Leon Panetta: Serious Questions Surrounding Inauguration Security

It is a “serious question” whether security officials are prepared for “unexpected trouble” at next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, as the threat of domestic terrorism was underestimated before the recent violent attacks at the Capitol, former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Friday. 

“There’s no question, Savannah, that Jan. 6 was a tragic failure of security at the Capitol, and that the size of the threat — the terrorist threat that we’re dealing with was underestimated,” Panetta told NBC “Today” anchor Savannah Guthrie. “Forces were not there to confront the problem of an attack.”

Now, the intelligence and security agencies are better-prepared for expected trouble, but the nature of the threat remains that many of the people who were involved in the Jan. 6 attack were on the FBI watch list, and they are terrorists, said Panetta.

“These are white supremacists. These are Nazi groups. These are QAnon conspiratorial groups,” said Panetta. “They’re terrorists. I’ve dealt with terrorists, foreign and domestic.”

And as terrorists, “they’re not interested in any kind of peaceful protest,” said Panetta. “They’re interested in chaos and creating chaos, and creating disruption. And for that reason, I think they have to be dealt with. Not just as individuals seeking to conduct protests, but individuals seeking to undermine our democracy.”

Panetta, as a former member of Congress, also said he fears the growing sense of dysfunction is a danger to democracy.

“In our system of government, there are different views that are part of what our democracy is all about,” he said. “The key to protecting our democracy is to respect one another’s views and to listen to one another, and to respect one another in terms of their ability to understand the issues that they’re dealing with.”

But that has been lost in Washington, D.C., in recent years, he said. 

“The real test is going to be whether or not we’re going to allow that dysfunction to consume us, and, in many ways, play into the hands of the terrorists who are interested in undermining our democracy,” he added.  

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