For the U.S. Secret Service, the highest level of security is what they call a National Special Security Event. This designation is reserved for major events, such as presidential inaugurations or NATO summits.

What makes the visit of Pope Francis to the United States so unique from a security perspective, is that this top-level security designation will be used at every juncture of his visit.

“This will be probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, security advance the Secret Service has ever done, to date,” said Anthony Chapa, a former deputy director of the Secret Service, in a phone interview.

Chapa is familiar with such events, and knows of the unseen work ticking away behind the scenes. He was on detail when Pope John Paul II paraded down the streets of San Antonio, Texas, in 1987, and was involved with security for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Washington in 2008.

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