Super Bowl Security Plan Far Exceeds Jan 6, 2021 Preparations
Plus: Restricted Threat Assessments For 3 Big Games, and CISA's Starring Role
FROM WILLIAM ARKIN AND MARC AMBINDER
Now comes the cold hard truth: Security for The Big Game is more comprehensive and taken more seriously than it was for January 6. The intensely watchful intelligence apparatus says there is no known threat – it says that every year – and yet that doesn’t stop intense preparations, the very kind of preparations that weren’t taken for the Congressional electoral certification in January 2021. And in that there should be a lesson about American priorities, and government failure: If they are not pointed in a certain direction, the attention of the feds wanders, whether that be in terms of focusing on BLM and Antifa while ignoring “Patriot” groups, or in an obsession with Weapons of Mass Destruction, when more conventional and less sexy threats are far more likely, like the potential for Canadian-style anti-mandate truck disruptions, which, to its credit, the Department of Homeland Security has noticed. Meanwhile, there’s a game to play.
Super Bowls, for more than two decades, have been classified as Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) Level 1 events, a DHS designation that means that “extensive federal interagency support” is required. (January 6 was NOT so designated.) Technically in Southern California, the chief of the Inglewood Police Department, with his 186 sworn officers, is nominally in charge. They are backed up by neighboring police and Sheriff’s departments, as well as California Highway Patrol. Then there’s the security provided by Sofi Stadium’s private contractor force as well as the NFL’s dedicated security team, both of which supervise the magnetometer and property search stations that fans step through at every regular season game.
But all of that pales in comparison with the federal resources thrown into the defensive line. This year, that includes well over 1,000 additional agents, officers and technicians from the FBI, Secret Service, other Department of Homeland Security agencies (bringing more than 500 overall personnel), including Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Transportation Security Administration, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the National Guard, the Department of Energy and even the EPA. They all get to play, because, well, it’s fun.
The FBI playbook for a typical SEAR-1 event includes abundant firepower and intelligence support in case things go wrong, both at ground zero, in Los Angeles, and back in Washington. Over 700 FBI people are involved, including 87 members of the elite Hostage Rescue Team. Ten (10!) surveillance aircraft of various types are typically present.
[From an FBI presentation about SEAR-1 responses obtained by the authors]
The federal “missions” are vast: stop terrorism, stop counterfeit merchandise, stop human trafficking, stop improvised explosive devices, stop attack drones, and stop chemical, biological and radiological weapons. Covid might be the biggest threat, that and a fistfight or two, but for all the extraordinary unlikelihoods, the feds outnumber the locals.
And it is here that they get to show off their toys and tactics.
In the days leading up to the game, the National Nuclear Security Administration conducted ground and air background radiation surveys to be able to monitor radiation levels in real time. A Consequence Management Team from the Domestic Emergency Support Team is on site, borrowing assets from the NNSA’s National Security Test Site in Nevada. The National Guard has a Civil Support Team (WMD) at the ready. The intelligence agencies are looking at ISIS and al Qaeda, and as far afield as Iran, North Korea, and Russia, sniffing out any intelligence regarding preparations to attack the site.
The Secret Service is overall in charge of “security design.” (The Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Office is the “Federal Coordinating Officer”; his deputy is the local administrator of the Transportation Security Administration.) The feds treat the site as they would a site for a presidential event, protecting the lives of a Star Wars bar ensemble: Eninem, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Jhené Aiko, Mary Mary, Yola, and Zedd. Oh, and there are the players – American monuments – and some other luminaries from Inglewood, Hollywood, and as far afield as Bollywood. Oh, and some government officials and lesser VIPs – like what’s his name, the governor of California.
All of the agencies also bring their gaggle of “counter” teams: counter surveillance, counter sniper, counter-IED, counter cyber, counter-WMD, counter UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems). It is the Super Bowl of preparedness. This year, the homeland security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has a starring role. The agency that protected the 2020 elections from everything except Donald Trump will ensure that various Wifi and mesh networks are protected from intrusion, that is, so that the attendees can safely take selfies and the power grid doesn’t fail.
CISA conducted a “Special Event Strategic Cyber Assessment” months in advance of the game. Here’s the homeland security cyber security assessment ) we found for Super Bowl 50, held in Santa Clarita, California, before CISA was created. (Warning: The report is Unclassified / Traffic Protocol Level Green, so if you’re not cleared for that…compartment…you’re on notice.)
Customs and Border Protection will also use “NII” – non-intrusive-technology (secret portals and detectors) – to scan all cargo coming in the stadium, and provide two (or more) surveillance helicopters for aviation security. Other air assets, including UH-60 Blackhawks.will be on standby to respond to air space violations. Lurking behind them are air defenders belonging to NORAD, as well as surveillance planes and drones, monitoring and scooping up stray communications that might augur an attack.
Of course, gathering threat intelligence ahead of a Super Bowl is a challenge. You’re supposed to talk trash about the team you hate. So, if, on your social media accounts you use the word “obliterate” to describe what you’d like the Rams to do to the Bengals, or even the word “bomb” to denote a football play or a diggity crush, there’s a non-trivial chance that some analyst somewhere will catch it. That includes the local California intelligence fusion center, the Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC), located in Norwalk. (This is what analysts at these fusion centers really do.)
The FAA has already issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), prohibiting, basically, every aircraft that isn’t scheduled to land at LAX, from being anywhere near a circle of air in Sofi Stadium’s vicinity. One slight problem: Sofi Stadium is within a mile of LAX runways 25R and 25L. Air traffic controllers will have to vector traffic over the Pacific Ocean. Don’t want to disturb the festivities.
[Super Bowl 53 Vendor Security Application obtained by the authors]
Generally, the threat assessments take note of the general environment, reiterate the point that bad actors have a variety of ways to malignly influence the setting, and then warn officers to search people with bulky clothing. And don’t act too suspicious: here’s a list of the behaviors the Houston Police Department would find suspicious when that city hosted the Super Bowl in 2017.
Don’t believe it, that so many preparations for an event that has nothing to do with the national security (and where no actual threat exists)? And think that somehow this year is so intense because of January 6th? We’ve obtained threat reports for 3 of the last 5 Super Bowls, all of them “for official use only” and most published here for the first time. They show, with some shifts in emphasis (such as drones or cyber security) that Super Bowl security is based upon one set play, against the same undiscovered threat:
When it’s all over, when the FBI beats ISIS, when the Secret Service smashes the money launderers and cartels, when ICE sacks the makers of counterfeit NFL clothing (no kidding), when the feds decisively beat the drones, and on and on, every agency participating will crow about how its expensive footprint made the games safer. (Look! No WMD were detonated.)
(DHS photo, 2/22)
We’re fairly certain that significant amounts of data on people, places and things will be collected and stored for future exploitation. We’d bet that no one will track the duplication of resources, or effort, or assess whether the assets deployed were needed in the first place.
It’s all in the game though, in the theater of security that allows practice and the testing of new technologies and surveillance methods.
Remember: All of the above is placed at the ready even though there is no known threat.
It really is beguiling — the contrast with the preparedness for the crowds on January 6, when the threat stream was prodigious.
We know that the argument many will use is that somehow the feds – the law enforcement entities – looked the other way because they were sympathetic with the Capitol protestors and even the insurrectionists.
It’s a completely fallacious supposition.
On January 6, the feds just did not sufficiently prepare.
Beyond blaming it all on Trump, we still don’t really know why.