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Senate report dings FBI, DHS for not heeding warnings about Jan. 6

Investigation finds agencies did not sound the alarm for other law enforcement agencies

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A new Senate report sharply criticizes the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis for not acting on information about the potential for violence leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., on Tuesday released an investigation prepared by the Democratic staff on the panel, titled “Planned in Plain Sight: A Review of the Intelligence Failures in Advance of January 6th, 2021.”

“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,” Peters said in a news release.

The release comes after a long line of investigations into law enforcement preparedness for the attack. That includes a joint Senate committee report that documented widespread intelligence deficiencies in the Capitol Police, the findings of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack and other accounts of issues.

The new panel report states that the FBI and the Homeland Security office had vast amounts of intelligence indicating the potential for violence on Jan. 6, but neither issued “sufficient warnings” to their law enforcement partners, in part, because “these agencies were biased toward discounting the possibility of such an unprecedented event.”

The report lists several of those warnings. In December 2020, the FBI obtained a tip that the Proud Boys — a far-right organization that played an integral role in the violence on Jan. 6 — had plans to “literally kill people,” the report states.

The tip implored the FBI to seriously consider that information: “Please please take this tip seriously and investigate further.”

On Jan. 3, the FBI was aware of posts calling for armed violence, including a social media poster who said to bring firearms and remarked, “If they don’t listen to our words, they can feel our lead.”

The agency also received a report on Jan. 5, based on public, open-source information, which included online posts from a chat room associated with the anti-government Three Percenters. A user said they knew of 100 militia members leaving Colorado to descend on the District of Columbia.

And, despite warnings and threats reported in the press and posted on social media, the FBI downplayed the overall threat, the Senate report said.

FBI efforts to detect threats on social media leading up to Jan. 6 were impeded by the bureau’s change in contracts for identifying potential threats from online posts, which happened just days earlier. The FBI switch from Dataminr to ZeroFox caused confusion for open-source monitoring, the report said.

Analysts at DHS, in late December 2020, flagged comments referring to using weapons and targeting law enforcement and the Capitol building. On Jan. 2, 2021, DHS employees noted that people were sharing a map of the Capitol building online. Those employees messaged each other, saying they “feel like people are actually going to try and hurt politicians. Jan 6th is gonna be crazy.”

But as late as the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, a senior watch officer at the Department of Homeland Security National Operations Center wrote to federal agencies that there is “no indication of civil disobedience.”

The report, though it focuses on specific failures by FBI and DHS, makes note that the Capitol Police and other agencies failed to properly prepare and respond on Jan. 6, 2021. Further, it notes, citing the Jan. 6 select committee’s report, that former President Donald Trump “was the primary cause of the insurrection.”

Still, federal agencies responsible for preventing domestic terrorism and passing on intelligence, such as the FBI and DHS, “did not sound the alarm, and much of the violence that followed on January 6th may have been prevented had they done so,” the report says.

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