On January 6, as rioters began storming the US Capitol, Keith McFaden was at work, getting updates in the same way plenty of other Americans were getting updates: from someone with access to live TV.
“My wife was texting me what she was seeing on the news,” he said.
“She was the first person to tell me that there was a shooting in the Capitol, and I was like, ‘Really? Are you serious?'”
Mr McFaden wasn’t reading these messages at a desk. He was inside the Capitol complex, one of the 2300 members of the Capitol Police, a $US460 million force tasked with protecting members of Congress and their staff.
He says his wife was getting better updates than he was.
Mr McFaden retired in mid-January, as he’d been planning for months, following 27 years of service.
Now free to speak, he’s one of the few figures shedding light how a few thousand protesters, angered by a presidential election outcome, succeeded in breaching what many Americans expected to be a fortress.
Seven weeks after the incident, clear points of failure are coming into focus, including intelligence sharing, confusion over the chain of command and poor leadership.
“We definitely went into this situation not well prepared,” Mr McFaden said.
“Any police officer who tells you they weren’t scared was not there. You were scared not only for your life, but for the lives of your brothers and sisters next to you. It didn’t matter what badge you wore.
“And we lost three officers.
“There has to be some drastic changes made.”
Security leaders did not warn officers of violence
US media began reporting an increased threat of violence in the days leading up to the riot, but Mr McFaden said the Capitol Police officers received “very, very little” information from their police leadership.
A spokesperson from the Capitol Police had not replied to the ABC’s request for comment at the time of publication.
Former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, who resigned in response to the riots, said in a US Senate hearing this week that the force depends on intelligence reports from 18 federal agencies.
He said the reports gave the Capitol security officials the impression the protest would be similar in size and behaviour to previous pro-Trump demonstrations in Washington DC.
“None of the intelligence that we received predicted what occurred,” Mr Sund said.
“We properly planned for a mass demonstration with possible violence. What we got was a military-style coordinated assault.”
Yet, according to a Washington Post report cited by senators, an FBI alert on the eve of the riot warned explicitly of violence, providing two key reasons why this was no routine threat.
First, it was not just a rally. Some protesters clearly intended to overturn the election results, and January 6 was the day those results were due to be certified by Congress.
Social media posts named specific members of Congress as targets for capture.
Second, it was not solely a discussion about violence, but involved active efforts to organise it, posting floor plans of the Capitol building, coordinating caravans for militia groups and calling for attendees to dress for battle.
The FBI sent their alert to all Capitol command staff, according to Post, but Mr Sund and other security leaders said they did not see the memo in time.
Even so, Mr Sund was concerned enough by what he was hearing to request National Guard assistance on January 4, two days before the riot.
Senators at the hearing learned there were conflicting views among the Capitol security leadership about the necessity of the troops.
Fumbled calls for assistance highlight bureaucratic failures
Brian Higgins, a public safety scholar and global consultant, explained that “even with the best intelligence and planning, emergencies can still happen”.
“What we saw at the Capitol that day represented a complete breakdown of communication. You should still have the ability to make decisions on the fly.”
Former chief Sund said he again requested assistance from the National Guard as the rioters began pushing through the metal barricades.
Confusion over the immediacy of the request and the chain of command for approval meant it took nearly two hours to reach approval.
The first batch of National Guard troops, 154 in total, arrived at the Capitol building just after 5pm — more than four hours after Mr Sund says he made his request.
By nightfall, more than 1,700 additional officers from 18 federal agencies had arrived on the scene and the entire DC National Guard had been activated.
Higgins stressed the irresponsibility of being a security outfit without a clear understanding of its own procedures.
“Even without a full-scale exercise, this was something they could’ve easily talked through,” he said. “How did they not know the steps?”
Officers on scene were outnumbered and overwhelmed
Some rioters came armed with bear spray, pepper spray, hockey sticks, baseball bats, metal flag poles, guns and tasers.
They wore gas masks, bulletproof vests and military-style helmets. They coordinated with hand signals and radios.
The night before, rioters planted pipe bombs at two nearby locations, in what police believe were attempts to divert officers away from defending the Capitol the next day.
Retired officer Keith McFaden said only a very small number of Capitol Police officers — the “civil disturbance units” — were trained and equipped to deal with extremists.
Mr McFaden himself was armed with a gun, a collapsible baton and a can of pepper spray. His training for unrest had been “practically non-existent” in the last few years, he said.
Former chief Sund defended the Capitol Police’s tactical training exercises, but admitted there was no plan for “violent insurrections of a thousand people”.
According to an investigation from USA Today, the agency bulked up their military-style response capabilities in 2017, spending more than $US10 million in six months on tactical gear, digital infrastructure, controlled explosives and ammunition.
Mr McFaden said that the equipment he had access to was “outdated,” and as a vice-chair on the Capitol Police union’s Labour Committee, he had long been telling his commanders that officers did not feel prepared.
“I can’t tell you how many times we went into executive meetings requesting contingency plans, asking for the what if’s. The common answer we always received was ‘it’s a national security issue. We have contingency plans in place, and you’ll be advised when they occur,'” he said.
More than 130 officers were injured
Mr McFaden described what it was like to defend the Capitol rotunda that day.
“As soon as you walked in, you could smell the pepper spray, the tear gas, the fire extinguishers in the air. It was just chaos. There were people everywhere,” he said.
Every 30 minutes he was firing off texts to his wife — as simple as “I’m ok” — who in turn, shared the updates with friends and family watching, terrified, as the situation grew more violent.
“I got pepper-sprayed. I got bear-maced. I got hit in the knee a few times, accidentally, with batons,” Mr McFaden said.
“It was a battle. It felt like a battle.”
Between the DC police and Capitol Police, more than 130 officers were injured. One officer died at a hospital the next day. Two officers have since taken their own lives.
Officers with the Capitol Police Union issued an overwhelming vote of no confidence in the force’s leadership last week.
‘They’ve opened the floodgates to any kind of terrorism’
Mr McFaden says morale among the officers he speaks with is “very low,” especially as details about the riot continue to drip out.
At least six Capitol Police officers have been suspended without pay and 29 more have been placed under internal investigation amid reports of encouraging or assisting the rioters.
More than 268 people, most of them protesters, have been charged in connection to the riot so far.
A broader Senate investigation is underway, with a slew of hearings on the schedule. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also announced earlier this month that the attack would be explored by an independent, September 11-style commission.
Mr McFaden says watching this unfold from retirement almost fills him with regret, like he “left something unfinished”.
Like other security officials, members of Congress and everyday Americans, he worries the risk is still present.
“Not just with domestic stuff. It feels like they’ve opened the floodgates to any kind of international terrorism,” he said.
More than 5,000 National Guard troops remain stationed in DC. Temporary metal fencing, barbed wire and concrete barricades still line the Capitol’s perimeter.
US media reports warn there is already another protest planned at the Capitol next week, on March 4, the day believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory believe a defeated Donald Trump will be inaugurated again as President of the United States.