DS Helped Secure UN General Assembly Amid Papal Visit, Approaching Hurricane, Other Challenges

March 17, 2016


Date: 09/30/2015 Location: New York City Description: An aerial view of UN headquarters during the 70th UN General Assembly. Diplomatic Security provided around-the-clock protective details for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and 44 other diplomats and foreign dignitaries who attended UNGA 70 in New York City. (U.S. Department of State photo) - State Dept Image

In the days leading up to the opening day of the 70th annual UN General Assembly (UNGA 70), which ran from September 28, 2015 to October 2, 2015, the challenges to Diplomatic Security’s (DS) planning team were mounting.

DS would be responsible for around-the-clock protective details for nearly four dozen foreign dignitaries and delegations attending UNGA 70 in New York City. Simultaneously, DS personnel would have to field additional protective details for three visiting Chinese government delegations paying an official state visit unrelated to the United Nations.

Streets near UN headquarters were blocked off for security reasons, and all motorcade movements through mid-town Manhattan would be significantly affected by additional “frozen traffic zones” for Pope Francis arrival to address the UN on September 25, 2015. Two days later, security would again be ramped up when U.S. President Barack Obama and his Secret Service team arrived in New York City for UNGA 70 and related events.

An annual international three-day conference organized by the Clinton Global Initiative also would add to the traffic congestion during the first two days of UNGA 70.

The telephone workers union was threatening to go on strike as DS awaited installation of enhanced communications lines for its joint operations center at JFK International Airport.

DS also would be hosting foreign law enforcement delegations from Brazil and Poland who would be observing security operations throughout UNGA 70.

And a hurricane was threatening the East Coast.

Brad, the supervisory special agent in charge of coordinating DS security operations for UNGA 70, says that the UN itself upped the ante by pushing the high-level General Assembly meetings back by one week.

“This resulted in many last-minute requests for protection as well as last-minute arrivals of protectees, making staffing for the 45 DS protection details a challenge. The adjustment in the timeline of the General Assembly meetings also resulted in many delegations making much earlier departures than previous UNGAs,” says Brad.

Each of those 45 details – one permanent detail each for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and 43 UNGA-related details for visiting foreign dignitaries protected by DS -- required teams of special agents for motorcades, advance teams, technical support, and in some cases DS’ SWAT-like agents from the Office of Mobile Security Deployment. These security details provided protection around-the clock.

Supervisory special agent Brad was coordinating a lot of manpower at UNGA 70.

“Hundreds of law enforcement and support personnel were utilized to staff UNGA protective details and operations,” he says. “This included agents on protective details and support agents performing ancillary duties, such as assisting at secured traffic-access points in the streets, evacuation points, hotels, plainclothes operations, and more.”

The DS Office of Security Technology (ST) cadre of subject matter experts, technicians, and engineers deployed a sophisticated array of communications, surveillance, and protective equipment, providing an unprecedented level of situational awareness to decision makers.

DS protective details relied on everything from new, enhanced ballistic-resistant podiums and tactical surveillance systems, to state-of-the art mesh radio networks and personnel recovery tracking systems. ST equipped motorcade vehicles with upgraded video camera technology that provided a 360-degree view of the motorcade’s surroundings and that could be monitored live and archived. ST also fielded high-definition hybrid color/thermal cameras with views of critical event locations and shared with the NYPD and U.S. Secret Service information from DS’ surveillance platforms mounted around the city as well as on helicopters. DS personnel monitored radio traffic, geospatial data, and video from motorcades in order to make timely assessments of threat indicators, identify possible issues for motorcades, and coordinate movement.

The increased level of technology and interagency cooperation acted as a force multiplier for DS and the other security stakeholders at UNGA by providing additional options and capabilities to prevent and respond to emergency situations.

DS Uniformed Security Officers and supervisory staff, computer network specialists from the DS Office of the Chief Technology Officer, radio technicians from the Department of State’s Bureau of Information Resource Management who ensured the radios were operating correctly, and administrative and support staff drawn from throughout DS kept the Dignitary Protection Operations Center (DPOC) and vehicle fleet operating.

DS also received assistance from personnel the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and U.S. Marshals Service, as well as U.S. military explosive ordinance disposal experts and explosives-detecting canines and their handlers.

To prepare for UNGA 70, DS held its first planning meeting in January 2015. The federal-wide security planning began five months later, when U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson designated the concurrent UNGA 70 and Papal visit as a National Security Special Event, kicking off intensive planning lead by the U.S. Secret Service.

As the federal agency routinely responsible for protecting foreign ministers and other dignitaries below the level of head of state, DS played a key role in planning and implementation of dignitary and VIP protection.

The DS DPOC, the nerve center of DS’s UNGA security operations, based in a Manhattan hotel, went live on September 22, 2015. The following day, Diplomatic Security Service Director Bill Miller arrived in New York City to review DS security preparations and address DS personnel.

Throughout the week that followed, DS personnel conducted scores of motorcade movements, host Brazilian and Polish law enforcement counterparts eager to learn about DS security operations at such a major event, keep an eye on the approaching storm system fueled by Hurricane Joaquin, and scrambled to meet the ever-changing schedules, circumstances, and needs of their protectees.

Date: 09/30/2015 Location: New York City Description: A Diplomatic Security special agent listens to radio communication about an approaching motorcade outside UN headquarters in New York City, September 30, 2015.  Diplomatic Security provided protective details for the U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, as well as for 43 foreign dignitaries attending the 70th UN General Assembly.  (U.S. Department of State photo) - State Dept Image

To view a photo gallery of the men and women of DS and their partner agencies who helped make UNGA 70 a security success, click the photo to the left.