It is not clear that any of these methods would have prevent Saturday's mass shooting. A police officer, for example, might have been reluctant to return fire if the assailant emerged from a crowd of innocents.
Chris Falkenberg, a former Secret Secret agent who now runs a private-security firm that has protected politicians and celebrities (including Martha Stewart), said that proactive threat assessment is the "most efficient and cost-effective way of reducing this threat." It's the Capitol Police's responsibility, he said, to brief members and their Washington and district staffers on the type of communications from constituents that could be dangerous. The follow-up is just as important.
The Secret Service, which is responsible for protecting about 20 executive-branch officials, former presidents, and members of their families - and also foreign heads of state and embassies in the U.S. - is able to devote significant resources to threat assessment because its agents are spread across the country and because of the relatively small number of people in their charge. "You can't do that for 535 members of Congress," Falkenberg said.
When the Capitol Police receives a threat, officers regularly check it against databases kept by the Secret Service and other agencies, officials said, and information interoperability isn't a problem.
"USCP maintains several liaison positions within the intelligence community (i.e.: FBI, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Homeland Security Department) enabling us to share and receive intelligence information," said Kimberly Schneider, the Capitol Police spokesperson.
But counting threats, according to a veteran of protective threat assessments who is still in government, can't take the place of a process that treats a threat "like a living document."
"It takes into account a person's visibility in the community, where they live, when they travel, whether the interests expressed are of a threatening nature. And it's open and constantly being revised," this official said. The Secret Service, for example, has dozens of field offices across the country, and agents monitor threats dynamically. It is not usual, for example, for an agent to take someone who is deemed to be a threat to the president to a movie the afternoon that the president visits.
A more efficient system for analyzing, processing, and diffusing threats requires personnel and training that the Capitol Police's threat desk is unlikely to acquire - and, indeed, is at variance with protecting free expression.
After Capitol Police officers complete their basic law-enforcement training, they receive extensive training in executive protection at a specialized facility in Maryland near Andrews Air Force Base. Officers are often so well trained that they find themselves in demand by other agencies, who snap them up quickly, Bowen said.
Yochi J. Dreazen contributed