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Security Is On High Alert For Inauguration Week Activities

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's talk about the security concerns that Claudia just mentioned. Javed Ali is our next guest, a former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council. He also teaches at the University of Michigan and joins us from Ann Arbor. Good morning.

JAVED ALI: Good morning, Steve. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: How confident are you in the security preparations for Wednesday?

ALI: Steve, that's a really good question. You can never say that - or it's very difficult to say in the world of counterterrorism that we will have perfect security. But based on all the significant steps that have been in place between the Secret Service, the FBI, the National Guard, other state and local - not state but local law enforcement agencies that are going to be sort of bolstering the security presence there. This is a - I mean, this is about as heavy as a security package as one could think for a special event like this. So the hope is that there's enough security in place to respond to any crisis events and that it will also serve as a deterrent for anyone who's thinking about trying to conduct some type of attack or conduct harm to the event.

INSKEEP: Yeah, many layers of security, blocked streets, blocked alleys. And the Army says, by the way, it's checking the background of National Guard troops. What do you think they need to look for?

ALI: Yeah, that seems to have come out over the last 24 hours. I'm not that surprised to see that being reported. I can't speak to the sort of insider's perspective, but my sense is that a measure like that is just another security step that's taken in advance of the inauguration. And based on what happened now almost two weeks ago at the Capitol, this is just another tool that can be used to make sure that people who are going to be in positions of trust for the inauguration or to provide security just have the right background. So I don't - I'm not alarmed by that. I just think it's another prudent step that folks are taking.

INSKEEP: I want to look beyond the inauguration on Wednesday. The New Yorker has published video of people who broke into the Senate chamber on January 6, And in the video, they're stealing documents out of senators' desks. And one of them actually says, quote, "I think Ted Cruz would want us to do this." And they also mentioned Josh Hawley. These are both senators who raised fact-free objections to to a democratic election. There is now an effort to, in some way, ostracize these people who pushed against democracy. Do political leaders need to be ostracized in some way if they pushed against the system?

ALI: Steve, that's another really good question. So one of the things or one of the factors that I believe or I assess that got us to the events of the 6 was this really deepening notion of political polarization in the country that we've seen very accelerated from the beginning of 2020 to where we are now but also combined with that, this extremely high level of disinformation and misinformation and fake news, propaganda, whatever you want to call that phenomena.

And those two things combining were also accentuated by the fact that some of those beliefs and ideas and narratives weren't necessarily sort of resonant in just sort of the fringe elements of society or the Internet. They weren't just being pushed by conspiracy theories. They were being pushed by state and local leaders but also leaders in Washington, members of Congress and then, as we know, in the White House, all the way up to the president. So this whole issue of this political polarization and the disinformation and how that's sort of combining with, you know, members - you know, very senior members of our government, that is a disturbing feature of this environment going forward. And I think it's another reason why this threat is going to persist and endure well past the inauguration.

INSKEEP: I wonder - I mean, we were disturbed by the violence on January 6, of course. Most of us were anyway. But I wonder if we should be clear that that's not the underlying problem. I think about a lot of those protesters, the people who started as protesters and became rioters, attackers on democracy. They thought they were defending democracy in some cases because they'd been fed fantasies. It's hard to believe that so many people would have protested if they were aware that they were attacking democracy. Is falsehood the underlying problem that needs to be attacked here?

ALI: I think, Steve, that's one of the problems. And looking at the people who have been arrested so far or charged or the folks who are under investigation, that's - those are fairly high numbers already. So about 40 arrested, 80 charged, 200 under investigation, according to an ABC News report. And within that, there's this diversity of different views and beliefs and ideas that propelled people to this violence or this disruptive, destructive activity. So we can't, unfortunately, sort of label only one sort of element and say, if we could only just sort of go after the folks in QAnon, we'd have the right solution. This is going to be something that takes a long time to figure out.

INSKEEP: One other thing briefly - the president was kicked off Twitter, and a group called Zignal Labs found the amount of disinformation about election fraud on social media immediately fell by 73%. Is that a successful way to attack the problem?

ALI: Sort of deplatforming sites like that is certainly a problem. But again, a site like Parler that was deplatformed can come back up again. And as of last night, I believe that Parler was back up online. So this is another sort of constant back and forth in the world of tackling disinformation and misinformation.

INSKEEP: Former National Security Council official Javed Ali, thank you very much.

ALI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.