Former Capitol Police Chief Details Jan. 6 Security Failings before Congress

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testifies before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs & Senate Rules and Administration joint hearing on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., February 23, 2021. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters Pool)

Former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund on Tuesday said it was “not poor planning” that allowed a pro-Trump mob to breach the U.S. Capitol last month, but “a clear lack of intelligence information.”

Sund testified at a joint hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSCAC) and Rules and Administration committees that he did not know until after the attack that his officers had received a report from the FBI’s field office in Norfolk, Virginia on January 5 that detailed the odds that extremists could commit “war” in the Capitol the next day.

The head of the FBI’s office in Washington has said that after receiving the warning, the information was quickly disseminated to other law enforcement agencies through the joint terrorism task force.

Sund said an officer on the task force had received the memo and sent it to a sergeant working on intelligence for the Capitol Police, though the information was not forwarded to any other supervisors.

Senator Gary Peters (D., Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee asked how Sund had not received “that vital intelligence.”

“That information would have been helpful,” Sund responded.

Sund testified that the police had “planned for possibility of violence and possibility of people being armed but not possibility of coordinated attacks.”

He detailed how rioters came equipped with their own radio system, planted pipe bombs and brought climbing gear and explosives to the Capitol. 

 “These criminals came prepared for war,” Sund said, describing the day as “like nothing” he had seen in his 30 years of policing.

“No single civilian law enforcement agency – and certainly not the USCP – is trained and equipped to repel, without significant military or other law enforcement assistance, an insurrection of thousands of armed, violent, and coordinated individuals focused on breaching a building at all costs,” Sund said.

Former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger, former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and Robert Contee, the acting chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department, also spoke publicly about the insurrection for the first time at the hearing, which is part of an investigation into the security failings preceding the January 6 rioting.

Sund, Irving and Stenger resigned immediately after the siege.

Irving and Stenger also testified that they had not seen the FBI report.

Irving said a call between him, Stenger and Sund the night before suggested “intelligence didn’t warrant” National Guard.

“The events of January 6th went beyond disobedience,” Stenger said. “This was a violent, coordinated attack where the loss of life could have been much worse.”

The officials disagreed on requests for National Guard assistance ahead of January 6. Sund said he spoke to both Stenger and Irving about requesting the Guard in the days leading up to the riot, and that Irving said he was concerned about the “optics” of calling in the Guard. 

Irving rejected that claim, calling Sund’s retelling “categorically false.” He said it was safety, not optics, that guided security decisions and that the biggest question was whether intelligence supported the decision.

“We all agreed the intelligence did not support the troops and collectively decided to let it go,” Stenger said. He said the officials felt confident at the time that they had devised a “robust” plan to protect Congress.

Sund and Irving also disagreed on when National Guard assistance was requested on January 6, with Sund saying he submitted a request at 1:09 p.m. and Irving arguing that he did not receive the request until after 2 p.m. while in Stenger’s office. 

However, when pressed, Irving said he took a call from Sund before while on the Congress floor.

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