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Watchdog: Capitol Police Need To Boost Counterintelligence To Address Rising Threats

A U.S. Capitol Police watchdog told a congressional committee on Monday that the agency was not equipped to handle the flow of intelligence ahead of the Jan. 6 attack on the complex, and he focused his testimony on a suggestion that the force create a dedicated counterintelligence unit.

Inspector General Michael Bolton, as part of a series of investigative reports and related House Administration Committee hearings, has drilled down on Capitol Police deficiencies revealed by the riot that he says must be addressed to transform the department from its reactionary stance to a protective agency.

That includes a new counterintelligence unit, improving training and staffing for its existing threat assessment section and sharing relevant findings throughout the force.

"A standalone entity with a defined mission dedicated to counter-surveillance activities in support of protecting the congressional community would improve the department's ability to identify and disrupt individuals or groups intent on engaging in illegal activity directed at the congressional community for its legislative process," Bolton told the committee.

The comments were part of a hearing centered on the latest of so-called inspector general flash reports, marking the third such analysis Bolton has shared with lawmakers since the siege.

Bolton also said in prepared testimony that the agency needs to prioritize intelligence, training, operational planning and cultural change.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., noted that Bolton found that the department's intelligence operations section, which is currently responsible for counter-surveillance, had only 13 officers deployed on Jan. 6.

And many of those officers were pulled into an investigation of two pipe bombs discovered nearby, taking them away from a focus on the Capitol, Bolton said.

"If those pipe bombs were intended to be diversion ... it worked," Bolton told Raskin.

During Monday's hearing, the panel's chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, highlighted recent confusion over Jan. 6 police radio traffic that may have suggested a focus that day on counterprotesters who opposed then-President Donald Trump.

Bolton said he's now preparing a new report that will focus on the radio traffic concerns.

"We need to make sure that the threat assessments and the planning and preparation were adequate for the event that was to present this huge challenge to our country and specifically to the officers who protected us," said Lofgren, a California Democrat.

She added that the panel will hold a hearing in the near future with the Capitol Police Board, which oversees the agency. The committee's Republicans, led by ranking Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., have said the board — which is made of the Capitol Police chief, the Senate and House sergeants-at-arms and the architect of the Capitol — has not appeared before a congressional committee since 1945.

Threats against lawmakers are up 107%

Ahead of Monday's hearing, Capitol Police responded to Bolton's latest report, noting that as of Friday, threats to members are up 107% compared with the same period a year ago.

"Provided the unique threat environment we currently live in, the Department is confident the number of cases will continue to increase," Capitol Police said in a statement.

The agency noted that its threat assessment unit, which employs about 30 agents, saw 9,000 cases last year — more than the 8,000 that the U.S. Secret Service, which has about 100 agents, had during that same period.

Davis said he was disturbed to see the increase, but comparably, arrests and indictments have not kept pace. And he agrees it's time to increase the Capitol Police bandwidth to address these concerns.

"If we have the intelligence about an attack or threat against a member of Congress or against the Capitol complex, but do not have the correct policies or people in place to properly gather, interpret and operationalize that intel, then what's the point?" Davis asked.

Capitol Police said the agency is in the midst of implementing some of Bolton's latest recommendations. However, the department said it will need more money to implement others.

"The USCP agrees a stand-alone counter-surveillance unit would be valuable," the agency said. "However, in order to fully implement this recommendation, the Department would require additional resources for new employees, training, and vehicles as well as approval from Congressional stakeholders."

Lawmakers are undergoing talks to take up a supplemental security funding bill, which could come before the House this month.

The intelligence deficiency concerns mark one of many issues Bolton has laid out in recent weeks to expose internal failures that hampered the agency's response to the Jan. 6 attack. In March, Bolton issued an extensivereport that previewed many of the documented concerns.

On Monday, Bolton said Capitol Police efforts to create a counterintelligence entity could include a new, central desk with a commander overseeing analysts, agents and officers handling cases in real time. Also, he said the agency should analyze police reports for trends or patterns that warrant further investigation and share more of their highest threat cases with the FBI's behavioral analysis unit.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.