[ISN] Spies on the Hill: Former Capitol Police Chief Gainer Dishes About Secret Intel Unit
isn at c4i.org
Thu Jun 8 05:03:38 EDT 2006
By Jeff Stein
June 2, 2006
No self-respecting federal agency goes without its own intelligence
service these days, and the U.S. Capitol Police is no exception.
The Capitol Police have a little-known intelligence unit that takes up
a whole floor of its seven-story, century-old headquarters at First
and D Streets Northeast, according to its just-retired police chief.
Terrance W. Gainer, who turned in his badge, gun and police-issued
Blackberry two months ago after four years of occasionally rough times
with protesters and headstrong lawmakers, says his unit collaborated
closely with the CIA and the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force, and
had liaison officers at most of the the 16 spy agencies that make of
the U.S. intelligence community.
Gainer also says his intelligence unit - fewer than 50 in a 600-strong
corps, he indicated - often swept congressional hearing rooms and
offices for secret electronic listening devices and fielded
plainclothes officers to see who might be scouting the facilities for
a terrorist attack.
"We are a very, very full-service police department, and know for
certain that the goal we have as counterterrorism police is stopping
an attack before it starts," Gainer says.
The intelligence unit's head, Deputy Chief Mike Jarboe, could not be
reached for comment on the Capitol Police's counterintelligence and
"I'm going to guess they're not going to be very talkative," Gainer
said in the first of two interviews over the past few weeks." As a
rule, I have a different philosophy on the press, as some might
suspect, and it got me in trouble with some of the House members.
"I think there ought to be a little open dialog," said Gainer, who was
chief of the Illinois state police before coming to Washington in
1998, "and I don't like to deny that which is obvious.
"I think in some respects you want our enemy to know that we are
capable, but you don't want them to know the specifics of our
capabilities. . . . And that's always a fine line."
Every morning at 8:45, Gainer says he, his top officers and delegates
from the House and Senate sergeant at arms offices gathered for an
intelligence briefing in "a secure location" that he would not
That facility, as well as an area in Capitol Police headquarters, had
a so-called Secure Compartmented Intelligence Facility, or SCIF, that
prevented hostile intelligence agencies from listening in on
conversations, Gainer said.
"Our intel people would talk about threats picked up by other intel
agencies, We'd also talk about major hearings, dignitary visits to the
Hill, and so on."
At least twice a month, and sometimes weekly, the Capitol Police
intelligence unit and senior commanders got briefings from the CIA and
FBI in the Hill's SCIF.
"We had some 'holy cow' moments," Gainer said, declining to provide
details. But overall, "It would be rare, in that kind of meeting, that
I would learn something I hadn't already been briefed on."
As for finding "bugs" in Capitol facilities, Gainer would only say, "I
wouldn't comment on that, but I will tell you this, that we feel
comfortable with the meetings that are conducted in there and our
Gainer also revealed this little-known detail: Capitol Police carry
out what he calls "counterintelligence" activities.
"It's not putting people under cover to develop informants. We don't
do that," he said.
"We have plainclothes officers who go out and do counterintelligence
work. We're always trying to figure out what the bad guys are trying
to figure out in watching us or observing what we do."
In the spy trade, counterintelligence usually means penetrating the
opposition's spy service and looking for moles within its own.
But that's not what Capitol Police "special agents" - a designation
Gainer said he bestowed on his intelligence specialists for its
"cachet" - do, the retired chief says.
"Counterintelligence, from our perspective," Gainer explains, "is very
limited in scope. It might be something as simple as, during the State
of the Union address or the inauguration, having people out watching
"So we're looking at people who are watching us. If we got a phony
call on a suspicious package, the terrorists might be watching to see
how we respond - how many units, how many people, how we lay ourselves
out. So we have people in plainclothes looking at the lookers. And we
might decide to talk to someone who's doing some taping, we might tape
people who are taping us, and cross-reference that with what's going
on in other jurisdictions."
In the investigation of last summer's London subway and bus bombings,
authorities "captured tapes that showed different places in D.C. and
on the Hill," said Gainer, 58. "Maybe it was pre-operational stuff."
But the Capitol Police's intelligence unit's purview isn't necessarily
confined to Capitol Hill, he said.
All 535 members of Congress "and their families" are under the Capitol
Police's protective wing.
"We don't go out to their home towns, but our responsibility extends
to where those men and women are, and their families. So either we or
those local police departments stay on top of what's going on."
"If there's something that is of greater scope than our area then we
work with the the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Forces," he says.
And the intel unit has "connections in each of the the states, with
the local FBI field office, or places like L.A., New York, Chicago -
they all have intelligence squads."
It works the other way, too, Gainer said, with threats against members
of Congress relayed quickly to Capitol Police intelligence. It wasn't
always that way. Now the department's problem is information overload.
"I think the biggest concern we have now is everybody is sharing so
much because no one wants to be accused of not sharing. We would have
a daily intel briefing telling us what was going on in the world, and
sometimes you would say, 'Why in the world are we being told this,
because it's laughable.'"
"They might lay out a lot of information and then say the person
giving this to us is unreliable, has given us bad information in the
past and is crazy. And we'd go, 'then why share it with us?'"
Today, he says, relations with the CIA, FBI and other intelligence
agencies are tight. During the CIA and FBI briefings, there's a lot of
unprecedented give and take with Capitol Police analysts, many of whom
are drawn from the military intelligence services. Those who aren't
are sent to the military intelligence schools and the FBI for
training, Gainer said.
"At the end of those briefs, the FBI and CIA would give more details
and answer your questions. In other words, they would let those
'intellectual' discussions go on. They might say, 'This is our read of
this bit of intelligence, give us yours,' " Gainer says.
"Sometimes our analytical people would write reports that ran counter
to [theirs], which was the accumulated intel from 18 agencies. Our
guys would write theirs from our perspective and say, 'Why couldn't it
Despite the new collaboration between the Capitol Police and federal
spy agencies, along with bag checks, floating security units, New
Jersey barriers and anthrax mail sniffers, a determined terrorist can
probably get through, Gainer volunteered.
"Because it's an open campus, someone can ride a bus up there - but
not a truck - a bike with saddlebags on us. That presents a challenge.
But our concern was the smaller events. Working with our federal
intelligence agency partners, we think we have a pretty good handle on
the potential for our adversaries to do big stuff."
"A 9/11, a nuclear attack, a dirty bomb - all those are possible," he
But the Capitol is much better protected than when he arrived, he
maintained, despite such panicky moments as the "shooting" in the
Longworth House Office Building garage last week that shook the whole
city but most likely was a construction crew dropping pipes.
"Between us and some of the other federal brethren, I feel we have a
pretty good handle on what's in the air," Gainer said, "and which way
the wind is blowing. . . ."
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