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1.8.21 – SIW – Joel Griffin

Experts weigh in on what went wrong and what needs to be to be done to prevent similar breaches

This week’s storming of the U.S. Capitol building by supporters of President Donald Trump still angry over the outcome of the 2020 election, which the president continues to cast doubt on the legitimacy of by promulgating falsehoods about widespread voter fraud, will be remembered as a dark day in American history.

As of Thursday, at least four people were reported dead and more than 50 police officers injured during the siege. One of the deceased was shot and killed by U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) during the chaos near the House chamber, while the other three were said to have suffered medical emergencies. Approximately 70 people were also arrested by Washington, D.C. police on charges related to the incident.  

In a statement, Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned under pressure from both Democrat and Republican leadership late Thursday, praised officers for responding “valiantly” during the incident that saw individuals in the thousands-strong crowd attack police with metal pipes, chemical irritants and other weapons. 

“The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C. Maintaining public safety in an open environment – specifically for First Amendment activities – has long been a challenge,” the statement reads. “The USCP had a robust plan established to address anticipated First Amendment activities.  But make no mistake – these mass riots were not First Amendment activities; they were criminal riotous behavior.  The actions of the USCP officers were heroic given the situation they faced, and I continue to have tremendous respect in the professionalism and dedication of the women and men of the United States Capitol Police.”

However, experts say the storming of the Capitol Building was the result of security failures on multiple levels.

Security Planning Lacking

According to Chris Swecker, CEO of security consulting firm Swecker Enterprises and the former acting executive assistant director of the FBI, the biggest obvious failure that allowed the Capitol Building to be overrun was a clear lack of adequate pre-planning for the goings on in and around the national landmark.

“It all goes back to planning to have the right number of people with the right equipment and the right training,” he says. “I just think they were very complacent about this and they got caught flatfooted because they didn’t plan well. I could see in the Capitol Building – no shields, no gear, just their hands. They were getting pepper sprayed, it was sad to watch.”

Beyond an apparent lack of security pre-planning, Paul Joyal, Managing Director of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Practice at National Strategies, Inc., says there must be “leadership and will” to stop a crowd from advancing.

“I did not see that,” says Joyal. “Now I understand that the Capitol Police are up to 2,300 personnel; was everyone deployed and ready to respond that day? Obviously, pre-planning is an issue, but more importantly, men properly organized and led can do great things. For example, I didn’t see any police there that had flex cuffs on their belts prepared to arrest, put the flex cuffs on and detain people. How can that be? It’s like they didn’t think there would be any problem and they weren’t ready for the contingency of having to conduct mass arrests.”

Swecker, who also serves as attorney of counsel at the law firm Miller & Martin, says at no time should people have even been allowed to reach a window or entryway of the building, much less breach them.

“There should have been several perimeters around it but once they passed the first perimeter, which seemed to be grossly understaffed, there was nothing,” he says. “I saw officers retreating up the stairwells and not standing their ground because they didn’t have any support behind them. But certainly, there was lack of proper preparation for this. You have to plan for the worst. In the field of risk management, if it is predictable, it is preventable, in theory, and this was imminently predictable in my opinion.”

The fact that people were able to cavalierly walk around inside the Capitol Building and access areas that are traditionally off limits to the public was disturbing to Joyal, who was himself a member of the USCP in the early 1980s and even served as the chief investigator of the 1983 Capitol bombing. Joyal says there needs to be a review of the USCP leadership as it appeared that there was not a clear direction on how to respond from those in charge of overseeing security at the Capitol Building.

“There seemed to be almost a lackadaisical approach and I know that if it was a different group advancing the way they were, there would have been a different response. I think we have to own up to that,” he adds. “If it were a group of people representing Black Lives Matter, I think we would have seen a more tough response. It is an unfortunate statement, but it raises questions when you start seeing on television police open up barriers and allow people to advance. I don’t think anyone thought this was a group that was bent on the type of violence that we saw but it is really an incredibly embarrassing moment in American history to see what occurred.” 

Among the other questions that will have to be addressed by the USCP, according to Joyal, is how many officers were on the frontline by the fences? What was the fallback position and did they a chokepoint established for police to reposition? And what was the status of the response squad and where were they positioned?

“They are going to have to look at a number of things. First and foremost, in this case, will be the windows. Clearly the breach of the Capitol occurred by breaking glass and climbing through windows,” Joyal adds. “It doesn’t appear that there were any reserve elements that you would normally have to rapidly engage and deploy to respond to a breach on the perimeter. I think that, basically, the bicycle rack approach to a perimeter as large as the Capitol is ridiculous.”

Where Was the Intelligence?

While many details about how police responded to the events on the ground, which quickly morphed from a rally into a violent riot, remain unknown, both Swecker and Joyal agree that there appears to have been little in the way of intelligence gathering by law enforcement either using plainclothes officers in the crowd or even with regards to social media monitoring.

 “If you’re pre-planning well, you are monitoring the social media sites that these groups use and this all happens on social media and I’ve had experience with this,” Swecker explains. “We also know that there are organizations that infiltrate and compromise a legitimate protest and I saw evidence of that. The FBI has intelligence on these groups, and I can’t imagine they didn’t pass it on.”

Lasting Impact

Moving forward, Joyal believes there needs to be a commission formed to look at this incident as a whole.

“Let’s face it, you had the President of the United States rile a crowd up and send them to the Capitol, as well as other speakers. Then you had some senators… they had a part to play by objecting to the Electoral College vote,” Joyal says. “I know there were a lot of good police officers who were put in a very difficult position, but I have to say a real hard look is needed at the leadership, planning and the contingencies.”

Swecker says he hopes officials will take a “never again” approach to preventing these types of incidents in the future as they investigate where mistakes were made during this turning point in our nation’s political discourse.

“You can take Detroit as the model and, in some cases Charlotte with the DNC, in being predictive and being uncompromising in terms of security and crowd control so that you deter anyone from stepping out of line,” he says. “I think we’ve seen an erosion of that over the last 18 months with very soft, compromising crowd control and it is interesting to see Detroit as the model these days, but they are, and they don’t have any trouble up there. We need to go back to the basics of just sound planning, uncompromising crowd control because that is for the safety of everyone. If you are compromised, you are more likely to use deadly force and that is what happened here I’m afraid.”  

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at joel@securityinfowatch.com.