White House correspondents' dinner security likely will be escalated

A former White House senior staffer says given the violent week across the country, safety efforts at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) dinner will undoubtedly be beefed up.

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“I think there’s going to be more security for sure. The question is, will the security be noticeable or not?” Bradley Blakeman tells ITK.

Blakeman, who handled appointments, scheduling, vetting and research as former President George W. Bush’s deputy assistant, says, “I think you’ll see more police presence of uniformed police, and police cars, and that kind of thing. But a lot of additional ramped up security you probably will not see.”

The annual fete at the Washington Hilton hotel, which is traditionally attended by the president, is being held on April 27.

Despite the bombings at the Boston Marathon, along with the arrest of a Mississippi man for allegedly sending ricin to President Obama and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), WHCA President Ed Henry told us Thursday, “We always interface with the Secret Service and we will again before this dinner but I haven’t heard anything that would suggest any sort of elevated threat or anything like that. Instead we’re focused on having a great night and raising scholarships for needy journalism students.”

But Blakeman, who heads up the consulting firm The 1600 Group, says extra precautions are bound to be taken out of concern for copycats: “I think it’s going to be more under the radar. They may push back the zone of protection outside the venue so the public doesn’t get as close as they did last year. There might be more police presence, but I don’t think it will be felt by the attendees.”

In an interview on MSNBC on Friday, former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) also raised concerns about the possibility of copycats: "It's probably the case — not probably, it is the case — that for the next period of months, maybe a year or so, there'll be some greater surveillances and restriction because there certainly sometimes are copycats, others who are inspired by this."

Blakeman explains the White House won’t want the story from the dinner to be about security measures: “After 9/11, we were very cautious to make sure that some of the things that the president did that they had to do were not seen or felt by the public, because automatically that takes away from the president’s message or whatever’s he’s trying to drive.”

John Ayala, vice president of the D.C.-based Archangel Global Security and founder of the Washington chapter of the Guardian Angels, says security is stepping up nearly everywhere. His company is staffing an event on the Washington Monument grounds that initially wanted protection during the evening. “Now, because of the [Boston] incident, they want 24-hour security,” he says.

Henry says he’s not anticipating that dinner guests will have to scramble to get to the soiree early for security checks, “I think every year both the Secret Service and the security at the hotel do a great job so I think they’re going to do that again.”

The Hill talked to Ayala, Henry and Blakeman before Friday's events in Boston.

While the manhunt is over in Boston, the investigation into the motives of the terrorists — and any connections they might have had with other groups and/or governments — will continue for months.