US Capitol security needs significant upgrade, report concludes

A task force analysing security after the January 6 riot says Capitol Police were ‘inadequately trained’, blasts intelligence gathering.

National Guard soldiers patrol the grounds of the US Capitol after police warned that a militia group might try to attack the Capitol complex on March 4, 2021 [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

A task force report released on Monday called the US Capitol Police poorly prepared for the January 6 attack on the US seat of government, while recommending sweeping security upgrades and the creation of a quick-reaction force in the US capital.

The 15-page report, compiled by a group headed by retired US Army Lieutenant General Russel Honore, also recommended an upgrade to Capitol Police intelligence capabilities and training.

The task force charged with the report broadly critical of the Capitol Police department’s preparedness in the run-up to the attack, during which supporters of former President Donald Trump interrupted the formal congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory and sent legislators into hiding.

The report was requested by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the aftermath of the rampage that left five people dead, including a police officer.

Capitol Police were “understaffed, inefficiently equipped and inadequately trained to secure the Capitol”, the report stated. Aside from staffing and equipment, the report also called out Capitol Police’s intelligence gathering skills.

“Only a handful of people in the USCP have significant intelligence training”, and the “understaffed Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division (IICD) lacks the experience, knowledge, and processes to provide intelligence support against emerging domestic threats.”

The report noted that Washington is a “prominent tourist destination, venue for many peaceful First Amendment activities (referring to the constitutional right of free speech), and a high-value target for foreign terrorists or domestic extremists, yet it has no dedicated QRF (quick-reaction force) for response to crises.”

It made numerous recommendations, including eventually replacing the temporary fencing erected around the Capitol after the attack with an “integrated retractable fencing system”. There currently is no permanent barrier around the sprawling Capitol complex.

Many lawmakers, while demanding improved security, also have been hesitant to make the area inaccessible to the public.

Legislators also have been demanding explanations for what was seen as a slow decision-making process for bringing National Guard troops to help quell the violence.

In response, the report called for giving the commander of the DC National Guard emergency authority help quell large-scale, unexpected civil disturbances “where prior authorization by the president is impossible and local authorities are unable to control the situation”.

The task force also recommended the formation of a “quick-reaction force” covering the entire city of Washington under the command of the District of Columbia National Guard by using military police from across the United States on temporary rotations.

National Guard keep watch on Thursday, March 4, 2021, on Capitol Hill after saying they uncovered intelligence of a ‘possible plot’ by a militia group to breach the seat of government [File: Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo]

There currently are about 5,200 National Guard troops deployed to the Capitol until March 12. Capitol Police have asked the Pentagon to extend their mission.

The report also urged steps to improve some of the most rudimentary security features of the Capitol, such as hardening windows and doors in the building, hiring hundreds more police officers and reconstituting a disbanded mounted police unit.

Following the September 11, 2001, attacks, Capitol Hill security was tightened but still was proven to be inadequate on January 6, despite expectations of potential violence days before the attack.

Better coordination among an array of law enforcement agencies, including several counties in neighbouring Maryland and Virginia, also was recommended.

Capitol Police said they look “forward to reviewing the detailed recommendations from Lieutenant General Russel Honore and his team. We believe enhancements to the Capitol complex’s physical infrastructure are required,” according to Fox News reporter Chad Pergram.

Congressional leaders planned to brief lawmakers on the report on Monday and appropriators were expected to seek approval of potentially billions of dollars in emergency funding to plug security gaps.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies