Oscars: Snipers, Safe Houses Expected as Part of Joe Biden's Security Protocol
Biden is the first sitting Vice President to attend the Academy Awards since Herbert Hoover sent Charles Curtis in 1931.
And the Oscar for best 11th-hour surprise goes to ... Vice President Joe Biden.
On Thursday, the White House confirmed President Barack Obama's No. 2 will be at Sunday's Oscar ceremony, becoming the first sitting Vice President since 1931 to physically grace Hollywood's biggest event (no sitting president has ever attended; in 2013 first lady Michelle Obama appeared via live video to present the best picture award).
Biden's presence at the Dolby Theatre means that security will be even tighter than usual at an event already severely locked-down due to its global visibility and concentration of celebrities and other VIPs. And the precautionary measures seem to escalate each year in the wake of each new mass shooting or terrorist incident in the news.
The timing of the Biden announcement was itself part of the security strategy, with the Secret Service working closely with other federal and local law enforcement personnel to gather protective intelligence far in advance of the event.
“The government probably has been doing a lot of planning a long time before this, but they don’t want to announce too far ahead because that could cause a security breach,” says security expert Greg Boles, a 25-year LAPD veteran who specialized in threat management and also spent six years as a national security advisor to the U.S. Department of Defense before his current position as associate managing director at global security firm Kroll.
Like other high-profile events, the Academy Awards already deploys the best practice of concentric rings of protection, in which security becomes more and more restrictive the closer one gets to the principal.
Security expert Anthony Burnside has credited the Secret Service with developing the concept, and the agency indeed routinely sets up three perimeters around its traveling VIPs, which include the President, Vice President, candidates and visiting dignitaries such as the Pope.
Journalist Ronald Kessler, author of the 2014 tell-all The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of the Presidents, tells The Hollywood Reporter that there are dozens of security measures put into place any time the Vice President or President attends an event.
In this case, the Secret Service has probably already staked out the Dolby Theatre and adjacent Hollywood and Highland Center and identified where to take Biden in the event of any trouble. Such locations could include subterranean rooms or a nearby "safe house," such as a firehouse.
In addition to the bomb-sniffing dogs that are now a fixture on the red carpet, Kessler says that a security detail will also sweep for explosives inside and sniper teams will be positioned at whatever entrance the Vice President uses.
Boles agrees that the sniper-and-safehouses protocol is part of the mandate to “cover and evacuate — you want to get the principal out of harm’s way as soon as possible,” adding that possible escape routes, choke points and nearby hospitals and emergency medical response have all been identified well in advance.
The Secret Service declined to provide details but told THR that the agency is working closely with local law enforcement to devise the specific security plan.
Kessler, who has written 20 books on the Secret Service, FBI and CIA, predicts that Biden won't walk the red carpet but will sit in the audience. “I think he'll stay for the entire ceremony because he wants the attention, and I expect him to sit in the audience," says Kessler. "And you could speculate that he's still considering a run for the presidency."
The Vice President’s office declined to provide any details about his Oscar plans beyond the announcement that he and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, will attend and that he will introduce Lady Gaga, who, alongside Diane Warren, is up for the Oscar for best original song.
Biden will introduce Lady Gaga's performance of "Til It Happens to You" from campus sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground. The Vice President is a longtime advocate against sexual assault and will use the airtime to encourage viewers to visit ItsOnUs.org, the administration’s public awareness campaign about campus sexual violence.
In October, Biden decided against entering the 2016 presidential race because of the recent death of his son. But some of Hollywood's Democrats who have not warmed to Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders (or are concerned about the former’s inability to definitely pull away from the latter) still hope he will change his mind.