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Senate investigation argues FBI, DHS officials "downplayed" or failed to properly share warnings of violence on Jan. 6

A scathing new report from Democrats on a Senate panel accuses the FBI of "downplaying" and failing to thoroughly communicate the risks and warnings ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The investigation by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee blamed both FBI officials and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence analysts for misjudging or misreading the risks, sluggishly and passively issuing warnings and "finger pointing" in the aftermath of the tragedy.

A 105-page report issued by committee Democrats Tuesday made comparisons between failures preceding Jan. 6 and those made before the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The report said, "Repeating the 'failure of imagination' that the 9/11 Commission described nearly 20 years earlier, the intelligence processes in advance of January 6th suffered from a bias toward discounting intelligence that indicated an unprecedented event." 

The report accuses intelligence officials of a "struggle to adapt to the new reality that the primary threat to homeland security is now domestic terrorism."  The report said, "FBI and (Homeland Security) intelligence collectors, analysts, and leaders failed to sound the alarm about January 6th in part because they could not conceive that the U.S. Capitol Building would be overrun by rioters."

"Attack essentially planned in plain sight in social media"

"What was shocking is that this attack was essentially planned in plain sight in social media," said Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Sen. Gary Peters. "And yet it seems as if our intelligence agencies completely dropped the ball." 

The committee report said federal officials had multiple pieces of intelligence warning specifically about the risk of a violent attack on the Capitol, but said warnings were downplayed or lost in a sluggish bureaucracy, even as the attack unfolded during the afternoon hours of Jan. 6.

"The investigation, I think, investigates just the sheer volume of intelligence that FBI and [DHS Intelligence and Analysis] received that indicated the potential for violence," Peters added during a briefing with reporters. 

Warnings that appeared to be prescient

The report said federal intelligence detected but did not thoroughly share warnings that appeared to be prescient about some of the plans executed on Jan. 6.  For instance, the committee report said the FBI acknowledged receiving intelligence on Jan. 3, 2021, about a plan to stage armed, quick-reaction forces in Rosslyn, Va.      

Nearly two years later, a jury convicted members of the far-right Oath Keepers of federal charges, after hearing evidence the group had staged a "quick reaction force" in Rosslyn.

Congressional investigators also accuse the FBI of "downplaying" threat intelligence compiled on Jan. 3, 2021, of "a tip about the Proud Boys that stated these men are coming for violence."

Members of the Proud Boys would later be convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Capitol breach.

The committee review also said federal agents were tracking threats and posts about "storming the US Capitol," occupying federal buildings and an increase in traffic to a website with information about the Capitol's tunnel system. 

"This has a huge potential to be a hot mess."

Though the FBI is accused of not thoroughly alerting law enforcement partners about the prospect of a large-scale attack, the report includes an excerpt of a Washington, D.C.-based FBI official's email from 11:25 a.m. on Jan. 5, 2021.  The email said of a call warning about increasing threat reporting, "Please sign onto the call. This has a huge potential to be a hot mess."

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters, Democrat of Michigan, said, "Intelligence agencies misjudged the threat and failed to sound the alarm."   

Peters said the intelligence agencies have not yet shared internal reviews of their own performance preceding the Capitol attack. He added that both DHS and FBI have yet to complete their internal investigations following the Jan. 6 attack. "Why is it taking so long to go through the kind of internal reviews that are necessary?"

The committee's review said FBI officials shared at least two intelligence warnings, one from a field office in New Orleans and another from the field office in Richmond, but the panel found the FBI was also communicating "informally," without a "written product summarizing the threat landscape."  

The panel's findings said the FBI instead opted for phone calls or other informal briefings.  The report said, "The Committee received testimony that indicated that FBI did not issue stark warnings about threats to the Capitol on those partner phone calls."

The panel's report also said DHS  intelligence analysts failed to properly fully share its intelligence about the risk of attack. Peters said, "Even as people were scaling the walls of the U.S. Capitol, DHS analysts were still having trouble determining if the intelligence was a 'reportable threat.'"

The committee report joins a growing list of reviews of failures that contributed to the deadly attack at the Capitol, which led to the deaths of six people, injuries to more than 100 police officers and more than 1,000 arrests. Four police officers who responded to the attack subsequently committed suicide.

Some intelligence officials blamed Capitol Police

The report argues the intelligence officials who failed to fully share warnings have engaged in finger-pointing, blaming the Capitol Police for some of the consequences. It said Justice Department "officials were unambiguous in their judgment that the blame for the failures on January 6th lay squarely with US Capitol Police." DHS officials did the same.   

Capitol Police are quoted in the report casting blame on intelligence officials for failing to properly warn them about the risks they were detecting. The report said former Capitol Police chief Stephen Sund testified, "Although it appears that there were numerous participants from multiple states planning this attack, the entire intelligence community seems to have missed it."

DHS noted that Tuesday's report fell short of reflecting recent departmental changes to address the stopgaps in intelligence sharing. "As Secretary Mayorkas has said, the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was a violent assault on our democracy," DHS spokesperson Angelo Fernández said in a statement to CBS News. "Since the attack, the Department of Homeland Security has strengthened intelligence analysis, information sharing, and operational preparedness to help prevent acts of violence and keep our communities safe." 

Fernández added that since January 2021, DHS has issued more than 130 intelligence products related to domestic violent extremism. 

An FBI spokesperson said in a statement that the bureau is "constantly trying to learn and evaluate what we can do better or differently, and this is especially true of the attack on the U.S. Capitol," adding that since the January 6th attack, the FBI has centralized the flow of information to ensure timely threat notifications to all field offices. 

The report's findings refute FBI Director Christopher Wray's June 2021 congressional testimony, which did not acknowledge the communications failures. 

 "In the weeks and months leading up to electoral certification, the FBI collected and shared intelligence; coordinated and communicated among federal, state, and local law enforcement partners; and positioned federal resources for potential deployment. Through these measures, the FBI worked in close coordination with the U.S. Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington D.C., and other law enforcement partners leading up to the Joint Session of Congress and the planned demonstrations scheduled for January 6, 2021. The FBI and our federal, state, and local partners collected and shared intelligence and relevant public safety-related information in preparation for the various planned events."   

Democratic majority staff relied on "thousands" of requested documents provided by the Justice Department and DHS, according to committee aides, and leveraged published transcripts of interviews conducted by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. 

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