Comments from the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee have raised new security concerns regarding the Pope’s visit to New York, Washington, DC and Philadelphia later this month.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) mentioned possible threats against Pope Francis, including a case he claims authorities "disrupted."
“I’m concerned,” McCaul said during an appearance on ABC's "This Week." “I was briefed by the Secret Service in a classified setting. The Pope is a very –I’m Catholic by the way – he is a very passionate man. He likes to get out with the people. And with that comes a large security risk. We are monitoring very closely threats against the Pope as he comes in to the United States. We have disrupted one particular case in particular. But as the date approaches, I think [we'll] be very vigilant to protect him as he comes into the United States.”
McCaul did not go into any further detail regarding what case he was referring to. A source told NBC News he believes McCaul’s comments refer to a man who was taken into custody after making comments about how “he’d like to do something” to the Pope. He was later taken in for a mental health evaluation and authorities found no evidence of any plot or preparation, according to the source. The source did not reveal where that man is from or where he was taken into custody.
In Philadelphia police investigated two recent threats at local hospitals, though it is not confirmed whether McCaul was referring to either incident. A suspicious package was found outside Episcopal Hospital on the 100 block of East Lehigh Avenue Saturday around 7 a.m. Police determined it was only a brown bag filled with paper.
On Friday police investigated a suspicious device left on a bench in front of Jefferson Hospital on South 11th Street around 10:30 p.m. They discovered it was a silver pressure cooker and the area was cleared.
Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in Washington DC on September 22, New York City on September 24 and Philadelphia on September 26. It will be his first time in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said the pope's visit will be considered a National Special Security Event, meaning the Secret Service will be the lead agency for security planning.
In New York, security measures for the Pope will include screening checkpoints, airspace restrictions and a ban on balloons, selfie sticks and backpacks at papal events. Screening checkpoints will be set up along the route of the pope's motorcade and at events he will attend.
Those hoping to catch a glimpse of his motorcade or who have tickets to a papal event will have to undergo airport-style security screenings. Also on a list of more than 25 items banned are weapons, glass or metal bottles, and signs.
Deputy Commissioner John Miller said earlier this month that because the pope's visit will precede the United Nation's General Assembly and a planned trip of President Barack Obama to New York, police face "one of the most significantly challenging security environments maybe in the history of major policing."
The Federal Aviation Administration also has enacted a no-fly zone in parts of Manhattan and Queens. FAA regulations will make it illegal to operate a drone anywhere in the city between Sept. 24 and Sept. 30. Authorities said an enhanced security presence also will be on the waterways surrounding the city.