Senate report exposes intelligence ‘Failures’ in Capitol riot response
In a recent Senate report, US intelligence agencies were accused of receiving multiple early warnings about the attack on the Capitol in 2021 but failing to accurately assess the threat. Released by Democratic staff on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the report emphasized that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) downplayed the potential for violence from supporters of former President Donald Trump.
The assault on the Capitol occurred on January 6, 2021, when thousands of Trump supporters stormed and vandalized the iconic building in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election. The report highlighted that social media platforms and other publicly accessible forums were saturated with open threats and violent rhetoric leading up to the event. News agencies, research organizations, and individuals also publicly reported and attempted to warn about the extensive communications detailing plans for violence.
The report also criticized the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) for its inadequate response prior to January 6. Commissioned by the Democratic Chair Gary Peters, the report, titled “Planned in Plain Sight: A Review of the Intelligence Failures in Advance of January 6th, 2021,” revealed a shocking failure of imagination from the intelligence agencies in taking the threats seriously.
According to the report, the FBI received a tip in December 2020 regarding the far-right group Proud Boys’ intentions to “literally kill people” in Washington, DC. The FBI subsequently became aware of multiple online posts advocating violence. However, internal emails obtained by the committee showed that the Bureau continued to downplay the overall threat, repeatedly stating that no credible or verified threat had been identified. The report further criticized the FBI for focusing more on potential violence between Trump supporters and counter-protesters, neglecting the growing threat to the Capitol itself.
Last month, a federal jury convicted four leaders of the Proud Boys of seditious conspiracy based on their involvement before and during the Capitol attack. Additionally, hundreds of others have been arrested and charged in connection with the riot. The report called on the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct comprehensive internal reviews of their actions and improve their processes for assessing and sharing intelligence, particularly open-source information from social media.
The Senate investigation revealed a potential incredulity within the intelligence community regarding the domestic threat to national security before January 6. The report highlighted that the FBI and I&A failed to raise the alarm about the attack, partly because they could not fathom that rioters would overrun the US Capitol Building. It underscored the intelligence community’s struggle to adapt to the new reality that domestic terrorism, driven primarily by antigovernment and white supremacist ideologies, poses the primary threat to homeland security, as identified by these same agencies.
The Capitol attack was partly fueled by former President Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, which he continues to make. Weeks before the riot, Trump called for a protest in Washington, DC, stating on Twitter, “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” Late in 2022, a congressional panel investigating the events of January 6 also identified shortcomings by law enforcement agencies, including their failure to take tips and online posts about violence seriously. The committee even recommended criminal charges against Trump for his role in the riot.