Politics

Army Secretary: Archaic system hampered National Guard’s riot response

Members of the National Guard and the Washington, D.C., police keep a small group of demonstrators away from the Capital after thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol building following a "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(CNN) — Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Monday that the National Guard and law enforcement response to the deadly U.S. Capitol riot was hampered by an archaic system and criticized the current method of defending the nation’s capital in a crisis as “overly bureaucratic.”

In an interview with CNN, McCarthy called for overhauling the bureaucracy, including the process of ordering in the National Guard, which has happened twice in seven months. He called for the process to call in federal authorities to protect Washington, D.C., to be simplified and said the current system is “almost arcane and overly bureaucratic.”

“There’s too many people that are involved with the decision, and ultimately no one, one single person responsible,” McCarthy told CNN, adding, “It makes it very difficult and slow in the response.”

CNN previously reported that efforts to mobilize the National Guard during the unprecedented crisis were hamstrung by bureaucracy and confusion between Pentagon, DC government and Capitol police officials.

But questions as to why the National Guard was not fully activated until hours after the violent mob descended on the Capitol have continued to emerge in the days since.

Four federal agencies announced Friday they are opening investigations into their own roles on Jan. 6. The Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and the Interior Department will all examine their preparations for the events in Washington that day that may have played a part in allowing rioters to breach the Capitol.

“You saw a lot of people run into friction in support of the Capitol Hill police. It came far too close. Something like this should never happen. This country has the talent and the resources to do anything. But the pre-planning and coordination and the intelligence were not really managed well, and we were not in a position to be successful that day as a country,” McCarthy said.

‘Tremendous confusion’

On Monday, McCarthy described a situation of “tremendous confusion.”

“No one really understood the situation. No specifics or clarity what the size of the crowd, where they were, did they actually breach the building,” said McCarthy in an interview at the Pentagon.

McCarthy said he “ran down the hall to get authority to launch” the National Guard even as he “didn’t have great understanding” of what was happening after a phone call with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee.

“A lot of confusion because we weren’t asked for help” in the leadup to the event, McCarthy said.

An official familiar with conversations in the D.C. government previously told CNN that the Pentagon was too hesitant to deploy troops ahead of the protest and once the situation deteriorated rapidly they said defense officials took too long to approve the deployment of additional troops.

But McCarthy has repeatedly said the Pentagon worked as fast as it could to understand the situation on the ground and get the guard to Capitol Hill.

Facing increased scrutiny about the timeline, the Pentagon has pushed back, outright rejecting accusations that defense officials denied any requests for help. When the first calls for aid came shortly before 2 p.m., “the request was amorphous,” a senior defense official said, adding it was a nonspecific “We need help” request.

Insider threat

Efforts to find and eliminate extremism within the military’s ranks, particularly among those who espouse White supremacist beliefs, began long before this month’s riot at the Capitol but have taken on increased urgency in the days since.

Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller said Monday that there is “no intelligence indicating an insider threat” to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, though National Guard members arriving in Washington are being vetted by law enforcement.

The enhanced screening measures come as thousands of National Guard members are patrolling the streets of the nation’s capital ahead of Inauguration Day.

CNN has previously reported that the US Army is working with the Secret Service to determine if there are soldiers who will be part of the National Guard contingent providing security at the inauguration who require additional background screening.

“We don’t know the size and scale of the problem,” McCarthy told CNN. “We are working with federal law enforcement to vet our people, obviously ones in particular supporting this operation. But you would do that in most cases.”

“We’re taking the extremist threats very seriously. And we’re vetting all of our soldiers. We’re going to continue to look at the entire army as a whole and how we can ensure that these threats are not in our formation. And if they are, we’ll find them and we’ll get rid of them,” he added.

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