But the alarm was not marked for top officials in both agencies, according to congressional testimony Tuesday – elaborating questions about the collapse that contributed to massive security failures on January 6.
Both acting DC Police Chief Robert J. Contee III and former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund said the intelligence community as a whole could not detect important information about the attackers’ intentions and adequately communicate what was known during the Capitol uprising.
“I would definitely think that something as violent as a riot at the Capitol would justify a phone call or something,”
Sound casts Capitol Police as a “consumer” of intelligence from 18 federal agencies.
“If they found efforts that this was a coordinated attack that had been coordinated among several states for some time in advance, it was the information that would have been extremely useful to us,” Sund said, adding, “That type information could have given us sufficient warning for preparation, planned an attack like the one we saw. ”
But Tuesday’s joint hearing of two Senate committees also highlighted the sharp warnings issued before Congress met in a joint session to formalize Joe Biden’s victory.
One came in the form of the Capitol Police’s own intelligence report three days before the attack, which The Washington Post first reported. In a 12-page memo, the agency’s intelligence unit warned that “Congress itself” could be targeted by angry Trump supporters who saw the Electoral College vote certification as “the last chance to overthrow the results of the presidential election.”
Two days later, the FBI alarm from its Norfolk field office described how “an online thread discussed specific calls for violence to include, which read:“ Be ready to fight. Congress has to hear glass break, doors kicked in and blood from their BLM and Pantifa slave soldiers spilled. ‘”
BLM is a common reference to the Black Lives Matter movement for racial justice. Pantifa is a derogatory term for antifa, a far-left anti-fascist movement whose supporters sometimes engage in violent clashes with right-wing extremists.
“Get violent,” the online thread continued, according to the bulletin. Stop calling this a march or demonstration or a protest. Go there ready for war. We get our president or we die. Nothing else will achieve this goal. ”
Separately, dozens of people were on a terrorist watch list in DC on the day of the uprising, including many suspected white supremacists, as The Post previously reported.
“There were clearly intelligence issues with information out there that did not reach the right people, actions that were not taken,” Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chair of the Rules and Administration Committee, told reporters during a break in the hearing .
The FBI said in a statement on Tuesday that the Norfolk report was shared with the Washington Field Office’s joint terror task force within 40 minutes and orally discussed inside a command post there. It was also published on the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal, which is available to police authorities nationwide, the agency said.
The FBI said the information was raw and could not be immediately traced to a specific person.
“The information that our Norfolk office received was on a bulletin board and could not be attributed to any particular person,” the agency said. “The language was ambitious by nature without specific and credible details.”
The river of firebombs online, law enforcement officials have said it has made it difficult to distinguish between ambitions that boast the actual concern for public safety.
But Senator Gary Peters (R-Mich.), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the chaos that engulfed the Capitol on Jan. 6 made it clear that law enforcement cannot be assured of threatening talk on social media. .
“The federal government needs to start taking these online threats seriously to ensure they do not cross the real-world violence,” he said.
The internal memo about the Capitol Police concluded that January 6 was shaping up to be a perfect storm of dangerous elements – the large size of the expected crowds, the likelihood of protesters bringing deadly weapons and the proximity to the protests at the Capitol Police. reasons. Promoting all this chaos and violence: “President Trump himself,” the memo noted.
“Supporters of the current president see January 6, 2021 as the last chance to rearrange the results of the presidential election,” according to the memo, whose parts were obtained by the Post. “This feeling of desperation and disappointment can lead to more incentive to become violent. Unlike previous post-election protests, the goals of Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters as they used to be, but rather Congress itself is the goal on the 6th. “
Two people familiar with the memo, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe security preparations, said the report was passed to entire Capitol Police command staff by the director of the intelligence unit, Jack Donohue. The report said organizers urged Trump supporters to come armed with cannons and bring specialized combat equipment, including gas masks and military-style bulletproof vests called “plate carriers.”
But on Tuesday, former Capitol security officials said intelligence did not point with sufficient specificity to the potential for an attack on the complex.
“The intelligence was not that there would be a coordinated attack on the Capitol, nor was it considered in any of the discussion agencies I attended in the days before the attack,” former weapons sergeant Paul Irving said in a written statement to committees and added that the Capitol Police assessed the potential for demonstrations and arrests as “remote” or “unlikely.”
The FBI report pointed to organized plans that were underway, including individuals sharing a map of the Capitol complex’s tunnels and designating locations in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and South Carolina where extremists could gather before heading for Washington.
“As of January 5, 2021, the FBI Norfolk received information that violence was being called in response to ‘illegal shutdowns’ to begin on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC,” the document reads.
The January 5 warning was shared with the DC field office, and within an hour, officials in a command post were briefed, FBI Assistant Director Steven M. D’Antuono said. He also said the document was shared through a joint task force on terrorism that includes representatives from the Capitol Police, DC Police and other law enforcement agencies.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Contee said the FBI bulletin went to an email account that “is not something that is a moderated list, 24 hours a day, that would generate an immediate response.”
“I assure you that my phone is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week and that I am available for any phone call from any agency that has information about anything of this size happening in our city,” he added. he.
Contee also stressed that the FBI alert was “raw information” that had not been “fully investigated.” DC police were preparing for a “major violent demonstration” that resembled pro-Trump demonstrations that had taken place in the past, Contee said, adding that “intelligence did not reach where it should be.”
For his part, Sund said that in the previous 24 hours he had learned for the first time that the Capitol Police had also received the FBI bulletin. It went to an official assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, who “reviewed it and then forwarded it to an intelligence officer at U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters,” he said.
Sund said he never saw the report himself, nor were the top security officials in the Capitol, House and Senate gunmen.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and then-Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen were also not briefed on the Norfolk document because it was considered raw intelligence and investigators had not identified them behind the online posts. Internally, some officials have wondered if the threats were not taken more seriously because the rally guests were white conservatives loyal to Trump.
Others have said widespread criticism of law enforcement’s harsh approach to race court protests over the summer prompted them to downplay their responses to the January 6 warnings of potential unrest. On the eve of the demonstration, DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) sent a letter to Rosen, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller, claiming that unless federal law enforcement coordinated with DC police, she “discourages” them from patrol DC streets the next day.
Aaron C. Davis, Peter Hermann and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.