WASHINGTON — U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider assault or other menace from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event.
The massive enterprise reflects the extraordinary security concerns that have gripped Washington following the deadly Jan. 6 mutiny at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. And it accentuates were concerned that some of the very people assigned to protect the city over the next several days could present a threat to the incoming president and other Vips in attendance.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press on Sunday that officials are conscious of the potential threat, and he informed commandants to be on the lookout for any problems within their grades as the inauguration approaches. So far, however, he and other commanders indicated that they had seen no evidence of any threats, and officials said the vetting hadn’t flagged any issues.
”We’re constantly going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation, ” McCarthy said in an interview after he and other military leaders went through an exhaustive, three-hour security drill in preparation for Wednesday’s inauguration. He said Guard members are also getting training on how to identify potential insider threats.
About 25,000 members of the National Guard are streaming into Washington from across the country — at least two and a half times the amount for previous inaugurals. And while the military regularly examines service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring.
Multiple officials said the process began as the first Guard troops began deploying to D.C. more than a week ago. And they said it is slated to be complete by Wednesday.
“The question is, is that all of them? Are there others? ” said McCarthy. “We need to be conscious of it and it is essential to threw all of the mechanisms in place to exhaustively vet these men and women who would support any runnings like this.”
In a situation like this one, FBI vetting would involve operating peoples’ identifies through databases and watchlists maintained by the bureau to see if anything alarming comes up. That could include involvement in prior investigations or terrorism-related concerns, said David Gomez, a former FBI national protection superintendent in Seattle.
Insider menaces have been a persistent law enforcement priority in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, onslaughts. But in most cases, the threats are from homegrown insurgents radicalized by al-Qaida, the Islamic State group or similar groups. In differ, the threats against Biden’s inauguration have been fueled by supporters of President Donald Trump, far-right militants, white supremacists and other revolutionary groups. Many belief Trump’s baseless accusations that the election was been stealing from him, specific claims that has been refuted by many courts, the Justice Department and Republican officials in key battleground states.
The insurrection at the Capitol began after Trump shaped incendiary statements at the Jan. 6 rally. According to McCarthy, service members from across the military were at that rally, but it’s not clear how many were there or who may have participated in the breach at the Capitol. So far simply a couple of current active-duty or National Guard members have been arrested in connection with the Capitol assault, which left five people dead. The dead included a Capitol Police officer and a woman shot by police as she clambered through a window in a door near the House chamber.
Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, has been meeting with Guard troops as they arrive in D.C. and as they meet downtown. He said he believes there are good processes in place to identify any potential threats.
“If there’s any indication that any of our soldiers or airmen are expressing things that are extremist positions, it’s either handed back to law enforcement or dealt with the chain of command immediately, ” he said.
The insider threat, however, was just one of the security concerns voiced by officials on Sunday, as dozens of military, National Guard, law enforcement and Washington, D.C ., officials and officers went through a security rehearsal in northern Virginia. As many as three dozen commanders lined tables that ringed a massive color-coded map of D.C. reflected onto the floor. Behind them were dozens more National Guard policemen and staff, with their eyes civilized on additional maps and maps displayed on the wall.
The Secret Service is in charge of event protection, but there is a wide variety of military and law enforcement personnel involved, ranging from the National Guard and the FBI to the Washington, D.C ., Capitol and Park Police.
Commanders went over every aspect of the city’s complicated security lockdown, with McCarthy and others peppering them with questions about how the troops will respond in any scenario and how well they can communicate with the other enforcement agencies scattered around the city.
Hokanson said he believes his troops have been adequately equipped and devised, and that then there rehearsing as much as they can to be prepared for any contingency.
The major protection concern is an attack by armed groups of individuals, as well as planted explosives and other machines. McCarthy said intelligence reports suggest that groups are organizing armed rallyings leading up to Inauguration Day, and perhaps after that.
The bulk of the Guard members will be armed. And McCarthy said units are going through reiterated drills to practice when and how to use force and how to work soon with law enforcement agencies partners. Law law enforcement officers would make any arrests.
Read more: politico.com