The Capitol Hill police have arrested at least 80 people for rioting at the Capitol Wednesday. It could be a long time – and maybe never – before we know exactly how many people entered the Capitol building and whether any operatives from U.S. adversaries were there.
Katrina Mulligan, former National Security Policy Analyst at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the possibility that a bad actor could have gotten into the Capitol building is “more than plausible” and “has almost certainly occurred.”
There are over 100,000 foreign intelligence officials believed to be living in the Washington, D.C. area, Mulligan said, and the events that transpired Wednesday are “exactly the kind of situation that a foreign intelligence official would be seeking to exploit for these sorts of purposes.”
Tom Warrick, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Counterterrorism Policy, said it is important for there to be a public accounting of the damage that was done from the riots. Congress itself should closely examine what happened, and the intelligence and security agencies of the U.S. government need to make sure a similar event cannot happen in the future.
Warrick explained that there are a number of security measures protecting more sensitive systems on the Capitol grounds. However, adversaries “don’t have to go after the most classified secrets – they can go after cell phones, laptops, papers left on desks as people are evacuated,” Warrick explained.
“Adversaries can pick up things that are not, in and of themselves, highly classified and put together a very highly classified picture of what the people in the Congress are thinking, doing and especially planning,” said Warrick. That knowledge is in high demand from both adversaries and others.
Mulligan pointed out that in addition to what could have been stolen while people were actually in the chamber, another concern is what they may have installed on systems. Warrick said there is no way to determine at some point in the future that all the systems are secure again.
“This shows why it’s important for the executive branch to really have a handle on civilian network cybersecurity,” Warrick said. He emphasized that the strongest possible measures must be put in place now, not only to monitor groups that could cause a demonstration like this, but also to ensure no one can obtain access to any of these systems in any future incident.
Mulligan would recommend replacing computer systems across the Congress. She said those kind of costs add to the unacceptable costs of losses of life and loss of confidence in our democracy.