The Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. (Alex Kent for Tennessee Lookout)
Significant intelligence failures left law enforcement unprepared to respond effectively to the pro-Trump Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol.
That was the conclusion of a report released Tuesday by Democratic U.S. Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, who, in his role as chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led an investigation examining how the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) handled threat analysis in the lead-up to the attack.
There have been 968 people, including at least 23 from Michigan and five from Arkansas, charged for participating in the riot, in which hundreds of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent members of Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election that former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden.
“The intelligence failures in the lead-up to January 6th were not failures to obtain intelligence indicating the potential for violence,” stated the report’s executive summary. “Rather, those agencies failed to fully and accurately assess the severity of the threat identified by that intelligence, and formally disseminate guidance to their law enforcement partners with sufficient urgency and alarm to enable those partners to prepare for the violence that ultimately occurred on January 6th.”
Peters said those failures left frontline officers unprepared for the violent mob that breached the Capitol and attempted to prevent a joint session of Congress from counting the electoral college votes and formalizing the victory of Biden.
“Despite the high volume of tips and online traffic about the potential for violence – some of which the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Office of Intelligence and Analysis were aware of as early as December 2020 – these agencies failed to sound the alarm and share critical intelligence information that could have helped law enforcement better prepare for the events of January 6th, 2021,” said Peters.
“My report shows there was a shocking failure of imagination from these intelligence agencies to take these threats seriously, and there is no question that their failures to effectively analyze and share the threat information contributed to the failures to prevent and respond to the horrific attack that unfolded at the Capitol.”
Peters said he would continue to press for the national security apparatus and intelligence agencies to “learn from their missteps so that an attack of this nature never happens again.”
According to the report, despite having a wealth of intelligence about plans for violence on Jan. 6, the FBI and I&A repeatedly downplayed the threat level and failed to effectively share the intelligence with law enforcement partners.
“FBI issued only two documents specific to January 6th, both of which were issued by Field Offices the night before the attack, contained only limited raw intelligence, and had limited distribution,” it stated. “This investigation found that part of the reason FBI failed to take more action to warn its federal partners and the public was because it failed to seriously consider the possibility that threatened actions would actually be carried out, and it dismissed each individual threat as not credible in isolation but failed to fully consider the totality of threats and violent rhetoric associated with such a contentious event.”
The report also indicated that the FBI and I&A struggled to use what’s known as open source intelligence, or information from published or otherwise publicly available resources.
“For example, an I&A Intelligence Operations Specialist on Dec. 21, 2020, identified online posts indicating “there was going to be [a] mass gathering which could be violent” on January 6th and “discussing the commission of acts of terroristic violence and the violent overthrowal of the United States Government,” stated the report. “However, the analyst alleged that I&A failed to formally document the threats in an Open Source Intelligence Report or to develop a Joint Intelligence Bulletin (JIB) with FBI and potentially the National Counterterrorism Center in time for January 6th, which the analyst stated was needed “to produce an accurate and unbiased report of the threat environment that would be used to fulfill our duty to warn and hopefully prevent any potential attack.”
Finally, the investigation found that multiple federal agencies failed to coordinate to ensure frontline security personnel were prepared to defend the Capitol and then failed to adequately take responsibility for the results.
“Officials disagreed as to which agency was taking the lead role, with Department of Defense (DOD) officials pointing to DOJ as the lead, but DOJ and FBI officials stated that no agency had been designated the lead,” stated the report.
“Officials from other agencies also reported confusion about who was in charge. DHS also did not designate January 6th as a National Special Security Event, which it routinely does for significant events and which would have bolstered security and coordination. Furthermore, when asked about what went wrong on January 6, officials across agencies passed blame, largely pointing to failures at other agencies for what happened.”
The report made several recommendations to ensure that the FBI and I&A address their failures in the lead-up to the attack.
Chief among them was for internal after-action reviews to be conducted on the intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination processes, “to identify, at a minimum, what intelligence they obtained regarding the potential for violence on January 6, what additional information they should have obtained, how they processed the information they obtained, what actions they took in response, and what additional actions the agencies should have taken.”
The report says those reviews should aim to identify necessary changes, and the results shared with relevant congressional committees.
Further, I&A’s mission in domestic intelligence collection and dissemination should be reformed, noting that since its creation by Congress following the 9/11 attacks, there has been no comprehensive review of its mission “despite the shifting threat landscape.”
It was also recommended that the FBI and I&A reassess how they determine the credibility and totality of threats, including those considered non-credible, and determine what is reportable as well as characterize the threat in intelligence products.
“As part of those efforts, the agencies should assess potential biases toward discounting intelligence that indicates an unforeseen or unprecedented attack or event,” states the report.
The report also advocates for Congress to reassert oversight authority over the Executive Branch, which it says has increasingly shielded itself from proper Constitutional scrutiny.
“To fulfill its Constitutional oversight obligations, Congress should consider additional ways to ensure compliance with its investigations and oversight requests, including reassessing the accommodations it grants the Executive Branch,” it states.
Other recommendations include designating Joint Sessions of Congress convened to certify the Presidential election, like the one being conducted on Jan. 6, 2021, as a National Special Security Event (NSSE). It was also suggested that inter-agency coordination be improved for such events and consideration be made for designating a lead federal agency.
Peters said that as chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, he has long pressed the federal government to do more to combat domestic terrorism, including violence by white supremacist and anti-government groups.
In November, he released an investigative report by the committee that found while independent experts and national security officials said white supremacist and anti-government extremist violence was the most significant terrorist threat currently facing the nation, counterterrorism agencies like the FBI and DHS were still not taking adequate steps to effectively address the growing threat.
Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: [email protected]. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.
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