WASHINGTON — Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, released a bipartisan staff report examining the April 15, 2015 Capitol airspace security breach in which Doug Hughes landed a gyrocopter on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol, exposing gaps in our efforts to secure the airspace over Washington, DC, and in investigating and responding to potential threats.
“Despite technological limitations, law enforcement officials had the opportunity to conduct further analysis of Mr. Hughes and his intentions two years before the gyrocopter incident occurred,” said Chairman Johnson.
“As we watched a gyrocopter land in front of the U.S. Capitol building, many of us asked whether current security measures are functioning properly, were the right protocols followed, and whether the agencies charged with protecting this airspace acted appropriately,” said Chairman Johnson. “While a perfect security apparatus is impossible to achieve, law enforcement agencies need to do more to help ensure people such as Mr. Hughes are not able slip through the cracks and carry out unlawful and unsafe plans, especially within or near our nation’s Capital.”
“On April 15, a highly unusual scene played out at Congress’ footsteps when a gyrocopter landed on the western lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Thankfully, no one was harmed. However, the virtually undetected gyrocopter flight through highly restricted airspace drew attention to gaps in security, and led to serious questions about the coordination among the agencies who work to protect the Capitol, the White House, and the highly-restricted airspace above sensitive areas of Washington, DC,” said Ranking Member Carper. “This bipartisan report, generated by the Committee’s majority and the minority staffs, took a much-needed assessment of the gyrocopter incident to identify what agencies did well, both that day and in an investigation of the pilot in 2013. It also examined what needs to change in order to prevent another similar, and possibly more serious, incident from happening in the future. I hope the agencies involved will review this report, its findings, and its recommendations, especially when it comes to improving interagency coordination and communication. I look forward to working with these agencies and their leadership to apply lessons learned in order to ensure the continued safety and security of the protected airspace above our nation’s capital.”
The Committee staff highlighted five findings in its report. The findings are:
(1) During its 2013 investigation into Mr. Hughes, Secret Service did not conduct a follow up interview of Mr. Hughes even though he previously misled Secret Service agents about his ownership of a gyrocopter. Additionally, the Capitol Police did not complete its own independent investigation into Mr. Hughes even though Capitol Police has jurisdiction over the Capitol Complex. Instead, Capitol Police relied heavily on the incomplete information collected by Secret Service and closed its investigation based on that evidence.
(2) Lack of clear responsibility for investigating potential future unauthorized breaches of the Prohibited Area-56 airspace before they occur contributed to breakdowns in communication and coordination among the Secret Service, Capitol Police, and Park Police.
(3) Unlike units within Capitol Police, units within Secret Service responded inadequately to calls from a reporter about whether Mr. Hughes had permission to enter the P-56 airspace.
(4) Technological limitations allowed Mr. Hughes’ aircraft to go nearly undetected on radar.
(5) The Capitol Police’s, Secret Service’s, and Park Police’s processes to notify relevant units of a security breach functioned properly the day of the incident.
Based on the Committee’s fact-finding, the Committee staff made four recommendations in its report. The recommendations are:
(1) Law enforcement agencies with protective interests in the P-56 prohibited area improve communication, coordination, and information-sharing processes between and within agencies.
(2) Law enforcement agencies with protective interests in the P-56 prohibited area consider designating a lead entity in charge of investigating potential future incursions into the P-56 airspace, and report their justification for that designation to Congress.
(3) All agencies responsible for monitoring and defending the P-56 prohibited airspace continue to seek technological solutions for potential gaps in radar coverage that hindered detection of Mr. Hughes’ flight.
(4) Congress should consider increased criminal and/or civil penalties for intentional P-56 incursions in order to deter similar intentional violations in the future.
A copy of the Committee’s staff report can be found here.