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FBI fears military insider attack on Inauguration Day and is vetting 25,000 Nat’l Guard troops

New Jersey National Guard troops set up security positions in Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)
January 18, 2021

Fears of a military insider attack on Inauguration Day has prompted the FBI to vet each of the 25,000 members of the National Guard who will be in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday as President-elect Joe Biden takes his oath of office.

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller confirmed the vetting in a statement on Monday, saying, “the Department will vet National Guardsmen who are in Washington, D.C.,” adding, “we appreciate the support of the FBI in assisting with this task.”

According to the Associated Press, the FBI vetting involves scanning individuals’ names using databases and watchlists kept by the agency in an effort to identify any red flags. Former FBI national security supervisor David Gomez said red flags could involve prior investigations or terrorism-related concerns.

Miller noted that vetting is standard procedure when significant reinforcements are provided for large security events.

“While we have no intelligence indicating an insider threat, we are leaving no stone unturned in securing the capital,” Miller said.

The efforts being made to identify potential threats are good, said General Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. Still, Hokanson has made meeting with Guard troops arriving in D.C. a priority amid the security concerns.  

“If there’s any indication that any of our soldiers or airmen are expressing things that are extremist views, it’s either handed over to law enforcement or dealt with the chain of command immediately,” he said.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told the AP that officials are aware of possible threats, even warning commanders to keep an eye out for issues within their own ranks. Despite these concerns, officials said they haven’t seen any indication of a threat, nor has the vetting flagged any problems.

“We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” McCarthy said following a three-hour security drill

The bolstered security comes less than two weeks after violent demonstrators stormed the nation’s capital on January 6, forcing their way past law enforcement and barricades to breach the Capitol building. The incident led federal offices to evacuate and required remaining lawmakers and staffers to shelter in place. The incident resulted in the death of one police officer and four civilians.

The roughly 25,000 National Guard troops descending into Washington is at least two and a half times the number of service members activated for preceding inaugurations.

“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.”

McCarthy said the majority of National Guard members will be armed, and units are extensively training on when and how to use force, going through “constant mental repetitions of looking at the map and talking through scenarios with leaders so they understand their task and purpose, they know their routes, they know where they’re friendly, adjacent units are, they have the appropriate frequencies to communicate with their law enforcement partners.”

To McCarthy, the main goal is securing the transfer of power from President Trump to President-elect Biden without any problems.

“This is a national priority. We have to be successful as an institution,” said McCarthy. “We want to send the message to everyone in the United States and for the rest of the world that we can do this safely and peacefully.”