Vatican Security Issues

Everyone has seen the popemobile, the modified Mercedes Benz SUV complete with a rear platform protected by bulletproof glass. First constructed after the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981, the vehicle is as much a status symbol as a protector of the papacy. Not only is technology being used to protect the Pope, recently it has also been used to elect one.

Prior to the election of Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, German media outlets were able to ascertain who was to be named Pope before the official pronouncement of the College of Cardinals. In 2011, another scandal called Vatileaks gave documents to the Italian press that detailed the financial power struggles inside the Vatican.

To curtail leaks concerning the election of a new pope, those in a position of power elected to take security measures to the next level. First, the Sistine Chapel was closed to the public. A number of electronic security measures were added. These included everything from standard electronic security measures designed to protect the privacy of the cardinals to a Faraday cage. The Faraday cage can prevent electronic signals and cell phones from being received or transmitting.

The Faraday Cage

Invented in 1836 by Michael Faraday, an English scientist and inventor, the Faraday cage is designed to shield its contents from electrical fields. Elevators, for example, simulate a Faraday cage by creating an electronic dead zone that blocks cell phone signals. Ever use a microwave oven? It is a classic example of a reverse Faraday cage. The microwave energy is kept within the unit, as opposed to the classical Faraday Effect that keeps electrical energy out.

Wikipedia describes a Faraday Cage as, “an enclosure formed by conducting material or by a mesh of such material. Such an enclosure blocks external static and non-static electric fields. A Faraday cage’s operation depends on the fact that an external static electrical field causes the electric charges within the cage’s conducting material to be distributed such that they cancel the field’s effect in the cage’s interior. This phenomenon is used, for example, to protect electronic equipment from lightning strikes and electrostatic discharges.”

While not as well defended as a SCIF, the Vatican’s Faraday Cage was sufficient for the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio on March 13 to be kept quiet and away from the press. As to whether Pope Francis I has access to a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility of his own, that’s a secret that’s still to be uncovered.