Fri | Mar 5, 2021

FBI vetting Guard troops in DC amid fears of insider attack

Published:Monday | January 18, 2021 | 10:36 AM
National Guard troops reinforce security around the U.S. Capitol ahead of expected protests leading up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, in Washington, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, following the deadly attack on Congress by a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event.

The massive undertaking reflects the extraordinary security concerns that have gripped Washington following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. And it underscores fears that some of the very people assigned to protect the city over the next several days could present a threat to the incoming president and other VIPs in attendance.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press on Sunday that officials are conscious of the potential threat, and he warned commanders to be on the lookout for any problems within their ranks as the inauguration approaches. So far, however, he and other leaders say they have seen no evidence of any threats, and officials said the vetting hadn’t flagged any issues that they were aware of.

”We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” McCarthy said in an interview after he and other military leaders went through an exhaustive, three-hour security drill in preparation for Wednesday’s inauguration. He said Guard members are also getting training on how to identify potential insider threats.

About 25,000 members of the National Guard are streaming into Washington from across the country — at least two and a half times the number for previous inaugurals. And while the military routinely reviews service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring.

Multiple officials said the process began as the first Guard troops began deploying to D.C. more than a week ago. And they said it is slated to be complete by Wednesday. Several officials discussed military planning on condition of anonymity.

“The question is, is that all of them? Are there others?” said McCarthy. “We need to be conscious of it and we need to put all of the mechanisms in place to thoroughly vet these men and women who would support any operations like this.”

In a situation like this one, FBI vetting would involve running peoples’ names through databases and watchlists maintained by the bureau to see if anything alarming comes up. That could include involvement in prior investigations or terrorism-related concerns, said David Gomez, a former FBI national security supervisor in Seattle.

The major security concern is an attack by armed groups of individuals, as well as planted explosives and other devices. McCarthy said intelligence reports suggest that groups are organising armed rallies leading up to Inauguration Day, and possibly after that.

The bulk of the Guard members will be armed. And McCarthy said units are going through repeated drills to practice when and how to use force and how to work quickly with law enforcement partners. Law enforcement officers would make any arrests.

He said Guard units are going through “constant mental repetitions of looking at the map and talking through scenarios with leaders so they understand their task and purpose, they know their routes, they know where they’re friendly, adjacent units are, they have the appropriate frequencies to communicate with their law enforcement partners.”

The key goal, he said, is for America’s transfer of power to happen without incident.

“This is 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 for the rest of the world that we can do this safely and peacefully.”

Follow The Gleaner on Twitter and Instagram @JamaicaGleaner and on Facebook @GleanerJamaica. Send us a message on WhatsApp at 1-876-499-0169 or email us at onlinefeedback@gleanerjm.com or editors@gleanerjm.com.