U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event.
The move comes as prosecutors have charged several current and former members of law enforcement and the military in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6. Prosecutors have said there are potentially dozens more still under investigation.
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From retired law enforcement, to military spokesmen, to academic experts, most seem to agree the overwhelming majority of officers and service members are loyal to their oath. But it's the handful who may be compromised that are now raising concern.
"People with badges and guns, they're trusted, they've sworn an oath and they're supposed to protect and serve. But if they could be recruited and join these types of groups, it could be very, very dangerous," said Richard Denholm, a retired FBI supervisory special agent.
Denholm specialized in public corruption cases for the FBI and now teaches Intelligence at George Mason University. He said it's also common for those who are already part of extremist groups to try to join law enforcement or enlist in the military to get the elite combat and other training that's offered.
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"Their training, access that they may have, connections that they may have. I've been watching the reports talk about people in tactical gear involved in this situation," said Denholm. "Knowing how to use that tactical gear makes these especially dangerous situations more so than just an average citizen who runs out there using a stick or something to beat on somebody."
He worries a corrupted officer or military service member could also use their power to infiltrate into government buildings or other secure locations. However, he believes the scale of security in place for the inauguration minimizes the risk one bad officer could pose.
"That's why in the federal government, there's a very robust counterintelligence program looking for that type of activity," said Denholm.
A Department of Defense spokesman told the I-Team "there is absolutely no tolerance for extremists within the military" citing an extensive background check during the recruiting process and continuous monitoring of service members.
There are also checks of social media accounts and a specific program that focuses on identifying and weeding out insider threats.
The Army secretary told the Associated Press this weekend that all 25,000 National Guardsmen assigned to the District during the inauguration should be screened by Wednesday and that, so far, no insider threats have been found.
”We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in an interview after he and other military leaders went through an exhaustive, three-hour security drill in preparation for Wednesday’s inauguration. He said Guard members are also getting training on how to identify potential insider threats.