US President Joe Biden is scheduled to arrive in Finland this week, bringing a huge entourage with him. His visit will coincide with that of four Nordic prime ministers.
“I have heard that because it is a multi-country trip, Biden will bring a total of 600-700 people to Finland,” Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a researcher with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA), told Yle.
Salonius-Pasternak, who has closely followed US security and foreign policy for decades, declined to reveal the source of his information.
The full itinerary of a US president’s travel plans is rarely, if ever, made public too far in advance — especially with regard to security measures.
However, many details are still widely known about Biden’s visit to Finland.
For example, the code name used by the security services for Biden is “Celtic”, a reference to the President’s Irish roots. His predecessor in the White House, Donald Trump, was code named “Mogul” while Bill Clinton carried the security moniker “Eagle”.
Some of the security measures implemented when a US president is in town may seem excessive to the casual observer, but the system is built around a philosophy of “no surprises”.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin met Trump in Helsinki in 2018, manhole covers were welded shut around the location where the meeting took place as well as along the motorcade route. This will probably be done again.
Salonius-Pasternak noted that security measures always follow the same protocol, with a thorough checklist: Who will provide air defence? Are US snipers needed on the ground? How do local laws regulate the use of force? Where are the hospitals located and what kind of care is available? And so on.
In Finland, the emphasis will be on cooperation between the armed forces and the police.
“But it doesn’t matter whether you’re going to Helsinki, Brussels or Baghdad, the same checklist will always apply,” Salonius-Pasternak said.
Bruce Oreck, a former US ambassador to Finland, told Yle that the US president’s travel arrangements boil down to one guiding principle.
“Nothing is left to chance. Literally nothing. Nothing!”
Oreck served as ambassador when Biden visited Helsinki as vice-president in 2011.
Although the scale of the arrangements for a visit by a president and a vice-president are different, they are united by a sense of preparing for everything.
“If there are surprises, someone has screwed up badly,” Oreck told Yle.
Many of the things to consider are the same as for the average traveller, including matters as mundane as finding the location of the nearest toilet.
However, the difference is that the president’s staff will not start asking where the nearest toilet is when the time comes.
“No. I assure you that they have found out the location of every single bathroom. That is simply their job. Everything has to be figured out in advance when you’re on a tight schedule,” Oreck said.
Biden is likely to be driven around Helsinki in “The Beast”, the nickname for the official state car of the president of the United States.
The BBC reported that the modified Cadillac has been fitted with tear gas grenade launchers, night vision cameras and a built-in satellite phone.
“The passenger cabin is said to be sealed, and the tyres are reinforced so the car can still move even with flat tyres,” the report detailed, adding that there is even a fridge in the car to carry blood that matches Biden’s blood type.
Biden will also have his own doctors, food and utensils along with him on the trip.
Oreck recalled that when Biden visited as VP in 2011, his granddaughter decided she wanted pizza.
“We had mapped a million restaurants. One had reindeer, another had salmon soup and there was a whole host of other traditional places. But they went for pizza,” Oreck said.
The US embassy in Helsinki can help with arrangements and give advice regarding official state visits, but the decisions are made in Washington.
“The president is the president. If he wants to go and buy salmiakki [a salty liquorice pastille popular in Finland], then that’s what happens. I don’t think it will happen, but it could happen,” Oreck stated.
Biden to arrive on Air Force One
Biden will arrive in Finland on a US Air Force aircraft, best known by its radio call sign Air Force One, along with his core team as well as an accompanying press pack.
However, not all of the estimated 700-strong entourage will arrive at the same time, with security personnel arriving in staggered stages.
Security personnel will be sent in advance to Vilnius from London — where Biden began his multi-state tour on Monday — and then from Vilnius to Helsinki. Some have been in Finland for weeks or months in advance of the state visit to check meeting places, driving routes and hospitals, Salonius-Pasternak said.
In terms of the main group around the president, Salonius-Pasternak divides them into four categories.
The first category includes the president’s bodyguards and close security guards, while the second group consists of those responsible for food and health, such as doctors. The third group are political advisers and aides, while some of the president’s close associates — such as his wife Jill Biden — may also be on the trip, comprising the fourth category.
These four groups stay close to the president at all times. As well as providing security, their role is to ensure that the head of state is immediately informed and able to react in the event of a sudden crisis during the trip.
Schedule not yet published
The exact details of Biden’s visit have still not been publicly revealed as of Monday afternoon, but preliminary information released by the White House on Monday suggest the US President is planning to stay overnight in Helsinki on Wednesday.
High-profile political guests have often stayed at a state guesthouse near the Kalastajatorppa Hotel. However, the guesthouse is not currently in use.
Other accommodation options include a number of top hotels in the city centre as well as the US embassy.
But of course the US president cannot arrive in Helsinki unnoticed, and the schedule will be revealed at the very latest when Helsinki Airport closes to allow Air Force One to land.
Salonius-Pasternak used an analogy from the animal kingdom to explain the two different approaches to planning the security around a state visit.
“Either you are small, inconspicuous and have good camouflage. Or you’re so visible, so big, so loud and so scary looking that no one even thinks to try anything,” he said, adding that the latter option is usually the approach taken by a visiting US president.
Source : YLE