Secret Service officials traveled to the Vatican to learn how Pope Francis interacts with audiences and to meet with Vatican security officials about provisions for guaranteeing the pope's safety during his trip to the U.S., which starts today. “The crowds throw things,” agency director Joseph Clancy told the New York Times. “They throw flags, dolls and, obviously, babies towards him. It's difficult because we don't want our agents to overreact …but you don't want to miss anything.” The Secret Service is taking the lead in what is considered by national security experts to be excruciatingly difficult: protecting a pope who does not want to stay in his popemobile. With crowds expected to number in the hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, federal officials say it will be among the largest mobilizations of security officers in U.S. history.
The pope's aides told the Secret Service that Francis wants to be able to stop his motorcade at any point to pop out and mingle with people on the street. Just as he has tried to make the Roman Catholic Church more open and welcoming, Francis has shed formalities and reached out to surprised strangers, on the phone and in person. To protect Francis, officials will be taking several unusual measures. Large holding pens will be erected along the pope's motorcade routes for onlookers who have been screened for weapons and explosives. No selfie sticks will be allowed near the pope. In New York, it will be illegal to operate a drone, and there will be no postal service in some areas. In Washington, the authorities expect so much gridlock that many federal employees have been instructed to take a September “snow day” and work from home.