PBS NewsHour


How concerned is the military about insider threats?

The inauguration is now just days away and officials around the country are pulling out all the security stops. But worries kept Washington very much on edge Monday, and the FBI and National Guard are vetting those who are securing Washington, D.C. for ties to extremism. Nick Schifrin reports.

AIRED: January 18, 2021 | 0:08:51

JUDY WOODRUFF: Inauguration Day is now two days away,

and officials around the country are pulling out all the security stops.

Just the same, worries kept Washington very much on edge today.

Nick Schifrin begins our coverage.

NICK SCHIFRIN: For a moment, the drill became reality. This morning, soldiers

and law enforcement practicing inauguration security suddenly sheltered for fear of attack.

It turned out the threat was this nearby fire, which was quickly extinguished.

But it shows the tension in Washington, D.C., ahead of Wednesday's inauguration.

Thousands of National Guard soldiers continue to arrive. More than 25,000 will secure the

city and surround the Capitol with rifles and bulletproof vests behind seven-foot-high fences.

Downtown D.C. is on lockdown, a normally festive inauguration week replaced with

barricades and security checks, the Washington Monument closed, behind rings of security.

COMMAND SGT. MAJ. MICHAEL BROOKS, D.C. National Guard: We're here to protect

the citizens of the United States just as much as we are the seat of our government.

So, no one should fear us unless they have ill will in their heart.

1ST LT. RICHARD IDLER, Delaware National Guard: Every Guardsman takes an oath,

and it's to defend the Constitution from enemies, foreign and domestic.

And, as we have seen, sometimes, the enemies are a little closer to home.

NICK SCHIFRIN: For the military, the fear is very close to home.

The Associated Press found that more than 20 Capitol Hill insurrectionists

were current or former members of the U.S. military or of law enforcement.

The FBI and the National Guard are now vetting the Guardsmen securing D.C. for ties to extremists.

And the Guard is providing new training for how to spot anything -- quote -- "not appropriate."

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy spoke to the AP.

RYAN MCCARTHY, U.S. Secretary of the Army: January 6, there were representatives from all of the

services who were at the rally when it started on the Ellipse and then migrated towards the Capitol.

So, the question is, is that all of them? Are there others? We're continually going through the

process and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation.

NICK SCHIFRIN: But a senior defense official tells "PBS NewsHour" the military remains concerned,

because Guard leaders don't know their soldiers well. And

while the FBI will check Guardsmen's names in law enforcement databases,

neither the FBI nor the military have the time to check all soldiers' social media.

Outside of D.C. in state capitals, the threat remains high.

National Guardsmen secured Pennsylvania's seat of government and guarded the base of the state

capitol in Atlanta. That deterred most of yesterday's planned armed protests,

except in Salt Lake City, where a small group did bring their guns to town.

And another small armed group showed up in Lansing,

Michigan, despite a weekend show of force.

ANDY SCHOR, Mayor of Lansing, Michigan: You hope for the best,

you prepare for the worst, and, clearly, we're prepared.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Meanwhile, newly released video from "New Yorker" magazine journalist

Luke Mogelson shows how unprepared the Capitol was for the January 6 siege.

Rioters told police they were following President Trump.

RIOTER: You're outnumbered. There's a (EXPLETIVE

DELETED) million of us out there. And we are listening to Trump, your boss.

RIOTER: We can't be disrespectful.

RIOTER: Yes, don't disrespect..


RIOTER: They can steal an election, but we can't sit in their chairs?


NICK SCHIFRIN: Inside the Senate chamber, insurrectionists argued with each other,

and retired Lieutenant Colonel Larry Brock used a military term for information operations.

LARRY RENDALL BROCK, U.S. Veteran: It's an I.O. war. We can't lose the I.O. war.

RIOTER: We're better than that.


NICK SCHIFRIN: But others took the space less seriously,

and cited senators who questioned the election.

RIOTER: Hawley, Cruz. I think Cruz would want us to do this.

RIOTER: Yes, absolutely.

RIOTER: So, I think we're good.

MAN: Just want to let you guys know, this is, like, the sacredest place.

