Updated: Jan 17
On January 6, 2021, lawmakers, federal authorities, and Capitol Police were forced to temporarily surrender large portions of the United States Capitol Building to political rioters, marking a dark day in American history. Although most outlets have focused on the political aspects of the day's events, The Intelligence Ledger has chosen to analyze the tactical and national security implications of the Capitol Hill Siege. In the eyes of this organization, the loss of one of the most secure sites in the continental United States to a largely unarmed mob was a major security failure and the largest law enforcement blunder in modern history. Compounding issues, it appears as though the day's events were not only preventable, but foreseen days in advance. Below, The Intelligence Ledger provides reader a step-by-step timeline of the day's events, and offers recommendations to improve security at the People's House.
Timeline of Events
The story of the Siege of Capitol Hill began several days before the high-value structure was actually overrun. Thus, in order to understand the situation that unfolded on January 6, 2021, one must look back to December of 2020.
Weeks before the 'Save America' rally took place, individuals deeply invested in the American political system began to call for a major protest on January 6 in front of the United States Capitol Building. On this day, lawmakers in the Senate were scheduled to certify the results of the 2020 Presidential Election, one which has been widely criticized for a lack of overall trustworthiness and integrity. Scattered among these largely peaceful calls for protest were violent extremists, whose only interest was the ignition of, "a revolution."
On January 1, a now-suspended Facebook group with over 7,500 members called for Republican controlled states to succeeded from the union, and asked supporters to gather and submit intelligence on the travel routes and home addresses of political enemies in Washington. Furthermore, a now-removed website offered a place for individuals to discuss potential targets for protesters once they had arrived in sufficient numbers to the nation's capital.
January 5 marked the first time disillusioned extremists went face-to-face with Capitol Police. During and after that meeting, at which only a few hundred citizens gathered, law enforcement made twelve arrests. The few violent individuals during this 'Stop the Steal' rally seemed to focus on attacking. Capitol Police rather than counter-protestors who had gathered nearby.
The Capitol Hill Siege began on January 6. As members of the Senate debated the certification of the 2020 Presidential Election, a large crowd which had just come from the 'Save America' rally became increasingly violent as some sought to gain access to restricted areas of the high-value site. By 1:00 PM EST, the frontline of demonstrators was in direct confrontation with law enforcement, which seemed unprepared for such an eventuality. The extremists in the otherwise peaceful group soon overpowered law enforcement, and gained access to the Capitol Building's famed stairway and outside access points. Within forty-five minutes, demonstrators were pouring into what should've been inaccessible areas of the building. Due to the security situation, Congress was forced to suspend certification of the election.
Rioters were able to access a large number of lawmakers offices, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's administrative suite. Law enforcement and Army National Guard (ANG) units at the Capitol were forced back to the outskirts of the House and Senate Chambers, giving trespassers free reign in the rest of the building for several hours. It was not until 7:00 PM EST that special mission units, Capitol Police, and National Guard units successfully completed an operation to clear the federal facility. By 8:00 PM, the Congressional proceeding was back on track.
In order to prevent such a catastrophic failure from occurring again, federal and local law enforcement agencies must analyze the Capitol Hill Siege for lessons to be learned. In support of this objective, Intelligence Ledger analysts have compiled several important issues that emerged during the January 6 disturbance.
First and foremost, both federal and local law enforcement agencies failed to pay attention to clear intelligence indicating violence would unfold on January. 6. Furthermore, the smaller rally on January 5 showed that rowdiness was a reality that might unfold the next day. The lack of situational planning was truly disturbing, and although heads will undoubtedly roll, agencies must ensure that directives are established to prevent such scenarios in the future. Specifically, The Intelligence Ledger recommends that intelligence analysts be given greater rein to work with law enforcement units during the upcoming inauguration.
Second, law enforcement and National Guard soldiers failed to establish multiple security lines away from the People's House prior to the crowd's arrival. Instead, demonstrators encountered one thinly manned security line composed of ill-prepared police units. Due to the size of the mob, officers and agents on the ground stood no chance of holding back the mob and while simultaneously the building. As such, this organization argues that serious consideration must be given to boosting the size of the Capitol Police, as it currently numbers less than 2,000, leaving only a few hundred officers on-duty at any given time.
Finally, the lack of a centralized, hardened security system in the Capitol Building proved disastrous. Security personnel and law enforcement proved unable to stop the flow of individuals into the high-value building, and once inside, containing them in entrance areas. The Intelligence Ledger found several instances in which doorways needed to be blocked with furniture, as no other system was able to keep out unauthorized individuals. To prevent this from occurring again, Capitol Police and the House and Senate Sergeants at Arms ought to invest in a keycard access system, similar to the ones adopted by many American universities in the wake of Columbine.
Although traditional media has rightly focused on the failure of law enforcement to protect lawmakers and visitors within the Capitol Building, less noted is the increased national security risk to the country as a result of the theft of classified and official-use documents stored within Congressional offices. The Intelligence Ledger has documented multiple instances of individuals removing papers from lawmakers offices for further study, while other organizations have found several cases in which federal computer systems were accessed without proper clearances.
In the eyes of The Intelligence Ledger, it seems unlikely that foreign intelligence services, such as Russia's SVR or China's MSS, would not exploit the unrest for their own benefit. As such, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Capitol Police, and Homeland Security would do well to track down all stolen documents and clear the building of any potential listening devices. Furthermore, a long look should be taken at replacing the vast majority of physical computer systems in areas where unauthorized individuals roamed free, as it would not be hard for a bad actor to implant malware or dead-switches to these systems.
The loss of the Capitol Building to an undisciplined mob was a disastrous failure and will serve as a stain on the reputation of the United States. However, the event offered policymakers, law enforcement, and citizens several lessons to which to improve on. Failure to do so would put future events, such as the Presidential Inauguration, at risk. Although this time of political instability and violence may pass, it is up to the American people to prevent such shameful incidents from occurring again by preparing for the worst.