The presence of so many supervised individuals in one place – without more robust security measures to protect the public – is another example of last week’s fatal intelligence breach that sent lawmakers running for their lives, some current and former law enforcement officials argued. The revelation follows a Washington Post report earlier this week describing the FBI’s failure to act aggressively on an internal intelligence report on Internet discussions about plans to attack Congress, smash windows, break down doors and “get violent… Get ready for war.”
Other current and former officials said the presence of these individuals is a surprising consequence of thousands of avid Trump supporters gathering for what was billed as a last chance to express opposition to Joe Biden’s certification as the next president. Yet the revelation underscores the limitations of such watchlists. Although they are designed to improve information gathering and exchange between investigative agencies, they are far from a foolproof means of detecting threats in advance.
Since its inception, the FBI’s terrorist watch list has grown to include hundreds of thousands of names. Placing a person’s name on the watch list does not mean that they are seen all the time or even much of the time for both practical and fair reasons, but it may warn various parts of the government, such as border agents or state police to take a closer look at certain people they meet.
It is unclear whether any of the dozens of individuals already arrested for alleged crimes at the Capitol are on the terror watch list.
“The United States Government is committed to protecting the United States from terrorist threats and attacks and seeks to do so in a manner that protects the liberties, privacy and civil rights and freedoms of persons and persons having rights under United States law. “An American official said, adding that due to security concerns, the government neither confirms nor denies a person’s watchlist status.
The FBI declined to comment.
The political aftermath of the uprising prompted the House of Representatives on Wednesday to accuse President Trump of alleged incitement to violence – his second charge in a single four-year term – and could have significant consequences in law enforcement and national security agencies.
Inside the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, officials are battling thorny issues of race, terrorism and freedom of speech as some investigators question whether more could have been done to prevent last week’s violence.
While some federal officials believe the government should investigate domestic terrorism and extremists more aggressively, others are concerned the FBI, DHS and other agencies may overreact to the recent violence by going too far in monitoring initial change activity such as online discussions.
Several law enforcement officials said they were shocked by the background of some individuals under investigation in connection with the Capitol uprising, a pool of suspects that includes current and former law enforcement and military personnel as well as senior business executives and middle-aged business owners.
“I can not believe some of the people I see,” said an official.
The TSDB, often referred to as the “watch list” in government, is being monitored by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, which was set up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks carried out by al-Qaeda. The watch list can be used as both an investigation and an early warning tool, but its primary purpose is to help various government agencies keep abreast of what individuals are considered potential risks and where they are traveling, according to people familiar with the work. who as others spoke on condition of anonymity because the work is sensitive.
Often it can be done as a “quiet hit”, meaning that if someone on the watch list is stopped for driving too fast, this information is typically entered into the database without the person or even the officer who wrote the ticket ever knowing, one person said .
After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, for example, the FBI quickly searched a similar database to see what people were on it who had recently traveled to that city or raised another suspicion of possible involvement.
Prior to the Jan. 6 rally of pro-Trump protesters, FBI agents visited a number of suspected extremists and discouraged them from traveling to the country’s capital. Many complied, but according to people familiar with the extensive investigation, dozens of others participated, whose names appear on the terror watch list, apparently based on information reviewed by the FBI.
Separately, while the FBI is hunting down hundreds of rebel suspects scattered back to their hometowns, federal agents are increasingly focused on alleged leaders, members and supporters of the Proud Boys, a man-chauvinist group with ties to white nationalism, these people said. .
The Proud Boys took part in last week’s protests, and FBI agents are looking into what roles, if any, their supporters may have had in organizing, directing or carrying out violence, according to people familiar with the matter.
The group’s chairman, Enrique Tarrio, had planned to take part in Trump’s rally on January 6, but was arrested when he arrived in DC and charged with misdemeanor destruction of property in connection with the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a black church during a previous protest in Washington. He is also charged with felony criminal mischief for possessing two extended pistol magazines.
Tarrio told The Post on Wednesday that his group did not organize the siege of the Capitol.
“If they think we organized to go into the Capitol, they will unfortunately be mistaken by them,” he said. “Our plan was to stay together as a group and just enjoy the day. We were not going to do a night march, anything like that. It’s as far as our day. ”
Tarrio said he is actively discouraging members from attending scheduled armed marches scheduled for Sunday and Million Militia March next week when Biden is inaugurated. Proud boys, he said, are under “freezing rally and will not host any events in the next month or so.”
It is unclear how many proud boys’ devotees will comply with the freeze, or whether such a shutdown might diminish the FBI’s interest in the group. Even before the January 6 uprising, federal and local investigators worked to understand the group’s plans, goals, and activities. Privately, some federal law enforcement officials have described the group as largely equivalent to a growing street gang that has garnered an unusual degree of national attention, in part because Trump specifically mentioned them during one of his TV debates with Biden during the campaign. Other officials have expressed concern that the group could quickly grow into something more dangerous and led.
The FBI has already arrested dozens of accused rebels, and officials have promised that in the event of the most serious misconduct, they will try to file harsh, rarely used charges as a dissolving conspiracy leading to a potential 20-year prison sentence.
The Bureau continues to face blowback over its handling of a Jan. 5 report warning of discussions about violence at Congress the next day. Steven M. D’Antuono, head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, claimed in the days after the uprising that the agency had no intelligence in advance, suggesting that the demonstration would be anything other than a peaceful demonstration.
The January 5 FBI report, written by the Norfolk Office and reviewed by The Post, shows that was not the case, and the Department of Justice took other steps to suggest that officials were at least somewhat concerned about possible violence. the next day. The Prison Bureau sent 100 officers to DC to supplement security at the Justice Department building, an unusual move similar to what the department did in June to respond to civil unrest following protests against racial justice.
Given the criticism that law enforcement took a harsh approach to Black Lives Matters protests in DC in the spring and summer, Justice Department officials sent out to the Capitol Police to defend their building and lawmakers there. Some former officials question whether the FBI and the Department of Justice should have done more.
“It would not have been enough for the agency just to share information, if it did, with state and local law enforcement agencies or federal partner agencies,” said David Laufman, a former national security official for the Justice Department. “It was the office’s responsibility to quarterback a coordinated federal response as the crisis unfolded and in the days that followed. And it is not currently clear to what extent the FBI asserted itself that way during the forces on January 6 and in the immediate aftermath. ”
Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.