U.S. law enforcement is examining the 25,000 National Guard officers deployed for the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, fearing a possible insider attack after it emerged that some of those involved in the deadly riot in the January 6 at the US Capitol had ties to security agencies.
“In coordination with the Secret Service and the FBI, they are monitoring all personnel that arrive,” General Daniel Hokanson, who heads the National Guard’s office, told CBS News on Sunday.
The four star general’s comments come like the capital Washington, DC, remains locked in unprecedented security following the storming of the Capitol – the seat of the U.S. government – by supporters of incumbent President Donald Trump.
At least five people have died in the worst riot in nearly two centuries and have prompted the US Congress to impeach President Trump for “incitement to insurgency.”
Speaking from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi said that before Wednesday’s inauguration day, the National Guard no longer relied on its usual vetting mechanisms to ensure that service members were not radicalized in one way or another.
“The leadership of the National Guard has constantly told us that members of the National Guard are regularly checked for any potential danger in their environment, any connection with extremism, etc.,” he said.
“The new development that has been reported is that the FBI is now involved.”
Rattansi said the FBI was releasing the names of National Guard officers into its own databases, “checking for any red flags, any links to extremist groups or militia.”
At least 21 current and former members of the U.S. military and law enforcement have been identified as being at or near the Capitol Riot, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
The US military also investigated a psychological operations officer who led a group of people from North Carolina to the rally. Captain Emily Rainey, who claimed to have acted in accordance with military regulations, later resigned.
On the lookout for problems
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told AP on Sunday officials were aware of the potential threat and warned commanders to stay on the lookout for any issues in their ranks as the inauguration nears. .
So far, he and other executives have said they have seen no evidence of threats, and officials said the screening did not report any issues they were aware of.
“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 were also being trained on how to identify potential insider threats.
Much of Washington, DC looks like a fortified compound in a war zone, with most of the downtown area blocked off, security fences topped with barbed wire, and around 25,000 National Guard troops – at least two and a half times the number of previous inaugurations – deployed in the capital.
In a recent letter to all US troops, the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the military that the January 6 riots were “incompatible with the rule of law” and said troops “must embody the values and the ideals of the nation ”.
Major security issues
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.
The Secret Service is in charge of security of the events, but other military and law enforcement agencies are involved, ranging from the National Guard and the FBI to the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, to the State Capitol Police. -United and American Parks Police.
The bulk of the guard will be armed, McCarthy said the units undergo repeated exercises to practice when and how to use force and to work quickly with law enforcement partners. Law enforcement officials would make the necessary 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 their purpose, they know their routes, they know where … friendly 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.”
New Mexico official arrested
Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice said on Sunday it had arrested an elected official from New Mexico who had sworn to come to Washington with guns to protest Biden’s inauguration.
Cuoy Griffin, New Mexico County Commissioner and founder of a group called “Cowboys for Trump,” has been arrested in Washington on charges relating to the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol.
Griffin was among thousands of people who stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying Democrat Biden’s victory over Republican President Donald Trump, prosecution documents show. He stood on the steps of the building but did not enter.
Griffin said he plans to return before Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday, according to an FBI document.
“If we do, then it will be a sad day because there is going to be blood spilling from this building,” he said in a video posted to Facebook.