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What are the national security implications of the U.S. Capitol breach?

A laptop stolen from Nancy Pelosi’s office. Papers trashed or missing. Photos taken inside Senate offices. What will Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol mean for U.S. national security? Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, joined Hari Sreenivasan recently to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Juliette Kayyem is a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, and a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School. She joined me recently to talk about the events of this week and the potential consequences for national security.

    Juliette, what are the longer-term security implications of what happened the other day? I mean, now we are hearing that Nancy Pelosi's laptop has been stolen. Again, there might be lots of other things that are missing from different member's offices.

  • Juliette Kayyem:

    So the long term consequences are unknown at this stage. And that's why there has to be a thorough review of why were they so ill-prepared for the preparations, what happened in the building and then what was taken for national security purposes, or was it just someone wanted to take her laptop and threw it out on their way to the airport? We don't know yet.

    And so the idea that somehow we can have an understanding of how bad this was is absurd at this stage. This was a security breach of one of a coequal branch of government, no different than if they had done it at the White House or at the Supreme Court. And it was not just physically threatening, it was threatening to our national security secrets and to basically continuity of government for some period of time.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And when you think about how many times the FBI in the last couple of years and Department of Homeland Security has said, look, white supremacy, for example, we are monitoring these places. We are watching these groups. And this was almost out in the open. I mean, we had articles leading up to this where these groups were talking about exactly what they wanted to accomplish and to think that all of that went by the wayside. When you juxtapose that to how prepared Washington, D.C., was for the Black Lives Matter marches.

  • Juliette Kayyem:

    It is so inexplicable. And I know people think they understand maybe because the police don't like Black Lives Matter or progressive groups, that's why they were so heavy-handed with them. It's inexplicable at this stage and we don't know the answer.

    I will say, this started four years ago. When you actually think about what was going on here, this is the culmination of the language and the organizing that a president has done from his pulpit, Twitter, the Oval Office, statements that he makes, statements that his proxies make, which is to the language of fighting the language of disruption. Right? He wants you to know, he said that's why he is president, was he was going to shake things up.

    That language then became more ominous, I would say, since the election. And people both in the government and people that are just looking at public sources like me were very nervous about what could happen this week. It wasn't a surprise. This wasn't an unplanned event. This wasn't something like an earthquake, right? This was a notice event. So the gap between what everyone knew and the Capitol Police's positioning is inexplicable and something that we have to understand. Is it, was it a question of race? Was it a question of, they thought that the group wouldn't be violent or was it actually really, really bad planning that needs to be addressed?

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    As we speak, again, everything the President says could change in another couple of minutes. But at the moment, the President says he is not going to attend the inauguration. And we're also hearing that there is another march, another rally planned at the same time. I mean, this is a day when we are used to, well, in the old fashioned days, we are used to seeing presidents and their first ladies walk along the motorcade along a massive parade route, go out sometimes, shake hands. Right? And the entire scene is so different now.

  • Juliette Kayyem:

    Yeah. I mean, and it's different for a variety of reasons. One, of course, is Trump and the domestic terrorism that he sort of gives a red carpet to. Right. I mean, essentially he gives oxygen to it. And the fears that the Secret Service, who are running the security event that is run out of the Secret Service for the inauguration, the concerns that they will have of an elevated threat.

    So when I did transition many, many years ago, we were worried about foreign countries and whether they were going to be attacks from foreign countries. The threat is inside the house. In fact, it's down the street. So I've been struggling all morning to figure out if there's a German word for something that is both petty but good. Right? I think– I think the President not going to the inauguration is petty and part of his personality. I actually think that in the end it will decrease the security and safety threat because his people won't think that they're going to see him. He won't be able to say anything. The orientation will be towards the new, which I think would be very helpful in terms of minimizing risk, not going to get it to zero minimizing risk.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now we are talking about the President leaving the office. But Trumpism doesn't end with Joe Biden's inauguration.

  • Juliette Kayyem:

    That's exactly right. So I often ask myself sort of where does the hate go? I have for the last couple of years been treating this part of Trumpism, the violent MAGA-ism as akin to terrorism that the President uses his bully pulpit, uses the techniques of something we call stochastic terrorism, which is just simply he's elevating the likelihood of random violence. Right. So he says things like "Liberate Michigan," and rational people look at that and they're going, I wonder what he means by that. Right? Well, the people who are radicalized know exactly what he means by that. And then they plan events. And this is exactly what he did for this week.

    So where does that go? So it goes a couple places. One is, we have to anticipate an elevated threat environment in the first couple months, years of the Biden administration, because there are going to be people who feel like the presidency was stolen from them, from their guy. And how do you stop that? You prosecute. You just have these investigations. You publicly arrest. You do all the things that make the group feel like they're under siege. So you just want them to be paranoid–that means that they won't be able to plan things rather than them feeling that the President is on their side.

    But I also want people to be really hopeful, too, about what happens to the, hey, we are a divided country. But the division does not mean half the country is going to take up arms. In fact, the size of these rallies has not been crazy big. It was violent, but it wasn't crazy big.

    Terrorist organizations and those who elicit domestic terrorism thrives on a sense of acceptance, on a sense of tolerance and not being shamed. And I know there is a lot of discussion about understanding each other and I get that. But for the small group of Americans who believe it is their right to take up arms against other Americans, we don't need to understand them. We need to shame them. We need them to understand and others that that sense of, you know, the sense that they can decide what American democracy is, is actually wrong and not acceptable.

    The President has spent and his proxies, and you've seen a little bit in the Senate recently, has spent four years not shaming. So when you think about ideologies that, bad ideologies, racism or even Nazism, they didn't die. They existed past World War II or they exist past the Civil Rights movement. But they get shamed. And I think collectively, but certainly with different leadership, that shaming will begin again. And that is very likely. It's not going to end it, but very likely to make these kinds of opinions and these kinds of behaviors unacceptable again, rather than having a White House that from all appearances, at least the morning of the historic events, was cheering on and dancing to images of the Capitol being– being looted.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Juliette Kayyem, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Juliette Kayyem:

    Thank you.

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