Just days out from President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, security threats continue to derail a peaceful transition of power. The FBI has warned armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols and in Washington DC in the days leading up to Joe Biden’s inauguration day on January 20.
Authorities are increasing their security presence following last week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol, which left five people dead, including a Capitol police officer.
Ahead of inauguration day, ICON spoke with Chris Swecker, a former FBI Assistant Director who spent more than twenty-four years with the Bureau before retiring in 2006.
In that time he was responsible for the dismantlement of a Hizballah terror cell in Charlotte, the investigation and capture of Eric Robert Rudolph, while also spending three months as the on-scene commander of the FBI operations in Iraq.
Swecker has since moved into private security though he continues to work closely with U.S. government agencies and official as a consultant.
ICON: How seriously would the FBI be taking these threats in the lead up to Joe Biden’s inauguration?
CHRIS SWECKER: I don’t want to give up any sources, but I’ll say this, they’re taking potential security concerns very seriously. Every FBI field officer has been shifted to high alert, so they’re ready to respond. I am concerned that they’re committing so many resources to inauguration day and domestic terrorism, that we’re now leaving ourselves exposed to international terrorist attacks, they can’t take their eye off the ball.
ICON: Are you able to talk to the current mood inside the FBI as inauguration gets closer?
CS: They’re hearing alot of chatter online about individual threats, and they’re looking to assess the legitimacy of the intent, so much of it is just talk. As far as I’m told, there isn’t intelligence that suggests a group will be raiding the Capitol. As of 3 pm this afternoon, there isn’t any indication just yet that organised marauding militia groups will show up. That’s not to say that you won’t have some small cells showing up and looking to rile up the crowd.
ICON: What’s your take on the attacks at the Capitol. Pre-emptive?
CS: They’re getting more information that the groups who showed up had prior intent. Initially, I thought it was small individual packs, groups of 3 or 4, but now it sounds far more organised. The FBI has gathered intel on groups who were planning together online, and it seems like it was a coordinated attack.
We may see some pretty interesting conspiracy indictments coming up in the next few weeks when charges for the Capitol attack are laid.
ICON: The National Mall is set to close to the public ahead of the inauguration.
CS: Yeah I used to run that mall when I was at FBI headquarters I would run it every day, down the national mall, and up around the Capitol Building. It was a nice place to go for a run, very inspiring. Sad to see that it will be closed for the inauguration, but law enforcement was left with no choice following the Capitol attacks.
ICON: You have said the authorities were not prepared for the violence at the Capitol. That it was obvious what was going to happen, so there’s no reason why they didn’t plan. Are they doing enough now for the inauguration?
CS: They were caught flat-footed last week, but the inauguration is designated a level one national security event, which is the highest threat level.
ICON: What are your fears for Inauguration Day?
CS: I don’t have any fears of the Capitol inner perimeter. I was told they’re already restricting travel into the district. So you’re going to have a very secure inner perimeter which is where Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 47th U.S. President. The Secret Service is in charge of the inner permanent because their main aim is to protect the president. Then you’ll have a secure second perimeter that will be staffed with local enforcement.
ICON: How many officers do you expect to be on the ground in Washington, DC?
CS: They’ve been planning this for a year, and now they have an extra 25,000 National guard troops. It will be suicidal to try and breach that inner perimeter. I was told that the National Guard troops would have live ammunition. So I think you will see serious crowd control.
ICON: What remains the most significant threat then?
CS: The political discourse of the last 18 months has resulted in domestic terrorist groups’ re-emergence in the United States, which we saw during the Capitol attack. So that’s the big concern for January 20. I don’t think we’ll see trouble in D.C., I think it’ll be in the state capitals, it’ll be more likely to see situations in other cities where right-wing groups clash with left-wing groups as we saw in Charlottesville, and that’s when it gets really volatile, and these ae flash incidents so they’re hard to police.