CLEVELAND — As a Secret Service agent, Thomas Kasza protected presidents. As the special agent in charge in Chicago, he chased criminals. As president of a private security firm, Kasza is the director of security for the Republican National Convention.
Kasza’s route to Cleveland started in La Salle, Ill., where he was raised. After Western Illinois University, he joined the Secret Service with postings between 1983 and 2005 in Chicago, Washington, New York and back to Chicago.
As a young man, he was hardly ever out of Illinois. As an agent, he traveled to more than 80 countries.
The West Loop resident is currently the president of Corporate Risk Group Inc. He started planning and coordinating security for the GOP convention last November.
“It’s really grown in scope of what we worry about,” Kasza said as we talked Wednesday outside the Quicken Loans Arena, deep inside the secure perimeter.
“You want security to fit in flawlessly.”
Heavy security always surrounds conventions, deemed “National Special Security Events,” just as was the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, where Kasza was a security adviser to Chicago’s business community.
The Secret Service is the lead agency for the Department of Homeland Security in handling the conventions. For the Cleveland conventions, some 100 local and national law enforcement outfits and state and federal agencies are partnering to plan and secure parade routes, free speech areas and the physical erection of barriers. There is also the matter of some 300 plus buses coming and going each day.
What’s changed through the years in providing security for the convention? One example: “Now we worry about drones,” Kasza said.
And what was the impact of the most recent violence in Baton Rouge, Dallas, and Nice, France — and the earlier Paris bombings?
“The freshness of the events is a reminder of why you are doing it,” Kasza said.