Police, soldiers did us proud! - Top-class security arrangements for Obama
It was a huge sigh of relief from National Security Minister Peter Bunting as the less than 24-hour visit by United States President Barack Obama ended at 5:24 p.m. last Thursday.
"When I heard wheels out Thursday afternoon, I could exhale at the fact that it, the visit, was incident free," a smiling Bunting told The Sunday Gleaner last Friday as he recalled his emotions on hearing that Obama's private jet, Air Force One, had left the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston.
"These visits require three months planning, and in this case, we had three weeks from confirmation. That is roughly 25 per cent of the normal time," said Bunting.
"Tremendous amounts of logistics went into it. We had mobilised a joint team - Jamaica Defence Force, Jamaica Constabulary Force, leaders from the Government - but including a wider set of actors: Customs, the Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency, the Jamaica Fire Brigade, the Ministry of Health, and the Transport and Works people. We were also co-ordinating with the Secret Service, the US State Department, and local embassy officials, in terms of the itinerary.
"On the first night of the arrival, I actually was at the joint intelligence operating centre for my own peace of mind to be able to see that everything was in place. A week earlier, I was quite satisfied with the planning, but when you are in the execution phase, it is a completely different thing," added Bunting.
The security minister declined to speak of the details of the operation, but noted that both local and US security services worked day and night to ensure the safety of the president and other foreign and local dignitaries on the island.
"At intervals, more than 1,000 members of the police force were employed to cordon roadways and redirect traffic, among other things," said Bunting.
He said in some instances, the Jamaica Cadet Corps also played a role in securing intersections and driveways as the presidential motorcade moved through the city.
In March 2012, Jamaica hosted a four-day visit of Britain's Prince Harry to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, and Bunting was security minister at that time. However, Bunting said the security arrangements for that visit paled in comparison to that of the US president.
"It is a totally, totally different level. When you look at the threat, it is a much higher threat hosting the president of the United States than it is to host Prince Harry. When you look at the equipment, the size of the entourage Ö ," said Bunting.
"In Prince Harry's case, you had a handful of people, whereas in Obama's case, there were hundreds and hundreds of people, dozens of vehicles, something like eight helicopters, and a number of aircraft. So it is a whole order of magnitude difference. There is really no comparison with all the logistics Ö worse with the shortened time period.
"We took precautions when Prince Harry was here, but I don't think the perceived threat to Prince Harry is anywhere near the assessed threat of the president of the United States, particularly Barack Obama," he said, adding that there was a team on the ground making preparations the minute that Obama's visit was announced.
Bunting commended the efforts of all the stakeholders, especially members of the security forces.
"I think they actually did a phenomenal job in a compressed time period to not only have a successful visit but an incident-free visit, and I really want to give full marks to everyone. It was a team effort, but principally the Jamaica Defence Force and the Jamaica Constabulary Force from a security perspective," he said.
He added that the partnership between local and United States officials has served to bolster local law enforcement, especially with regard to terrorism, in areas of operations planning and intelligence monitoring.