Attack on the Capitol Raises New Questions About Its Security (Analysis)

(CNN) — The alert of another attack in the vicinity of the U.S. Capitol shook all of Washington on Friday, shattered the sense of relative calm at the start of the holiday weekend, and reminded everyone that a nation just beginning to emerge from obscurity of the pandemic is still threatened almost three months after the insurrection of January 6.

In the weeks since former President Donald Trump left office and President Joe Biden took office, the seat of government had begun to take on a tone of rapid efficiency. The vaccination process against covid-19 accelerated at an ever-increasing rate. The coronavirus bailout legislation was quick to pass in Congress, albeit with party line approval. A sense of normalcy had returned to the Capitol after four years in which the former president sowed constant chaos and turmoil and ultimately fueled an uprising.

Friday’s attack made clear that the Capitol and its occupants remain a vulnerable target, even as memories of the January 6 political violence were beginning to fade and Trump and his allies have attempted to cover up the dangers of that day, including with the former president going so far as to falsely suggest that the insurgents were “hugging and kissing” the police officers and posing “zero threats.”

Much is still unknown about the motives of the suspect, identified by federal and local law enforcement sources as Noah Green, who crashed his vehicle into the North Capitol barricade shortly after 1:00 p.m. (Miami time), hitting two police officers from the US Capitol, he got out of his car and headed toward the cops with a knife before the officers fired. A federal source told CNN the man was 25 years old.

Posts on Green’s social media accounts suggest that he was struggling with a mental illness, including paranoia and delirium, as he wrote about suffering from ‘multiple home burglaries, food poisoning, assaults, unauthorized operations in the hospital, mental control”. Green, an apparent admirer of Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, posted a video with a caption saying that “the United States government is the number one enemy of blacks!” and attributed his “terrible afflictions” to forces he presumed to be part of “the CIA and the FBI, United States government agencies.”

However, when Capitol Police Officer William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran of the force, was killed in the attack and another officer was injured on Friday, it became clear that members of Congress have not yet succeeded. find a balance between preserving the accessibility of the Capitol building and ensuring the safety of the men and women who protect it.

It’s only been weeks since the temporary barbed wire fence erected around the Capitol was removed. But the rape of the Capitol in January has created the perception that the building is still vulnerable to attack, and proposals to secure it are mired in partisan infighting.

Authorities said during a press conference that they do not believe Friday’s attack was related to terrorism. And when asked if the suspect appeared to be targeting any member, authorities said Green, who had not been identified at the time, was not known to Capitol Police. But that may be little to comfort the many aides and members of Congress who feared for their lives on January 6 and still feel unsafe going to work.

“When I was elected to Congress, I never thought that coming to work would be dangerous. Honestly, it has become a dangerous place. When you come out and come back in, you’re on guard, watching, wondering what’s going on, “California Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democrat who was on Capitol Hill Friday, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in” The Situation Room. “

“I think they will probably have to rethink the perimeter and security of the entire complex – the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the Capitol – to really think about how they can keep it safe and allow Americans to keep visiting,” added the California Democrat.

Biden, who had left the White House to spend Easter weekend at Camp David at the time of the incident, alluded in a statement to the harsh months that Capitol police have endured. The president said he and his wife Jill were heartbroken to learn of the attack that killed Evans and “left a colleague fighting for his life.” The second agent is now in stable condition.

“We know how difficult this time has been for the Capitol, for everyone who works there and for those who protect it,” said Biden. “I want to express the nation’s gratitude to the Capitol Police, the National Guard Immediate Response Force and others who responded quickly to this attack. As we mourn the loss of another brave Capitol Police officer, I have ordered the White House flags to be at half mast. “

The messages of the suspect in the attack on the Capitol 1:06

Congress Discusses Capitol Security Recommendations

In the hyper-politicized environment surrounding the January 6 attacks and Trump’s role in inciting his supporters to violence, the issue of security on Capitol Hill has sparked a heated debate in Congress in recent weeks, in which Many members of both parties are demanding a clearer justification for the temporary barbed wire fence, while some staunch Trump allies in Congress have tried to downplay the dangers police faced in the January riots.

Although the suspect in Friday’s incident was unable to get through the barricade and National Guard troops immediately arrived to serve as backup, Evans’s death raised new questions about the continuing risks for front-line Capitol Police officers.

After conducting a six-week security review on Capitol Hill at the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré and other members of the task force he led urged Congress to increase the endowment of Capitol Police personnel and enhance the force’s intelligence gathering and capabilities, create mobile fences, and enhance the protection of members of Congress, among other enhancements.

They noted in their report that the nature of the threats against the Capitol and members of Congress has changed and is increasingly coming from internal elements. The Capitol Police, the task force report concluded, “is not prepared to track, assess, plan or respond to this plethora of threats due to significant capacity gaps, inadequate training, immature processes, and an operating culture that is not driven by intelligence ”. They said the Capitol Police did not have “enough personnel, neither the necessary equipment nor the proper training” to handle the mob that attacked the building on January 6.

The Inspector General of the US Capitol Police also criticized intelligence failures and lack of planning within the department prior to the January attack in a preliminary report on the incident, according to a source familiar with the report.

But Congressional Republicans had objected to what they saw as a lack of bipartisan input to the formal Pelosi-appointed task force and a lack of clarity to justify some of the recommendations, such as the need to expand the National Guard.

Some GOP members like California Rep. Darrell Issa criticized the cost of the proposed changes, including hiring more than 850 people to fill not only the 233 Capitol Police vacancies, but also new positions, including intelligence specialists. , operational planners and personnel of the Civil Unrest Unit and civil servant protection agents.

Issa said the proposals amounted to “a lot of requests for money,” but “it’s not a really complete plan.”

After Friday’s attack, Honoré urged members of Congress to take emerging threats more seriously and provide funding to increase the force footprint, strengthen the building, and enhance training to protect agents, members of Congress, and their staff. .

The Capitol is a target. We have to adapt to that, “Honoré told Blitzer in” The Situation Room. “

He noted, for example, that after the January 6 attack “a lot of people wanted to send the entire National Guard home,” but the House higher ups kept a smaller response force at their post on Capitol Hill, which allowed them to respond quickly on Friday. Honoré also noted that the barricade Green hit with his car was effective in stopping a further incursion around the perimeter of the Capitol and praised the swift response from the Capitol Police and the National Guard.

“Unfortunately, we lost Agent Evans today, but overall, that system worked. Capitol Police responded. They arrested (the suspect), ”he said.

And when Honoré lobbied Congress for more funding, he added: “Our Capitol must be protected. We must give the men and women of the Capitol Police what they need to get the job done.

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