The U.S. Capitol Police ordered an immediate evacuation of the Capitol grounds early Wednesday evening over an aircraft that posed a “probable threat” to the complex. Within a half hour, the threat turned out to be bureaucratic incompetence.
“The Capitol was evacuated out of an abundance of caution this evening,” the department wrote on Twitter.
The aircraft provoking the brief evacuation turned out to be an Army parachute team for Wednesday’s baseball game at Nationals Park for Military Appreciation Day. Washington Examiner National Security Reporter Tom Rogan found the aircraft on radar moments after the Capitol alert. Add a quick online search, and it became clear the plane was connected to the local sporting event honoring service members.
Meanwhile, the Capitol Police have been too busy spying on congressional lawmakers, their staff, and constituents who petition their government.
In January, Politico revealed Capitol surveillance began to stretch far beyond opening backpacks and purses upon entry to the visitors’ center. The department’s intelligence unit “quietly” launched an initiative to scrutinize the backgrounds, records, and social media of those who meet with members of Congress after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, including staff.
“Analysts were also directed to probe the ownership of buildings where members of Congress held their meetings,” the paper reported. Public and private off-campus visits now come under a government microscope of the agency tasked with security for the Capitol building.
Beyond foreign ownership, analysts were directed to provide more information about the buildings where members of Congress held meetings. The intelligence division leadership asked analysts to search for information about how many rooms were in these buildings, what amenities were available, and even their last remodeling.
Analysts also were tasked with sifting through tax and real estate records to find out who owned the properties that lawmakers visited. For example, the unit scrutinized a meeting that Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) held with donors in a private home. Analysts eyed the homeowner’s and attendees’ social media accounts, and looked for any foreign contacts they had.
That’s no small operation for an agency that failed to prepare for the Jan. 6 protests House Democrats have exploited to execute a state-sponsored persecution of their political opponents.
In February, Federalist reporting revealed the surveillance provoked an investigation from the agency’s inspector general. Capitol Police reportedly broke into Texas Republican Rep. Troy Nehls’ office and took a picture of a whiteboard detailing “suspicious writings mentioning body armor,” according to a formal police report.
Officers later returned to interrogate staff over what turned out to be legislative planning notes. Days before the officers entered Nehls’ office, the Washington Post published a story on a federal contractor in Texas who defrauded the government with Chinese-made body armor instead of armor domestically produced.
Nehls, a former Texas sheriff, told The Federalist the whiteboard highlighted issues with the foreign-manufactured armor.
“If Capitol Police leadership had spent as much time preparing for January 6 as they spent investigating my whiteboard, the January 6 riot never would have happened,” Nehls said. It’s also conceivable the Capitol Police would have escaped the embarrassing evacuation call issued Wednesday.
“When I was a patrol officer responding to a call, I didn’t have the time or authority to go rifling through someone’s personal papers. There are serious 4th Amendment, constitutional issues at play here,” Nehls added.
Republican lawmakers have demanded answers about the Capitol Police’s new surveillance apparatus working at the behest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
On Tuesday, Politico published comments from attorney Dan Gebhardt, who “represents five people who worked in the department’s intelligence division in January of 2021” with whistleblower concerns about the agency’s practices undermining the First Amendment.
Among the allegations from Gebhardt’s clients: Capitol Police intelligence analysts were directed to scrutinize a religious leader who officiated a funeral that a member of Congress attended. Analysts were also directed to ‘conduct research’ on the relatives of members of Congress as part of their security work, according to his statement. And they didn’t like it.