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FBI Is Vetting National Guard Troops Guarding Washington

NOEL KING, HOST:

There are 25,000 National Guard troops in Washington, D.C., to secure Joe Biden's inauguration. By way of comparison, there were 8,000 at President Trump's. Authorities at the Capitol are on high alert. Among their concerns, a remarkable one - the possibility of an insider attack, a threat from service members. The FBI is vetting all of the National Guard troops who have come to the city. With me now, Lieutenant General Marc Sasseville, who is vice chief of the National Guard Bureau. Good morning to you, sir.

MARC SASSEVILLE: Good morning, Noel. Thank you for having me.

KING: We're happy to have you. Why are National Guard troops being vetted before the inauguration?

SASSEVILLE: So let me start that by making sure that everybody understands our - there is no room for extremism in our ranks. I don't think I have to say that, but I will anyway. All the men and women that have joined the National Guard have a deep desire to serve, and they're proud of their service. The kind of vetting that's actually happening now is routine for inaugurations. I'm a D.C. guardsman myself. I've been in about four when I was still in the unit. In every one of these, there's been an extra level of security. So this is not something that's unusual for these types of events.

And so we've asked to partner with our - with the FBI. They're one of a handful of our partners here for this event, obviously. And so we're doing an extra level of scrutiny to make sure that we have that extra layer of protection. We don't have any signaling or indications that there is a problem, but we just want to be on the safe side. And as the 25,000 soldiers and airmen come in, like you said - that happened last night. The final batch is here, if you will, at the armory when they in-process. And they're getting an extra reminder to - if you see something, say something and refer that up to the chain of command.

But routinely, I'd like to also mention that we have standing procedures. And it's not just for inaugurations. It's a day-to-day process that we go through with our adjutants general in the states to see if there's any concerns. And if there are, they're flagged to he or she, and the adjutant general will conduct an investigation or an inquiry. And if the situation warrants it, then we refer to the FBI.

KING: Can you describe how...

SASSEVILLE: So this isn't...

KING: Yes. It sounds like what you're saying is you are not seeing, at this time, any added risk of an inside attack. Vetting is normal. There will be some amount of extra vetting this year given the circumstances. Can you describe how the vetting works? What actually happens? What are you looking for?

SASSEVILLE: Well, so I'd have to refer you to the FBI for the specifics. I'm not sure exactly what it is that they do. But they, on behalf - on our behalf, they are going through that and looking at, I presume, the databases. But I have to refer you to them for exactly what it is that they're looking for.

KING: OK.

SASSEVILLE: And - yeah.

KING: I was walking in the park near my house the other day - yesterday, in fact - and I saw several National Guardsmen. And it made me wonder - I mean, it's not a familiar sight in Washington, D.C., not in the neighborhood where I live. Could you describe how the National Guard is being equipped to keep this inauguration secure?

SASSEVILLE: So that's a great question. We have several - it depends on the mission. Again, we are here in support of law enforcement. And so the equipment depends on the mission that we've been asked to do. And so we've coordinated very closely with all of our partners - that's Metro PD, Capitol Police, Park Police, Secret Service. And we've - I've seen the plan. It's a good plan.

They've got a handful of missions that they've asked us to do. And depending upon exactly what it is that we're doing, we will be equipped. So you'll see some folks with what we call, you know, the civil disturbance gear, which is the helmet and the shields. And you saw some of them on TV recently. And then there'll be some soldiers and airmen with weapons, and then there'll be some without weapons. So it really depends on what we're being asked to do.

KING: And what are they prepared for in general, and how is that different this year given what happened at the Capitol on January 6?

SASSEVILLE: So what we're - we're prepared for the worst and expecting the best. And we're closely aligned with, again, the FBI and law enforcement to understand if there's any - where the disturbances might come from and if anybody wants to have unlawful protest. So that's really what we're keeping an eye out for. And our missions are, across the board, security, crowd control, traffic control and several other supporting efforts. But we hope for - we're hoping for a peaceful transition of political authority on the 20, and hopefully everything goes well.

KING: In the seconds we have left, may I ask when does everyone go home?

SASSEVILLE: Well, that's a great question. It'll be conditions-based. I think we have to wait and see. And when we're no longer needed and no longer requested by the authorities, we will leave here in a expeditious manner or as directed.

KING: All right. Lieutenant General Marc Sasseville, vice chief of the National Guard Bureau. Thank you, sir.

SASSEVILLE: Absolutely. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.