Washington, Feb 23 (efe-epa).- The US Senate on Tuesday examined the “colossal” security breakdown that enabled angry supporters of then-President Donald Trump to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6 at a hearing in which the officials formerly responsible for protecting the legislative seat blamed intelligence failures.
The joint hearing of two Senate committees was the first public appearance of the three main officials tasked with Capitol security at the time of the assault, an unprecedented event that resulted in five deaths.
The three ex-officials, who had to resign after the attack, agreed that they had received inadequate information about the security situation in Washington before Jan. 6, when hundreds of Trump’s supporters gathered in the capital as Congress was meeting to certify the result of the Nov. 3 presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden.
“These criminals came prepared for war,” former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said. “They came with weapons, chemical munitions and explosives. They came with shields, ballistic protection and tactical gear. They came with their own radio system to coordinate the attack, as well as climbing gear and other equipment to defeat the Capitol’s security features.”
Along those lines, the former security chief for the House of Representatives, Paul Irving, said that before Jan. 6 the intelligence he received intelligence that certain groups were encouraging the demonstrators to come “armed” to Washington and that violence was a possibility but that there would be no coordinated assault on the Capitol.
That latter possibility was not discussed in any conversation he had with colleagues in the days prior to the attack, Irving said.
Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said that “there’s no question in my mind there was a failure” to take the risk of the Jan. 6 riot “more seriously” on the part of the Capitol security officials but also by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department.
One of the central issues dealt with at the hearing was an internal report issued by the FBI in Norfolk, Virginia, one day prior to the Capitol assault that warned that a group of extremists was preparing to launch a “war” in Washington and carry out violent acts against Congress.
Sund said that his Capitol Police force received that report on the eve of the Capitol attack but the document was never transmitted to the top leadership, and so he never saw it, and neither did Irving or Senate security chief Michael Stenger, who also testified at the hearing.
The current interim head of the Washington DC Metropolitan Police, Robert Contee, who was the fourth witness at the hearing, said that the FBI report came to him “in the form of an e-mail” at 7 pm on Jan. 5 and that something so serious should have raised an alarm.
Both Contee and Sund said that they thought US intelligence agencies failed in identifying as a serious threat white supremacist and ultrarightist groups that later staged the assault.
Contee also blamed what happened on the Defense Department, which he said was slow and reluctant to send to the Capitol the National Guard troops that on-site security forces needed to defend the complex.
Contee’s officers were sent to the Capitol to support the heavily outnumbered Capitol Police there, but he said he was stunned when the Pentagon asked about the “optics” of sending National Guard troops into the fray, saying that “there was not an immediate yes.”
The hearing also included the initial testimony of Capitol Police Capt. Carneysha Mendoza, who described her experience as she defended Congress against the mob on Jan. 6 with the attackers deploying “military-grade (tear) gas.”
Mendoza said she suffered chemical burns on her face, adding that they still have not healed now, more than six weeks later.
“This was by far the worst of the worst,” Mendoza said, going on to suggest that no amount of additional security could have repelled the mob, saying: “We could have had 10 times the people working with us and I still believe this battle would been just as devastating.”
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar said at the conclusion of the hearing that, although much remains to be investigated about the attack, at least there is “clear agreement” that the attack was a “planned insurrection,” something which Contee, Sund and Irving confirmed.