US Senate report highlights Capitol riot intelligence ‘failures’

FBI downplayed threats of violence by Trump supporters ahead of January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, report says.

January 6
Supporters of former US President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021 [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

Washington, DC – United States intelligence agencies “received numerous early warnings” ahead of the 2021 attack on the Capitol but failed to accurately assess the threat, a new Senate report has said.

Democratic staff on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee released the findings on Tuesday, saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) downplayed the possibility of violence from supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Thousands of those supporters ultimately stormed and ransacked the Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election.

“In the lead-up to January 6, social media and other publicly accessible forums were inundated with open threats and violent rhetoric,” the report said.

“In advance of the attack, multiple news agencies, research organizations, and individuals publicly reported on and tried to warn about the large amount of communications about plans for violence.”

The report also criticised the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) for its response ahead of January 6.

Tuesday’s report, commissioned by the Senate committee’s Democratic Chair Gary Peters, was titled “Planned in Plain Sight: A Review of the Intelligence Failures in Advance of January 6th, 2021”.

“My report shows there was a shocking failure of imagination from these intelligence agencies to take these threats seriously,” Peters said in a statement. He added that the intelligence shortcomings “contributed to the failures to prevent and respond to the horrific attack that unfolded at the Capitol”.

The report said the FBI received a tip in December 2020 about plans by the far-right group Proud Boys to “literally kill people” in Washington, DC, and subsequently became aware of multiple online posts calling for violence.

“While FBI was receiving these and other increasingly concerning reports, internal emails obtained by the Committee demonstrate that the Bureau continued to downplay the overall threat, repeatedly noting that FBI ‘identified no credible or verified threat’,” the report read.

It added that the FBI focused on potential violence between Trump supporters and counter-protesters “at the expense of focusing more attention and reporting on the growing threat to the Capitol itself”.

A federal jury found four leaders of the Proud Boys guilty of seditious conspiracy last month, based on their actions before and during the Capitol attack. Hundreds of others have been arrested and charged in relation to the riot.

Tuesday’s report called on the FBI and DHS to “conduct full internal reviews of their actions” and “improve their processes for assessing and sharing intelligence”, including open-source information on social media.

The Senate investigation suggested the intelligence community may have been incredulous about the domestic threat to national security before January 6.

“FBI and I&A intelligence collectors, analysts, and leaders failed to sound the alarm about January 6 in part because they could not conceive that the US Capitol Building would be overrun by rioters,” it said.

“This reflects the intelligence community’s struggle to adapt to the new reality that the primary threat to homeland security (as identified by these same agencies) is now domestic terrorism driven largely by antigovernment and white supremacist ideologies.”

The Capitol attack was spurred, in part, by claims Trump had made about widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, a false allegation he continues to make.

Trump had called for a protest in Washington, DC, weeks before the riot. “Big protest in DC on January 6th,” he wrote on Twitter at that time. “Be there, will be wild!”

Late in 2022, a congressional panel that investigated the events of January 6 also highlighted shortcomings by law enforcement agencies, including their failure to take tips and online posts about violence seriously.

The committee recommended criminal charges against Trump over his role in the riot.

Source: Al Jazeera