The big unanswered question: Why were so few law-enforcement agents at the Capitol when demonstrations like that are usually heavily policed?
- Multiple European security officials told Insider that President Donald Trump appeared to have tacit support among US federal agencies responsible for securing the Capitol complex in Wednesday's coup attempt.
- Insider is reporting this information because it illustrates the serious repercussions of Wednesday's events: Even if they are mistaken, some among America's international military allies are now willing to give credence to the idea that Trump deliberately tried to violently overturn an election and had help from some federal law-enforcement agents.
- "We train alongside the US federal law enforcement to handle these very matters, and it's obvious that large parts of any successful plan were just ignored," one source told us.
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The supporters of President Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday to stop the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's election victory were attempting a violent coup that multiple European security officials said appeared to have at least tacit support from aspects of the US federal agencies responsible for securing the Capitol complex.
Insider spoke with three officials on Thursday morning: a French police official responsible for public security in a key section of central Paris, and two intelligence officials from NATO countries who directly work in counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations involving the US, terrorism, and Russia.
They said the circumstantial evidence available pointed to what would be openly called a coup attempt in any other nation. None were willing to speak on the record because of the dire nature of the subject.
While they did not furnish evidence that federal agency officials facilitated the chaos, Insider is reporting this information because it illustrates the scale and seriousness of Wednesday's events: America's international military and security allies are now willing to give serious credence to the idea that Trump deliberately tried to violently overturn an election and that some federal law-enforcement agents - by omission or otherwise - facilitated the attempt.
'Today I am briefing my government that we believe with a reasonable level of certainty that Donald Trump attempted a coup'
One NATO source set the stage, using terms more commonly used to describe unrest in developing countries.
"The defeated president gives a speech to a group of supporters where he tells them he was robbed of the election, denounces his own administration's members and party as traitors, and tells his supporters to storm the building where the voting is being held," the NATO intelligence official said.
"The supporters, many dressed in military attire and waving revolutionary-style flags, then storm the building where the federal law-enforcement agencies controlled by the current president do not establish a security cordon, and the protesters quickly overwhelm the last line of police.
"The president then makes a public statement to the supporters attacking the Capitol that he loves them but doesn't really tell them to stop," the official said. "Today I am briefing my government that we believe with a reasonable level of certainty that Donald Trump attempted a coup that failed when the system did not buckle.
"I can't believe this happened."
A law-enforcement official who trains with US forces believes someone interfered with the proper deployment of officers around Congress
The French police official said they believed that an investigation would find that someone interfered with the deployment of additional federal law-enforcement officials on the perimeter of the Capitol complex; the official has direct knowledge of the proper procedures for security of the facility.
The security of Congress is entrusted to the US Capitol Police, a federal agency that answers to Congress.
It is routine for the Capitol Police to coordinate with the federal Secret Service and the Park Police and local police in Washington, DC, before large demonstrations. The National Guard, commanded by the Department of Defense, is often on standby too.
On Wednesday, however, that coordination was late or absent.
'It's obvious that large parts of any successful plan were just ignored'
"You cannot tell me I don't know what they should have done. I can fly to Washington tomorrow and do that job, just as any police official in Washington can fly to Paris and do mine," the official said. The official directs public security in a central Paris police district filled with government buildings and tourist sites.
"These are not subtle principles" for managing demonstrations, "and they transfer to every situation," the official said. "This is why we train alongside the US federal law enforcement to handle these very matters, and it's obvious that large parts of any successful plan were just ignored."
The National Guard, which was deployed heavily to quell the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, did not show up to assist the police until two hours after the action started on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.
Video shows police doing nothing as rioters access the building
One video appeared to show some police officers opening a barrier to allow a group of protesters to get closer to the Capitol dome. Another video showed a police officer allowing a rioter to take a selfie with him inside the Capitol while protesters milled around the building unchecked.
Kim Dine, who was the chief of the Capitol Police from 2012 to 2016, told The Washington Post that he was surprised that the Capitol Police allowed demonstrators on the steps of the Capitol. He said he was also mystified that few rioters were arrested on the spot.
Larry Schaefer, who worked for the Capitol Police for more than 30 years, told ProPublica something similar: "We have a planned, known demonstration that has a propensity for violence in the past and threats to carry weapons - why would you not prepare yourself as we have done in the past?"
The Capitol Police did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
The French police official detailed multiple lapses they believe were systematic:
- Large crowds of protesters needed to be managed far earlier by the police, who instead controlled a scene at the first demonstration Trump addressed, then ignored the crowd as it streamed toward the Capitol.
- "It should have been surrounded, managed, and directed immediately, and that pressure never released."
- Because the crowd was not managed and directed, the official said, the protesters were able to congregate unimpeded around the Capitol, where the next major failure took place.
- "It is unthinkable there was not a strong police cordon on the outskirts of the complex. Fences and barricades are useless without strong police enforcement. This is when you start making arrests, targeting key people that appear violent, anyone who attacks an officer, anyone who breaches the barricade. You have to show that crossing the line will fail and end in arrest."
- "I cannot believe the failure to establish a proper cordon was a mistake. These are very skilled police officials, but they are federal, and that means they ultimately report to the president. This needs to be investigated."
- "When the crowd reached the steps of the building, the situation was over. The police are there to protect the building from terrorist attacks and crime, not a battalion of infantry. That had to be managed from hundreds of meters away unless the police were willing to completely open fire, and I can respect why they were not."
'Thank God it didn't work, because I can't imagine how hard it would be to sanction the US financial system'
The third official, who works in counterintelligence for a NATO member, agreed that the situation could only be seen as a coup attempt, no matter how poorly considered and likely to fail, and said its implications might be too huge to immediately fathom.
"Thank God it didn't work, because I can't imagine how hard it would be to sanction the US financial system," the official said. By sanctions, he means the imposition of the diplomatic, military, and trade blockages that democratic nations usually reserve for dictatorships.
"The broader damage around the world will be extensive in terms of reputation, and that's why Putin doesn't mind at all that Trump lost. He's got to be happy to take his chips and count his winnings, which from the Trump era will be a shockingly quick decline in American prestige and moral high ground.
"Every moment the Americans spend on their own self-inflicted chaos helps China, it helps Putin, and, to a lesser extent, it helps the mini-dictators like [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban, who breathe cynicism about politics, human rights, and democracy as their air," the official said. "They won't miss Trump; they'll be glad to see his drama leave so they can enjoy the poisoned political climate."