work, and more. “Everything is scrutinized over and over,” she said.
Tyler’s former colleague Joseph Petro called the trip, “the most stressful 10 days of my life.” After Pope Francis’s six-day, three-city tour starting Tuesday, many agents will be able to sympathize.
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner called Francis’s address to Congress “one of the biggest events in the history of the Capitol.” And “it’s going to be one of the largest lifts in the nation’s history for national security events,” James Yacone, the assistant director of the team leading the FBI’s efforts during the pope’s visit, said in a press release.
Francis's stops in Washington, Philadelphia, and New York are designated as national special security events, a consideration that’s been given to inaugurations, presidential nominating conventions, some major international meetings, and even the Winter Olympics. And collaborating agencies have been practicing: from dry runs at the Capitol with a fake pope on Sept. 1 and Sept. 14 to tabletop exercises in the three cities that the pope will visit from Tuesday until Sunday.