Exclusive: Capitol Police failures on Jan. 6 foreshadowed in earlier warnings, memos show

Between 2017 and 2020, multiple red flags were raised about preparedness, training and intelligence, records show

Published: June 12, 2022 9:14pm

Updated: June 12, 2022 11:12pm

Six months into Nancy Pelosi’s reign as House Speaker, the newly minted Capitol Police chief expressed concerns about his department’s preparedness, training and aging equipment amid increasingly complex security threats.

"You know, ensuring the preparedness of the officers out in the field is probably my biggest initiative," then-Chief Steven Sund testified to the Democrat-led House Administration Committee just 18 months before his ill-equipped force was easily overrun by rioters during the Jan. 6, 2021 breach at the Capitol.

Sund’s list of concerns was as succinct as it was candid. "Ensuring that they have got the right equipment, ensuring that they are—the morale is a major issue. But making sure that they are getting the proper training and the proper equipment that they need to do their job," he told lawmakers at one point during the July 2019 hearings.

A Just the News review of hundreds of pages of Capitol Police records found that Sund’s concerns were echoed to Congress by multiple other bodies – the Government Accountability Office, the Capitol Police Inspector General and the Capitol Architect among them – all of whom warned between 2017 and 2020 that the department:

  • suffered from a dysfunctional relationship with its governing board,
  • possessed outdated security equipment;
  • needed to improve intelligence analysis;
  • and struggled to manage its human capital.

The Capitol Police after-action report on the Jan. 6 tragedy confirmed each of those deficiencies – forewarned for years – played a role in the 53 sweeping intelligence and security failures that contributed to the department’s inability to contain a violent crowd before it breached the Capitol and put lawmakers working to certify the November 2020 election results in grave danger.

Those most familiar with the warnings to the new Democrat House leadership that took control of the Capitol in 2019 say it looks in retrospect like a slow-motion disaster that could have been prevented by more assertive leadership by Pelosi’s team.

"In the end, I think the Democrats' failure to address security is the untold story of post-Jan. 6, and that's the story I'm going to tell when we take the majority. I'm going to make sure that the voices of the officers on the frontline are heard," said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., now the ranking member on the House Administration Committee.

Added Rep. Elise Stefanik, the No. 3 House Republican: "We deserve to have full transparency into what her office knew why they refused to support President Trump's request for the National Guard, what intelligence they received and why they left the Capitol so ill-prepared.

"We know that the Capitol Police was half staffed, we know that they weren't provided with adequate training, that they had expired equipment," she added. "All these questions are really important to make sure that the violence on January 6, which Republicans have condemned, never happens again."

Davis sat through hearings in 2017, 2018 and 2019 in which Capitol Police officials, their union boss and independent watchdogs repeatedly warned of deficiencies in the department, equipment and training shortages, and uncomfortable tensions between executives and rank-and-file officers and between department leaders and the governing Capitol Police Board.

One of the glaring failures of Jan. 6 was that Sund, who resigned in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol riots, was unable to convince the House sergeant-at-arms and others on the Capitol Police Board to give him permission to request thousand of National Guard troops even though they had been offered by the Trump Pentagon.

Dysfunction between the department’s leadership and its governing board was flagged as a major issue in a 2017 GAO report that poignantly warned that "some stakeholders raised concerns, such as the Board not adequately soliciting their input" and that "congressional stakeholders still have reservations about the Board’s effectiveness."

"Our work indicates that stakeholders hold widely divergent views about the appropriate role of the Board, the level of transparency concerning its operations, and the extent to which it engages stakeholders when making decisions," GAO warned. "These divergent views reflect a variety of competing interests and priorities."

Multiple current and retired Capitol Police officials told Just the News those concerns were never allayed before Jan. 6, and likely contributed to Sund’s inability to secure permission for the Guard troops.

Another glaring finding in the after-action reports was that key equipment like the locks on the House and Senate chamber doors failed and that an elevator to a secure portion of the Capitol had never been upgraded to include security-controlled access.

The Architect of the Capitol identified sweeping concerns in late 2017 that security equipment was aging, outdated and not commensurate with the growing threats the complex faced.

"Safeguarding facilities and their perimeter from external threats such as natural disasters, violent acts or terrorist attacks is a formidable task," the Architect warned in his report, listing a large list of challenges.

