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Watchdog says Capitol Police deficient at monitoring threats

UPDATED: Mon., May 10, 2021

By Mary Clare Jalonick Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Capitol Police force was hobbled by inadequate intelligence gathering ahead of the Jan. 6 siege, the department’s watchdog told Congress Monday, alarming lawmakers who are concerned for their own safety amid rising threats against members of Congress.

Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton testified in the first of three House hearings this week on what went wrong during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Lawmakers are investigating the riots as they contemplate overhauling security, and Bolton has recommended the Capitol Police create a new division that would gather intelligence about threats and protect members similar to the way the U.S. Secret Service protects the president.

Many lawmakers are receiving threats and worry for their safety after the U.S. Capitol was so easily breached on Jan. 6 by supporters of then-President Donald Trump who wanted to overturn the election. The rioters were hunting for lawmakers, calling out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Vice President Mike Pence by name as they roamed the building and members fled the House and Senate. In a statement Friday, the Capitol Police said there has been a 107% increase in threats against members of Congress this year compared to 2020 and “provided the unique threat environment we currently live in, the Department is confident the number of cases will continue to increase.”

A new inspector general report, one of several Bolton is preparing in response to the insurrection, said the department “has experienced issues” because of the increase in threats over the last five years and recommended the force hire more agents who are dedicated to assessing threats.

Bolton said there were multiple deficiencies that led to a lack of communication and guidance ahead of the siege. He said the department’s guidance on counterintelligence was “outdated” – some so ancient it referred to Blackberry communication devices, which are now rarely used.

“A stand-alone entity, with a defined mission dedicated to countersurveillance activities in support of protecting the Congressional Community, would improve the Department’s ability to identify and disrupt individuals or groups intent on engaging in illegal activity directed at the Congressional Community and its legislative process,” the report says, according to a summary released by the House Administration Committee ahead of the hearing. Bolton has not released the full report.

The Capitol Police said Monday it will be opening up offices in San Francisco and Tampa, Florida.

Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the committee, said he hopes they open up more offices and prosecute more people who are making the threats. He noted he has received threats himself – a man was arrested in 2019 for threatening to shoot him.

“I do believe a truly more aggressive enforcement stance, more arrests and more prosecutions of those who make violent threats and intend to carry them out would be a very strong deterrent,” Davis said.

In Friday’s statement, the Capitol Police said they have taken “significant steps” to improve counterintelligence and agreed a stand-alone division would be helpful, but said they’d need more money. The statement said the Capitol Police have about 30 agents and analysts doing the same job as more than 100 in the Secret Service, while the Capitol Police had 9,000 cases in 2020 and the Secret Service had 8,000.

The House is scheduled to hear this week from former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, who will testify about his role in approving National Guard troops during the insurrection. The troops did not arrive until several hours after the riots began, a subject that has attracted intense interest in Congress.

Miller is expected to appear Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee alongside former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and District of Columbia Police Chief Robert Contee III. All three were part of frantic meetings that day as Capitol Police begged for backup.

Army and Pentagon leaders have repeatedly denied any efforts to delay the Guard response. Miller denied in a Vice News interview in March that the response was unduly slow, saying, “It comes back to understanding how the military works.” He said “this isn’t a video game,” adding “it’s not ‘Black Ops Call of Duty.’”

In a statement ahead of the hearing, House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said Congress and the American people “still have many unanswered questions” about why more wasn’t done about threats of violence from right-wing extremists.

“Our hearing will provide the American people the first opportunity to hear from top Trump Administration officials about the catastrophic intelligence and security failures that enabled this unprecedented terrorist attack on our nation’s Capitol,” Maloney said in a statement.

The House Administration Committee will also hear this week from Christopher Failla, the inspector general for the architect of the Capitol, who is one of three officials sitting on a board that oversees the Capitol Police.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat and chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said last week a $2 billion supplemental spending bill the House is expected to take up soon will have a focus on increased training, intelligence analysis and capabilities for the police force.

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