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A report published on Sunday raises new concerns about the safety and security of the country’s top elected officials.
In response to mounting concerns about security risks faced by members of Congress, over 50 senators have reportedly been provided with satellite phones for emergency communication, as per sources familiar with the matter cited by CBS News. The devices are among several new security measures being offered to senators by the Senate Sergeant at Arms, who assumed the role shortly after the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, the report added.
The offer of satellite a phone has been extended to all 100 senators, according to reports. CBS News revealed that a minimum of 50 senators have chosen to accept these phones and, as recommended by Senate administrative staff, were advised to keep the devices readily accessible while traveling.
In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee in April, Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson said satellite communication is being provided “to ensure a redundant and secure means of communication during a disruptive event.”
Gibson explained that the satellite phones serve as a security backup in situations where an emergency disrupts communication infrastructure in certain areas of the country. The funding for the satellite airtime required to use these phones will be covered by federal funds, CBS News reported, adding:
A Department of Homeland Security advisory said satellite phones are a tool for responding to and coordinating government services in the case of a “man-made” or natural disaster that wipes out communication.
Gibson has also opened an office “demonstration space” in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building to offer senators and staff an exhibition of new home state office security upgrades. The demonstration room offers exhibitions of “duress buttons,” mail screening devices and safety glass to reduce the risk of attacks.
“Our team provided initial physical security enhancements for 31 offices and improved existing security for 52 others in 2022,” Gibson noted in her April testimony. “Maintaining security systems in good working order is a priority, and to support this effort our team conducted over 622 service calls to maintain, repair, and or test and inspect state office physical security systems in 2022.”
Senate administrators have also offered to provide “stop the bleed” training for lawmakers and staffers to quickly treat injuries and wounds.
During a briefing in April, House Sergeant at Arms William McFarland informed legislators that there has been substantial engagement in a program aimed at enhancing the security of House members’ residential properties.
McFarland further stated that House administrators are actively collaborating with local law enforcement agencies to ensure the safety of members of Congress during events held in their home states and to strengthen security measures for their residences.
“The new satellite phone system is one part of a new security program that includes hardening lawmaker offices and homes and seems geared towards domestic unrest that could threaten other communications networks like cell service,” said a private domestic intelligence firm Forward Observer in its daily subscriber brief on Monday.
In late 2022, Congress approved a spending measure allocating extra funds for hometown security initiatives concerning Congress. The legislation mandated security administrators “enhance member protection including providing a security program for Congressional Leadership, expanding Dignitary Protection Division services and expanding USCP field office presence.” The expansion would extend Capitol Police protection to cities beyond Washington, D.C., as well.
CBS News noted: “Though the U.S. Capitol complex is shielded by a force of nearly 2,000 Capitol police employees, there have been growing concerns about hometown security for members of Congress. A California man was charged in a 2022 attack at the San Francisco home of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”
In addition, police foiled an assassination attempt against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and his family last year.