WASHINGTON — U.S. Capitol Police plan to maintain their enhanced level of security around the Capitol at least through President Joe Biden's first official address to Congress because intelligence suggests that extremists could be planning an attack, acting Chief Yogananda Pittman said Thursday.
"We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6th have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union, which we know that date has not been identified," she told members of Congress, referring to Biden's coming first address to a joint session of Congress.
"So based on that information, we think that it's prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced and robust security posture until we address those vulnerabilities going forward," she said.
Pittman was asked at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol about the need for continued security measures around the building, including fencing and the deployment of the National Guard.
Pittman emphasized that the rioters who attacked the Capitol "weren't only interested in attacking members of Congress and officers."
"They wanted to send a symbolic message to the nation as to who was in charge of that legislative process," she said.
Biden is expected to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress, similar to a State of the Union address, sometime after Congress passes his Covid-19 relief package.
Pittman told members of the subcommittee that oversees funding for the legislative branch that while her department knew armed extremists could commit violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6, intelligence collected before the assault showed "no credible threat" of the size and scale of the riot.
The department prepared for the events based on information gathered by law enforcement, including the FBI and the intelligence community, she said.
"It has been suggested that the department was either ignorant of or ignored critical intelligence that indicated that an attack of the magnitude that we experienced on January 6 would occur," Pittman said.
"The department was not ignorant of intelligence indicating an attack of the size and scale we encountered on the 6th," she said. "There was no such intelligence. Although we knew the likelihood for violence by extremists, no credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol, nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partner indicate such a threat."
The comments echoed the testimony her predecessor and other current and former law enforcement officials provided to the Senate this week.
Pittman, who replaced Chief Steven Sund after he resigned following the attack, said her department had prepared an intelligence assessment on Jan. 3 that outlined what it expected to happen three days later. The assessment, she said, noted that "militia members, white supremacists and other extremist groups" planned to participate in the event and that the groups planned to be armed. It also said "the threat of disruptive actions or violence cannot be ruled out."
The assessment was "shared widely" among Capitol Police and emailed to all officers above the rank of sergeant, said Pittman, who said sergeants and lieutenants were then responsible for communicating the information to rank-and-file officers. It was also emailed to the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms, she said.
Based on the assessment, Capitol Police made "significant changes" to their security posture, which involved increasing protection for certain members of Congress, deploying agents to provide protection outside the homes of congressional leaders and sending "counter-surveillance agents" to the Ellipse just south of the White House, where President Donald Trump was holding his rally on the morning of Jan. 6. They also made plans to "intercept the radio frequency used by some demonstration groups" and monitor their communications that day.
Despite the assessment, "the department was not prepared for the massive groups of violent insurrectionists that descended" on the Capitol," Pittman said in her prepared remarks. She said Capitol Police were "quickly overwhelmed" by thousands of rioters, many of whom were armed.
Asked by Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., about an assessment from the FBI's field office outside Norfolk, Virginia, on Jan. 5 that there would be a "war" the next day, Pittman said that police did receive the report but that it was just "information" and not final intelligence. She said protocol is not to act on raw intelligence.
A 'multitiered failure'
Pittman also said that the department has estimated that about 10,000 demonstrators were on the Capitol grounds Jan. 6 and that about 800 people broke into the building, while just over 1,200 officers were working there. When asked by subcommittee Chair Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Pittman said she agreed with Sund that police needed National Guard backup as the violence unfolded.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., the ranking member of the subcommittee, recounted during her questioning that she was on the House floor after the Capitol was breached and did not hear police officers getting instructions over their radios.
"It was very clear that their head pieces, like, the communications pieces, they were getting no actual real communication, they were getting no leadership, they were getting no direction," she said. "There was no coordination, and you could see the fear in their eyes."
Herrera Beutler questioned Pittman about the communications failure among the officers. Pittman said it was a "multitiered failure" in which the department was so overwhelmed that the officers who should have been giving directions over radios were assisting officers on the ground defending the Capitol.
Asked about reports of officers' taking photos with rioters and investigations into those incidents, Pittman said that 35 Capitol Police officers are under investigation and that six have been suspended, with their powers revoked.
Acting House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy Blodgett said in his prepared testimony that "the tragedy of January 6th is rooted in missing intelligence and analysis that negatively impacted the decision-making process."
"Intelligence requires finding needles in a haystack," he wrote. "On January 6, there was a failure to either gather, synthesize, or disseminate intelligence and there were indications that intelligence was muddled or contradictory."
Blodgett replaced Paul Irving, who resigned as sergeant-at-arms after the attack. Blodgett said that while his office received the Jan. 3 assessment from Capitol Police, every subsequent intelligence report over the next three days indicated only "remote, highly improbable or improbable" chance of civil disobedience or arrests.
"The intelligence missteps cascaded into inadequate preparation, which placed the health and lives of front-line officers at risk," he said.
The security changes planned in the wake of the riot will "come with an accompanying cost," he said.
"It will not only take funding, manpower and training, but also changing organizational structures to ensure that security needs are met," he said.