A catastrophic Capitol security failure


On Wednesday, the nation suffered a catastrophic failure of security on Capitol Hill. There must be accountability for what has occurred.

The storming of Congress, and the evacuation of elected representatives and senators, is something we expect from war zones abroad. It is not something we should tolerate at home. What we've seen represents not just an unacceptable threat to life, but an outrageous attack on the democratic rule of law.

President Trump deserves great criticism for his stoking of the angry belief that our democracy has been stolen. To those who support the president, Trump's words must have appeared to offer both a righteous cause of action and a legal authority for that action. No incident more than today's storming of the Capitol building has thus crystallized Trump's worse impulse: his presentation of patriotism as an inherently subjective construct born of his whims at any one moment.

Of course, this does not excuse the behavior of those who attacked police officers or threatened violence against those in Congress. Many of those who fought the police, stormed the Capitol, and endangered those inside it have committed both state and federal offenses. They can and must be criminally charged as such.

So also must there be accountability for those charged with the security of the Capitol complex. If, as appears highly likely, intelligence failures are found to have occurred alongside inadequate preparations, both Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and Assistant Chief Yogananda Pittman should resign. For whatever reason, the courageous Capitol Police officers stationed outside Congress were totally inadequate in number and capability.

This was an absurdity. We all knew that tens of thousands of angry protesters would be on Washington streets on Wednesday, so there is no excuse for the resourcing failure. What went wrong?

Perhaps Capitol Police leadership believed a less significant presence might avoid inflaming anger and provoking violence. That may have been an apt assessment. But there is no reason why more resources could not have been held in reserve, even covertly, nearby. The National Guard was put on alert but, as of this publication, is nowhere to be seen. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the departments of Homeland Security and Justice must also answer questions here: What support was requested of them, when, and why was their response inadequate?

We'll learn of more detailed failings in the days to come. But some failures are already obvious. Why were there so few helicopters and planes that could support police on the ground? Why were the physical barriers to prevent access to the Capitol so inadequate? To consider just how serious this situation was, note that the Secret Service and Capitol Police protective details were at least temporarily forced to hold Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and other top government officials in a “stronghold” posture. Such a tactic is only applied when a perceived attack is underway and evacuation is impossible or posing an even greater risk. The Secret Service will have applied very specific security procedures developed for terrorist attacks on the State of the Union address. I am almost certain that in the coming days, we will learn Secret Service agents drew their weapons.

What we've witnessed is quite extraordinary. The right of elected members, their staff, the media, and others to go about their business in Congress, free of intimidation, is a sacred American right. Diminished, as it has been so clearly and significantly, the credibility and confidence of our democracy is degraded in tandem. It must not stand.

There must be accountability at the highest levels for this outrageous failing. And for those who took advantage of it.

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