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Senate releases damning report on Capitol riot: Intel ignored, officers undertrained & underequipped, leaders & backup missing

Senate releases damning report on Capitol riot: Intel ignored, officers undertrained & underequipped, leaders & backup missing
A bipartisan US Senate report has provided more details about the many lapses of the domestic security system in the run-up to and during the January riot on Capitol Hill.

The 127-page document, which ends with a full transcript of the speech that Donald Trump delivered before his supporters during the Stop the Steal rally on January 6, was released on Tuesday. It stopped short of assigning political blame to the former president and instead delved into the details of the embarrassing failure to protect the Capitol Building from the breach by Trump supporters. An attempt to start a broader investigation into the events, similar to the 9/11 Commission, was blocked by Republicans earlier in May.

In the days before the riot, there were clear signs that some people were heading to Washington, DC and preparing to use force, the report said. Police were aware that plans for breaching the Capitol Building were being discussed online and that people were sharing maps of the complex. However, both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security failed to take the threat seriously and issue formal intelligence bulletins. The US Capitol Police’s (USCP) own intelligence teams likewise failed to warn about the scope of the potential danger.

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Making matters worse, the USCP unit tasked with handling civil disturbances was poorly prepared to deal with the riot. Officers were not authorized to put on protective gear at the start of their shifts or to use the more serious weapons at their disposal, like sting ball grenades. This was in part because many lacked the training necessary to use these weapons, according to the report.

When the chaotic confrontations at the Capitol began, the police were largely on their own, with nobody coordinating the response. “USCP leadership never took control of the radio system to communicate orders to front-line officers,” the report said.

“For hours the screams on the radio were horrific,” an officer interviewed by senators for the report said. “The sights were unimaginable and there was a complete loss of control… For hours NO Chief or above took command and control. Officers were begging and pleading for help for medical triage.”

Meanwhile, the National Guard was slow in deploying to help out the USCP. Roughly three hours were spent on planning, securing multiple approvals, and other activities before the troops were actually sent out. The Pentagon’s slow action, the report said, was “informed by criticism” it faced after the “heavy-handed” response to Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

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The lawmakers also harshly criticized the three-member Capitol Police Board, which includes the heads of security for the two chambers of the Congress and the Architect of the Capitol. The senators found that none of the members on January 6 understood their own authority or the statutory requirements for calling in the National Guard.

Senators also stressed the severity of the clashes between the rioters and police. The report links seven deaths to the events of January 6, including the shooting of Capitol intruder Ashli Babbitt by the USCP. It notes that three officers lost their lives in the wake of the altercation, including Brian Sicknick, who suffered a stroke hours after the riot, and two who died by suicide. The other deaths were among the protesters and were linked to medical emergencies.

“Let’s be honest: Capitol Police were put in an impossible situation,” Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said. “Without adequate intelligence, training and equipment, they did not have the tools to protect the Capitol.”

The report was produced jointly by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which Portman is a ranking member, and the Senate Rules Committee. It issued a slew of recommendations on how to improve the Capitol’s security. The suggestions include better training of the USCP, closer cooperation on intelligence between agencies, and making deployment of the National Guard more expedient. The US Capitol Police currently employs over 1,800 sworn officers and has a $500 million budget. 

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