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Capitol Police watchdog calls for boosting countersurveillance

Capitol Police watchdog calls for boosting countersurveillance
© Greg Nash

The Capitol Police’s internal watchdog on Monday called for drastically expanding the ability to track threats against members of Congress after authorities failed to anticipate the Jan. 6 attack and as lawmakers are increasingly targeted.

Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton told members of the House Administration Committee that the department would benefit from a standalone countersurveillance unit to detect threats against the legislative branch.

In his testimony, Bolton cited the pipe bombs found near the Republican and Democratic parties headquarters shortly before the Capitol attack as a major threat assessment shortcoming. As officers arrived at the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee buildings, only one team was left protecting the Capitol complex while a mob of Trump supporters made its way onto the grounds.

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“So in other words, if those pipe bombs were intended to be a diversion, plainly speaking, it worked,” Bolton said.

The increasing number of threats against lawmakers has prompted Bolton and others to call for deploying the Capitol Police beyond Washington, D.C., particularly as members of Congress fear they may be at risk when they travel between the nation’s capital and their districts.

The Capitol Police said Friday that threats against members of Congress have more than doubled — increasing 107 percent — since last year.

“I know firsthand that these threats are real, and that the people making these threats intend to act on them,” said Rep. Rodney DavisRodney Lee DavisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate path uncertain after House approves Jan. 6 panel Capitol Police Board signals resistance to reform McCarthy says that he will not support bipartisan deal for Jan. 6 commission MORE (Ill.), the top Republican on the House Administration panel, who noted that an individual who had threatened to kill him was recently prosecuted and convicted.

Davis said there’s a “need to transform the [Capitol Police] into a protective force, and less of a traditional police department.”

“I do believe that 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,” he added.

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Some of those efforts are already underway. Capitol Police will open offices in San Francisco and Miami, with discussions of additional offices scattered through the Midwest, something Bolton said “could help us in getting our prosecution numbers up” for those who make threats against lawmakers.

House Administration Committee Chairwoman Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenPelosi floats Democrat-led investigation of Jan. 6 as commission alternative Democrats plot next move after GOP sinks Jan. 6 probe This week: House to vote on Jan. 6 Capitol attack commission MORE (D-Calif.) questioned whether the Capitol Police had the wrong mindset going into Jan. 6: that the biggest threat of violence would come from clashes between Trump supporters and his detractors, rather than the crowd determined to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results.

Lofgren, citing a timeline of Jan. 6 provided by the Capitol Police, said that at 10:59 a.m., police noted that approximately 200 members of the Proud Boys extremist group had gathered at Garfield Circle near the Capitol’s west front. But then at 11:24 a.m., Lofgren said, the Capitol Police was monitoring roughly three to four counterdemonstrators setting up props nearby — and the Proud Boys weren’t mentioned again in the timeline.

“Why did the department decide to monitor the three to four counterdemonstrators but apparently, according to this timeline, not to monitor the Proud Boys?” Lofgren asked.

“We had the same kind of concerns,” Bolton replied.

Bolton said that his team has moved up its review of Capitol Police command and control operations, which he hopes will be completed soon. The inspector general’s office is conducting a series of “flash reports” about the response to Jan. 6 released every 30 days, with the next one expected to focus on the Capitol Police’s emergency response team.

Some lawmakers have registered their frustration by noting that even they were aware of social media chatter among Trump supporters making plans to travel to Washington and threatening violence ahead of Jan. 6. That's led many members to question how the Capitol Police didn't fully anticipate the danger themselves.

Lawmakers are hauling in more officials this week to explain what went wrong on Jan. 6 and how to prevent another attack on the nation’s seat of government.

The Architect of the Capitol’s inspector general is set to testify before the House Administration Committee on Wednesday amid ongoing security repairs to the building.

Also on Wednesday, former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee will testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on how they handled the response to the attack on the Capitol. 

Lofgren further announced Monday that she plans to hold a hearing with all of the members of the Capitol Police Board — which consists of the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms and the Architect of the Capitol, with the Capitol Police chief serving as a nonvoting ex officio member.

The three Republicans on the House Administration Committee had urged Lofgren to schedule such a hearing, which they noted would be the first convened with all of the Capitol Police Board's voting members since 1945.

This week’s hearings come as House leaders aim to vote on a spending package this month to bolster Capitol security efforts. The funding is expected to address hiring more Capitol Police officers, providing more resources for individual lawmakers’ security and fortifying the Capitol complex.

When asked by Rep. Pete AguilarPeter (Pete) Ray AguilarPelosi signals no further action against Omar Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias Pelosi, leaders seek to squelch Omar controversy with rare joint statement MORE (D-Calif.) what his top recommendations for funding priorities would be, Bolton said that training should be “number one.”

“If you don't have the infrastructure, you're not going to get the results you want,” Bolton said.