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(WASHINGTON) — The 2024 presidential election is in full swing and so are the threats facing the candidates, conventions and our nation.

Former President Donald Trump, who was convicted in May of 34 counts of falsifying business records and faces three other cases over his handling of classified documents and his alleged election interference efforts, has long been a magnet for protests and threats. In May, the Republican National Committee Headquarters in Washington, D.C., was evacuated after vials of blood arrived with Trump’s name attached to them.

The party’s convention begins in just over one week in Milwaukee.

In Chicago, the Democratic National Convention in August also expects large protests in light of current events surrounding the Israel-Hamas war, abortion rights and other hot button issues, including the repeated calls by some observers for President Joe Biden to step down.

The conventions come as threats to U.S. public officials are dramatically increasing, according to the Department of Homeland Security. One report out of West Point states that, “Substantial evidence suggests the prevalence of threats to public officials is perceived to be growing and exerting pressure on public officials and systems of governance. “

The West Point report cites a 2023 Voting Rights Lab report that said that election officials are resigning in significant numbers due to harassment and threats, especially in several swing states across the country.

In the past, the Secret Service had stated that previous presidents received approximately six to eight threats per day, which all had to be mitigated. Surely, amid the heightened threat dynamic and with a president that many are calling on to drop out of the race and a former president who is running again — with felony convictions — the number of threats could potentially increase.

The House Appropriations Committee in March moved to increase the federal government’s security funding for both Chicago and Milwaukee to $75 million from the $50 million that had been in place since 2004. Much of this will go towards the physical security measures (like steel barricades) that visitors will see.

Of course, protests and individual threats are one thing, but these conventions and this election season are unique.

This year has seen an increase in “Nation-state and non-state actors” who may “view these events as an opportunity to influence or disrupt the U.S. political process using hostile or violent disruption tactics on a national media stage,” according to the DHS bulletin, titled “Threats to National Political Party Conventions.” The director of National Intelligence also reported that several nation state actors are looking to undermine the 2024 election due to the multiple international crises including Ukraine, Gaza Strip and Iran.

The DNI went on to say that Russia, China and Iran specifically are all looking to impact the 2024 election with “Malign Influence Operations”, so that they can set up the election to support their goals.

The conventions, once announced, begin a security planning process that is designated a National Special Security Event (NSSE) by the Department of Homeland Security.

That NSSE designation does a few things. It places the U.S. Secret Service as the primary federal security coordinator for the event; it mandates certain federal agencies, like the FBI, to support the NSSE; and it forces the coordination of every stakeholder involved with the NSSE, under Secret Service direction.

Under that planning process, every aspect of the NSSE has to be reviewed, planned for and in the case of potential threats, mitigated. This includes physical, environmental, terrorist, and cyber threats as well as the more logistical issues of parking, access control, bus transportation, food service and visitor controls.

This effectively creates a security bubble or zone that starts at the convention location and may extend outside both cities.

Mitigation strategies, seen and unseen, are always built into the planning process.

In 2004 the RNC was held in New York City in Madison Square Garden (MSG), a short three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The fear of terrorists using aircraft as a weapon of mass destruction remained as a real threat, especially considering Ground Zero was only a few miles south. MSG is a unique building in NYC and easily identifiable from the air.

When then-President George W. Bush was in the building, the real fear of a plane being used to target the building had to be accounted for. To do so, both seen and unseen protocols were put in place to not only protect the skies but get then President Bush off the stage and out of the building if a terrorist attack did occur.

In 2024, the real threat of domestic and / or foreign extremists or groups infiltrating or causing a disturbance at one or both of the conventions is of significant concern.

The NSSE intelligence committee, which combines the best of the nation’s national security apparatus (CIA, NSA) and law enforcement agencies (USSS, FBI, local police), work together to identify and mitigate potential threats at each convention location. That work starts almost from the point of the conventions’ announcement and includes local, national and international intelligence assessments that help inform the NSSE intelligence and security operations.

That threat intelligence committee’s information drives much of the resourcing for the security plan, as it did during the 2004 RNC. Combatting these threats takes a coordinated effort of the nation’s law enforcement and national security apparatus.

Two weeks ago, the Secret Service released both conventions security plans which had actually been a work in progress for over two years and will surely see both conventions resourced and prepared.

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