"The AOC determined that a number of post-September 11 security enhancements were nearing the end of their useful life and established formal plans to address repairs and replacements of critical security infrastructure barriers and perimeter security kiosks which protect the Capitol campus," the report added.

Post-Jan. 6 review showed many upgrades were still not made and officers had expired shields and other equipment.

Those reviews also faulted Capitol Police management for failing to manage, schedule and deploy officers in the most strategic manner as the threats of violence grew more ominous in the days leading up to the riots. The building was significantly understaffed, some of the department’s elite riot units were deployed to other duties and those civil disturbance units that were activated couldn’t readily get their equipment because it was locked in a bus and the key could not be readily found, the after-action reports concluded.

In 2018, the Capitol Police Inspector General Michael Bolton warned of such dysfunction, reiterating prior warnings that protecting the Capitol complex and managing the department’s human capital were two of the force’s five biggest challenges.

"The top management challenges facing the department are protecting and securing the Capitol complex, strengthening cybersecurity strategies to address increasing threats, strong integrated internal control systems, managing Federal contracting more effectively, and human capital management," Bolton told Congress.

One of the most egregious failures that occurred in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 riots was that specific intelligence the FBI had given to Capitol Police deputy chiefs – including that bad actors planned to storm the Capitol, target members of Congress and blockade the tunnels leading to the complex – were never shared to the field commanders and officers or even Chief Sund himself. As a result, the tactical plan to protect the Capitol was not revised to address the emerging threats.

Bolton warned three years earlier that complacency in reacting to third-party intelligence was a danger, despite professions from department executives that progress was being made.

"While the progress is commendable, it does not mean the USCP has eliminated all risk associated with coordinating and sharing terrorism-related information," he declared. "It remains imperative that the department and its partners continue their efforts. Continued oversight and attention is also warranted given the issue's direct relevance to Homeland Security as well as the constant evolution of terrorist threats and changing technology."

Gus Papathanasiou, a Capitol police officer and head of its labor union, fatefully warned members of Congress in his July 2019 testimony to the House Administration Committee that while much change had been promised by all of the stakeholders, not nearly as much progress had been made, especially when it came to better training officers for the growing threats they faced.

"After my testimony last year, I hoped the Department would make strides in these areas. However, things remain the same," Papathanasiou pointedly told the committee chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. "For example, the Department has not improved its training, even though we have hired more employees, it has offered minimal training to existing employees.

"The Department used to have a three-day Active Shooter training. It was important to officers to have training because the repetition ensured that we were prepared in the event of an incident. That training has been replaced with one day of training," he said.

The cycle of warnings followed by inadequate action and change has persisted even after the Jan. 6 tragedy. Last week, Papathanasiou issued a statement warning many promised actions have still not been fulfilled some 18 months after one of the darkest days in the Capitol building’s history.

"Congress needs to support and resource the USCP to meet the high threat environment we face every single day," he pleaded on the night Democrats launched prime-time hearings seeking to blame former President Donald Trump for the Jan. 6 episode.

Papathanasiou blamed Congress for reneging on some of its promises and add that  “front-line officers do not understand how” the Capitol Police leaders who failed to forward crucial intelligence remain in their positions.

"In 2018, Members of Congress received approximately 5,200 threats. That has jumped 84 percent to above 9,600 threats last year. This is our new normal, yet we don't have the manpower and resources to meet this threat," he warned.

"Eighteen months after the attack, Congress has failed to address the stark disparity in retirement benefits for the USCP compared to other federal law enforcement agencies," he added. "For decades, this has been a reason our officers have moved to other agencies. For a brief moment, we felt this would finally be addressed by a provision in the 2021 House funding bill. To the utter disbelief of front-line officers, it was stripped from the bill at the last minute."

"We did our job on January 6th, paying a high price. All we ask is for Congress to give us the manpower and resources we need to protect this institution."

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., head of the House Republican Study Committee, said he fears such problems are being kicked down the road by majority Democrats and won't be addressed until voters make a change in the leadership of Congress.

"I can tell you that the Capitol isn't any more secure today than it was on January 6," Banks told Just the News. "They (Democrats) haven't done anything to ask these serious questions. They haven't dug into the matters related to security at the Capitol. And that's what's so shameful that all this is all about politics. ... It's not about Capitol security. So the more that we learn, the less confident we are in the Democrat leadership."

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