WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from members of the service involved in securing the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, which urged the FBI to screen all 25,000 National Guard troops entering Washington for the event.
This massive undertaking reflects the extraordinary security concerns that preoccupied Washington in the wake of the deadly Jan.6 insurgency on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. And it underscores fears that some of those tasked with protecting the city over the next few days may pose a threat to the incoming president and others in attendance.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press on Sunday officials are aware of the potential threat and warned commanders to stay on the lookout for any issues in their ranks as they approach. the inauguration. So far, however, he and other executives have said they have seen no evidence of threats, and officials said screening reported no problems.
“We are continually monitoring the process and doing second, third review of everyone assigned to this operation,” McCarthy said in an interview after he and other military leaders conducted a comprehensive three-hour security drill. preparation for Wednesday’s inauguration. He said members of the Guard are also receiving training on how to identify potential insider threats.
About 25,000 members of the National Guard are flocking to Washington from across the country – at least two and a half times the number of previous openings. And while the military regularly examines service members for extremist connections, the FBI’s oversight is in addition to any previous surveillance.
Several officials said the process began when the first Guard troops began to deploy to Washington more than a week ago. And they said it should be finished by Wednesday. Several officials discussed the military planning on condition of anonymity.
“The question is, is it all? Are there others? McCarthy said. “We have to be aware of this and we have to put in place all the mechanisms to scrutinize these men and women who would support any operation like this.”
In a situation like this, FBI scrutiny would involve running people’s names through databases and watchlists maintained by the office to see if anything alarming happened. This could include involvement in previous investigations or terrorism-related concerns, said David Gomez, former FBI national security supervisor in Seattle.
Insider threats have been a persistent priority for law enforcement in the years following the September 11, 2001 attacks. But in most cases, threats come from local insurgents radicalized by Al-Qaida, the state group. Islamic or similar groups. In contrast, threats against Biden’s inauguration have been fueled by supporters of President Donald Trump, far-right activists, white supremacists and other radical groups. Many believe in Trump’s baseless accusations that the election was stolen from him, a claim that has been refuted by many courts, the Justice Department and Republican officials in key battlefield states.
The insurgency on Capitol Hill began after Trump made inflammatory remarks at the January 6 rally. Service members from across the military were at the rally, McCarthy said, but it’s unclear how many were there or who may have participated in the breach at the Capitol. So far, only a few active members or members of the National Guard have been arrested in connection with the assault on Capitol Hill, which has left five dead. The dead included a Capitol Hill police officer and a woman shot by police as she climbed through a window from a door near the house bedroom.
General Daniel R. Hokanson, head of the National Guard Bureau, met with the Guard troops upon their arrival in Washington and their rally downtown. He said he believes good processes are in place to identify potential threats.
“If there is any indication that any of our soldiers or airmen are expressing extremist views, it is either handed over to law enforcement or dealt with immediately with the chain of command,” he said. .
The internal threat, however, was only one of the security concerns expressed by officials on Sunday, as dozens of military, National Guard, law enforcement and Washington, DC officials and Commanders participated in a security rehearsal in northern Virginia. No less than three dozen chefs lined up at tables that surrounded a huge color-coded map of DC reflected on the floor. Behind them were dozens of other National Guard officers and members, their eyes riveted on additional maps and graphics displayed on the wall.
The Secret Service is in charge of the security of events, but there is a wide variety of military and law enforcement personnel involved, ranging from the National Guard and the FBI to the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, to the Washington D.C. United States Capitol and American Parks Police.
The commanders went through all aspects of the city’s complicated security lockdown, with McCarthy and others dotting them with questions about the troops’ reaction in any scenario and their ability to communicate with other agencies in law enforcement scattered around the city.
Hokanson said he believes his troops have been properly equipped and prepared, and are rehearsing as much as possible to prepare for any eventuality.
The main security problem is an attack by armed groups of individuals, as well as the planting of explosives and other devices. McCarthy said intelligence reports suggest groups are holding armed rallies before opening day, and possibly after.
Most of the guards will be armed. And McCarthy said the units undergo repeated exercises to practice when and how to use force and how to work quickly with law enforcement partners. Law enforcement agents are said to be making arrests.
He said Guard units go through ‘constant mental rehearsals of looking at the map and discussing scenarios with the leaders so that they understand their task and purpose, they know their routes, they know where they are friends. , the adjacent units are, they have the appropriate frequencies to communicate with their law enforcement partners. “
The main goal, he said, is for America’s transfer of power to go smoothly.
“It’s a national priority. We have to be successful as an institution, ”said McCarthy. “We want to send the message to everyone in the United States and to the rest of the world that we can do this safely and peacefully.”
Associated Press editor Eric Tucker contributed to this report.