NICK SCHIFRIN: A lone police officer, severely outnumbered, eventually gets them to leave,

but made no arrests, despite the obvious, ominous threat.

RIOTER: It's only a matter of time. Justice is coming.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Overwhelmed two weeks ago when the military presence was nonexistent,

the city, military, and federal government now hope an unprecedented show of force

keeps the Capitol secure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Nick joins me now.

So, Nick, you have been talking to so many people today. Bottom line, how concerned is the military?

NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes, acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller released a statement saying there was no

specific threat. But, as we reported, the military is very concerned, according to senior officials

I'm talking to, in part because, again, they're not checking these soldiers'

social media, and because commanders don't really know these Guardsmen that well.

They just don't spend that much time with them.

So, to try and mitigate that, there has been additional training instituted for the Guards

as they arrive into D.C. to try and train everyone to look out for insider threats.

But, Judy, we are talking about this as or even after

Guard have arrived in D.C. The independent analysts I talk to say it is simply too late

in a comprehensive way to check whether there is any insider threats.

In an ideal world, this would have done -- been done a long

time ago in a much more comprehensive way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Nick, those independent experts, analysts you have been talking to,

how good a job do they say the military has done searching for extremists in their ranks?

NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes, so what the military says, it tries its best, and it maintains an

awareness of these threats, including right-wing extremists, and that, on the active-duty side,

commanders spend a lot of time with their soldiers, and so they can keep an eye on them.

But the independent analysts point out that the military is not a domestic

intelligence agency. There have been lots of problems in the past. And, frankly,

there were veterans and people connected to the military who took part in the siege.

And so, earlier today, I talked to Heidi Beirich.

She is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

She said the military is not doing well enough and that service members are targets.

HEIDI BEIRICH, Southern Poverty Law Center: Well, extremist groups

are very keen on recruiting active-duty soldiers and veterans into their ranks. They value

the skills and the abilities that these people have learned while in the military.

That goes for white supremacist groups, groups that perhaps want to engage in something like a

race war. They want those skills in their ranks. And in the militia movement, the American militia

movement, folks with a military background are probably the most prized members of the groups.

You also have individuals who are involved in those groups before they

joined the military being encouraged by the extremist groups to get those skills.

NICK SCHIFRIN: So given those attempts, do you believe the military has taken

the idea or the threat of extremists in its ranks seriously in the past?

HEIDI BEIRICH: Unfortunately, I don't. In the military,

there have been fits and starts in dealing with the issue of hate groups in particular.

But the regulations always seem to come after the threat has shown itself. And one of the

big issues we have had in recent years is that the military regulations are not up to

the level where they need to be in a world in which people are radicalized online en masse,

including troops and in which extremist groups are recruiting from them.

And folks in the military themselves know about this. The Military Times has done a series of

polls that show between one-third and one-half of troops in the last four years have seen white

nationalism in the ranks. So, the military is not doing enough to root this problem out right now.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Beirich says that the military does a better job of kicking out gang members,

Judy, than kicking out white supremacists.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Nick, what is it believed that the military could do to address these concerns?

NICK SCHIFRIN: Yes, the answer to that is really fundamental, Judy, and it is the key question.

And the experts say that it starts at the beginning. It needs to start with how the

military recruits. But it also goes all the way to how the military defines the threat itself.

So, here again is Heidi Beirich:

HEIDI BEIRICH: There's quite a few things that could be done here. They need to tighten

screening of recruits when they are coming into the military. Right now, the military doesn't

even have a comprehensive tattoo two database which could show them when someone comes in

from their tattoos that they have been involved in extremist groups.

They need to monitor social media. They need to tighten the regulations to include a ban

on involvement in paramilitary militia groups. That doesn't exist right now.

And members of the different parts of the armed forces who worked in the investigative divisions

didn't even among themselves agree on what they should be looking for. So,

there are a whole host of things that need to happen to fix this problem.

NICK SCHIFRIN: Beirich says the military can take this more seriously, Judy,

and the Biden administration can actually take steps to make this a priority as well.