Members of the US National Guard stand watch at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. AFP
Gulf Today Report
US law enforcement agencies are screening National Guard members to make sure they do not pose a security risk during President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration, a four-star general said in comments broadcast on Sunday.
The massive undertaking reflects the extraordinary security concerns that have gripped Washington following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. And it underscores fears that some of the very people assigned to protect the city over the next several days could present a threat to the incoming president and other VIPs in attendance.
Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press on Sunday that officials are conscious of the potential threat, and he warned commanders to be on the lookout for any problems within their ranks as the inauguration approaches. So far, however, he and other leaders say they have seen no evidence of any threats, and officials said the vetting hadn't flagged any issues that they were aware of.
About 25,000 members of the National Guard are streaming into Washington from across the country — at least two and a half times the number for previous inaugurals.
And while the military routinely reviews service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring.
Following the Jan.6 riots at the Capitol building in support of outgoing President Donald Trump, it emerged that some of those involved had current or former ties to the military.
General Daniel Hokanson, who heads the National Guard Bureau, was asked by CBS News on Sunday if troops were being checked as they arrived in Washington.
“In coordination with the Secret Service and the FBI, they're screening all the personnel that are coming in,” Hokanson said.
Much of Washington resembles a fortified compound in a war zone, with most of the downtown area blocked off, security fences topped by razor wire and about 25,000 National Guard troops deployed to the capital.
In a recent letter to all US troops, the Joint Chiefs of Staff told service members the Jan.6 riots were “inconsistent with the rule of law” and said troops “must embody the values and ideals of the nation.”
Multiple officials said the process began as the first Guard troops began deploying to D.C. more than a week ago. And they said it is slated to be complete by Wednesday. Several officials discussed military planning on condition of anonymity.
"The question is, is that all of them? Are there others?” said McCarthy. "We need to be conscious of it and we need to put all of the mechanisms in place to thoroughly vet these men and women who would support any operations like this.”
In a situation like this one, FBI vetting would involve running peoples’ names through databases and watchlists maintained by the bureau to see if anything alarming comes up. That could include involvement in prior investigations or terrorism-related concerns, said David Gomez, a former FBI national security supervisor in Seattle.
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