Security review recommends enhanced background checks, retractable fencing to secure Capitol

By | March 8, 2021

Congress should expand the Capitol Police’s skeletal team of intelligence analysts, install a retractable fence around the building and increase background checks to “decrease insider threat risks,” according to recommendations supplied by a retired general tasked with reviewing security in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, flanked by a team of veteran military and national security officials, will propose a series of intensive security measures that they say respond to glaring gaps in Capitol security measures that enabled a violent mob to overtake the building and disrupt the transfer of presidential power.

Honore, in a letter accompanying the recommendations, describes “unique” challenges to securing the Capitol, beginning with the longtime open access that the public has enjoyed.

“Any security measure that reduces physical access to the Capitol Complex makes it less accessible to the public it serves,” Honore and his team wrote. “As representatives of the people, Members understandably seek to be available to their constituents and transparent about their travel and activities, yet such openness can create physical security vulnerabilities.”

Honore’s review will ignite what is expected to be a tense reckoning among lawmakers who have been surrounded by thousands of National Guard troops, fencing and razor wire since the assault. It arrives at a moment of extreme distrust among lawmakers themselves, with many Democrats viewing the 138 Republicans who voted against certifying some of the states’ election results as a driver of the violent riots. And Republicans have blasted Honore for his comments accusing some GOP lawmakers and Capitol Police officials of complicity in the attack. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has also argued that he worries Honore’s recommendation would permanently turn the Capitol into a “fortress.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tasked Honore with the review as part of an initial bid to shore up overtaxed Capitol Police and identify significant gaps in the capacity of the force, District of Columbia law enforcement and other federal agencies to aid in an emergency. Other officials on Honore’s team include retired Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who helped organize aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and Mary McCord, a former acting assistant attorney general for national security.

The group’s most significant recommendation includes the establishment of a “dedicated quick reaction force” for all of Washington D.C., one that could respond to developing emergencies and quickly ramp up law enforcement capacity. Honore’s team will propose three options: a force consisting of multiple law enforcement agencies that is granted legal authorities and funding; a quick reation force run by the D.C. National Guard that draws form National Guard units across the country; and a permanent military police battalion housed within the D.C. National Guard.

Honore will also suggest adding 874 new positions within the Capitol Police to cut down on overtime — which stretched to 720,000 hours in the last fiscal year, they found, an “unsustainable” dynamic.

“[I]t leaves the force with no ability to pull officers from the line to train at the individual, leader, or collective level or to prepare for evolving threats,” they wrote.

The advisers also found that the Capitol Police’s ability to process intelligence about the rising volume of threats against lawmakers is inadequate.

“Individuals and groups advocating extremist views actively use the internet to propagandize, recruit, radicalize, and organize political violence such as the Capitol Attack,” they wrote in their report. “Some also target Members with threats of violence. The USCP is not postured to track, assess, plan against, or respond to this plethora of threats due to significant capacity shortfalls, inadequate training, immature processes, and an operating culture that is not intelligence-driven.”

Honore’s group also recommended overhauling the Capitol Police Board — the obscure entity that includes the USCP chief, as well as House and Senate security officials and the architect of the Capitol — to make it less cumbersome during a crisis. That would include, in part, empowering the Capitol Police chief to act unilaterally during a crisis.

Among other recommendations:

-Expanding the Capitol Police’s canine explosive detection program, reestablishing horse-mounted patrols, requiring the presence of specially trained “civil defense units” every time Congress is in session and equipping all uniformed officers with riot gear and less-than-lethal weapons.

-Establishing an “unblinking” monitoring system of cameras and other sensors to help slow and track emerging threats to the building.

-Better route planning for Capitol evacuations during an emergency.

Honore also delved into what is likely to be a controversial subject: Enhanced background checks of all members, staff and Capitol employees to prevent any “insider threat.”

“Requiring background checks for identification card holders and employing card readers more widely throughout the complex would decrease insider threat risks and enhance the safety of all Members, staff, and legislative employees,” his group concluded.

That recommendations comes as Democrats have continued to allege that some Republicans may have wittingly or unwittingly aided the Jan. 6 riots, either by stoking then-President Donald Trump’s false claims that the election had been stolen or by encouraging people to march on D.C. amid Trump’s calls to stop Congress from certifying his defeat. Honore will also recommend pushing Capitol screening further back from the building and adding more “screening portals” throughout the complex.

Aside from security within the Capitol complex, Honore also offered initial recommendations about security for lawmakers while they’re traveling or in their districts. Though current protocols provide for security for legislative leaders, rank-and-file members often have “limited or inconsistent protection at their homes, in their districts, and while in transit,” the group found.

The advisers recommend establishing a “threat-based” system for providing security to non-leaderhsip members, and the establishment of a “Member Travel Operations Center” to manage security for lawmakers while in transit. District offices should also be upgraded to ensure a “uniform” level of monitoring and safety.