Former officials responsible for securing the U.S. Capitol testified Tuesday before Congress for the first time since the January 6 attack on the complex, blaming deficient intelligence for the failure to prevent what they characterized as a “planned and coordinated” insurrection by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
The officials – former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund; former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving; and former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger – testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.
The hearing is the first in a planned series on security and intelligence failures that led to the attack. Next week, officials from the FBI and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security will testify.
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The three Capitol security officials resigned immediately after the Capitol riot and have faced questions over the massive security breach. The violence left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and at least 140 police officers injured.
The former officials testified that while they had prepared for a large protest at the Capitol and the possibility of violence, they had no intelligence indicating that the pro-Trump crowd would attempt a violent takeover of the seat of Congress.
Former Sergeant-at-Arms and Doorkeeper Michael Stenger testifies via teleconference before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs & Senate Rules and Administration joint hearing on Capitol Hill, Feb. 23, 2021.
“The breach of the United States Capitol was not the result of poor planning or failure to contain a demonstration gone wrong,” Sund said. “Without the intelligence to properly prepare, the USCP was significantly outnumbered and left to defend the Capitol against an extremely violent mob.”
Thousands of Trump supporters attended a speech by the former president on the morning of January 6 before marching on the Capitol in an attempt to prevent members of Congress from officially confirming President Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.
An estimated 800 Trump supporters then breached multiple police barricades and stormed the building, where they vandalized offices and threatened members of Congress. All three former officials said the attack had been preplanned, with some rioters bringing radio communication equipment and climbing gear.
Defending his police department’s security preparations for January 6, Sund said that an intelligence assessment three days earlier suggested that the event would be “similar” to two previous rallies in November and December that drew tens of thousands of Trump supporters to Washington.
In response, Sund said, he put in place an “all hands on deck” security plan, expanding the security perimeter around the Capitol and deploying about 1,200 police officers to work on January 6.
Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testifies before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs & Senate Rules and Administration joint hearing on Capitol Hill, Washington, Feb. 23, 2021.
“Contrary to some of the reporting, the USCP had an effective plan in place to handle the First Amendment demonstrations and possible pockets of violence that were anticipated for January 6, based upon the available intelligence,” he said Tuesday.
Highlighting a breakdown in intelligence sharing, the three former officials said they did not receive an FBI report distributed on January 5, warning law enforcement agencies about social media calls for violence the next day. The report, prepared by the FBI’s Norfolk field office, cited an online thread that in part said, “Go there ready for war.”
In a statement emailed to VOA, the FBI said it shared the information with law enforcement partners on its Washington joint terrorism task force “within forty minutes of receiving it.”
“The information was not only shared with members of the JTTF but was also posted on the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP), which is available to law enforcement officers nationwide,” the bureau said.
The online information could not be traced to a specific individual and its language was “aspirational in nature with no specific and credible details,” the statement said.
Sund said the report was sent to a sergeant at the Capitol Police but was not passed along the chain of command and that he learned about it only in the past day. The two former sergeants-at-arms said they did not receive it.
Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks at the start of a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs & Senate Rules and Administration joint hearing on Capitol Hill, Washington, Feb. 23, 2021.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, the chairwoman of the Senate committee on rules and administration, said the fact that the report did not reach the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms is “very disturbing” and points to an intelligence breakdown.
Asked for reaction to the intelligence failure leading up to the January 6 attack, a DHS spokesperson said, “The Department will work closely with federal, state, local, tribal and nongovernment partners to improve our ability to detect, evaluate and mitigate the threats posed by domestic terrorists.”
The hearing exposed an apparent rift among the former Capitol security officials over the deployment of National Guard troops.
Sund also blamed the former House and Senate sergeants-at-arms for failing to act swiftly to approve his request for National Guard help. A Capitol Police Board made up of the sergeants-at-arms must approve such requests.
But Sund said when he requested the National Guard two days before the attack, Irving, the House Sergeant-at-Arms, expressed concern about the “optics” of having troops around the Capitol “and didn’t feel that the intelligence supported it,” Sund said.
During his testimony, Irving denied that he was concerned about the visuals and how they would be perceived.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., left, listens to former Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving testify via teleconference during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs & Senate Rules and Administration joint hearing on Capitol Hill, Feb. 23, 2021.
“We did discuss whether the intelligence warranted having troops at the Capitol, and our collective judgment at that time was no – the intelligence did not warrant that,” Irving said. “The intelligence did warrant the plan that had been prepared by Chief Sund.”
The hearing comes as members of Congress quarrel over details of a recent proposal by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to form an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the attack. The commission would be modeled on a similar panel that investigated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Lawmakers at Tuesday’s hearing grilled law enforcement officials over the delay in the National Guard’s deployment. Sund, the former Capitol Police chief, blamed it in part on the four-member Capitol Police Board’s failure to immediately declare a state of emergency. Irving denied that he did not act swiftly.
Klobuchar said the hearing showed wide agreement among officials that the attack on the Capitol was “a planned insurrection” involving white supremacists and other extremists.
“I think most members here very firmly agree with that and I think it’s important for the public to know that,” Klobuchar said.