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Jan. 6 report sidesteps federal intelligence failures before deadly Capitol riot

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WASHINGTON — While detailing multiple warnings of violence collected by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials about protests planned for Jan. 6, the House select committee’s report largely avoids the issue of how federal agencies handled the information or why they failed to share the full extent of the threats with U.S. Capitol Police officers tasked with protecting Congress from the violent mob that stormed the Capitol building.

The select committee’s mission, as defined in its authorizing resolution, was in part to investigate “the preparedness and response of the United States Capitol Police and other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies” to the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

But the entire issue is relegated to a brief appendix — with 18 pages of text and 11 pages of footnotes — in an 845-page report that largely focuses on the conduct of Donald Trump and his allies. In that section, the panel even botched the name of the FBI, calling it “the Federal Bureau of Intelligence” instead of by its actual name, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“I have the same questions today that I had before the investigation began,” Jim Pasco, executive director of the national Fraternal Order of Police, whose members include Capitol Police officers, told Yahoo News. “Why didn’t [federal law enforcement agencies] take more actions to make sure the force on the Hill was adequately equipped and briefed on the violence that was being talked about?”

While praising the committee for its account of the circumstances surrounding the attack on the Capitol, John Cohen, who served as chief of intelligence at the Department of Homeland Security during the first year of the Biden administration, said the panel left important “unanswered questions” on the table.

“Why wasn’t the intelligence warning of the threat that day shared in a more effective and organized manner?” Cohen said. “Why didn’t the intelligence gathered result in a more energized operational response by security officials? Why wasn’t there a more robust security presence put in place to protect the certification event, the vice president and members of Congress — security akin to that provided during the State of the Union?”

According to the report released Thursday, “Federal and local law enforcement authorities were in possession of multiple streams of intelligence predicting violence directed at the Capitol prior to January 6th. Although some of that intelligence was fragmentary, it should have been sufficient to warrant far more vigorous preparations for the security of the joint session. The failure to sufficiently share and act upon that intelligence jeopardized the lives of the police officers defending the Capitol and everyone in it.”

But the report says little about why that failure took place, nor does it hold anyone accountable, instead blaming it on the “unprecedented” actions of Trump in acting as a “catalyst” for the fury of the mob.

It also never explains why the Department of Homeland Security failed to issue a single advisory or bulletin about the threat of violence that day or why threat warnings picked up by the FBI’s Norfolk, Va., field office on social media were never shared with the Capitol Police or even senior officials within the bureau itself, including Director Christopher Wray.

The committee also makes virtually no recommendations for improving information sharing and the overall performance of federal agencies other than vaguely worded language that “congressional committees of jurisdiction” should continue “regular and rigorous oversight of the United States Capitol Police.”

“They completely glossed over why the intelligence was ignored and who was responsible for it,” said Donell Harvin, the former chief of the Washington, D.C. government’s homeland security fusion intelligence center and now a security analyst for the Rand Corporation.

“If readers want to know why Donald Trump is bad, the report is a slam dunk. It’s impeachment 3.0,” Harvin told Yahoo News. But, he said, the committee did not adequately address the “gross negligence” of law enforcement agencies and their lack of coordination.

“We laid out the facts the best that we could,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the Jan. 6 committee, when asked about criticisms of the report in an interview on the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast. But he maintained that, regardless of how well federal agencies did their job, the primary responsibility rests with Trump.

Still, when pressed on who the committee held accountable for law enforcement missteps related to Jan. 6, Raskin acknowledged that “we’ve not been able to figure that out.”

“Well, was there anybody cooperating on the inside? Or why wasn’t there a more effective response? That’s all legit. We want a more effective response to stop them next time. But nothing absolves Donald Trump and his henchmen for what they did.”

The committee does lay out with some stark detail some of the threat warnings that were pouring into U.S. agencies in the days and weeks before Jan. 6. On Dec. 26, 2020, it states, the Secret Service received a tip from an informant that the far-right Proud Boys militia was planning to have “a large enough group to march into DC armed and will outnumber the police so they can’t be stopped.”

It added: “Their plan is to literally kill people. … Please please take this tip seriously and investigate further.”

On Dec. 24, the Secret Service received a compilation of social media posts from the SITE private intelligence group that cited a tweet by Trump urging protestors to assemble in Washington on Jan. 6 and telling them “will be wild!”

But while the compilation of social media posts was shared with the Capitol Police intelligence unit, other equally alarming reports were never adequately addressed or investigated prior to Jan. 6, in part because of apparent concerns that acting on the rhetoric in social media posts might infringe on freedom of speech protections.

For example, the report details how on Dec. 21, Capitol Police learned of a surge in views of online maps of the Capitol’s underground tunnels. The FBI and the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis were also aware of the online interest in searches of Capitol tunnels.

But Jennifer Moore, the special agent in charge of the intelligence division of the FBI’s Washington field office, told the committee there was “nothing illegal about discussing the tunnels,” the report states. “People’s First Amendment rights, obviously, are protected. We cannot troll — can[’t] just troll the internet looking for things that’s out there. So it would have to be with such specificity and such planning and such detail that we would be able to open a case, immediately seek authority for an undercover.”

Having enough “probable cause for that undercover off of one tip would be tough,” Moore said.

The question of how the FBI and other law enforcement agencies should handle inflammatory threats of violence or potential violence on social media is a central issue in the ongoing debate over how to address the rise in domestic terrorism, especially from far-right and white supremacist groups.

But the committee report makes no recommendations that address the issue. Nor does it resolve the dispute among former Capitol security officials about why the National Guard was not deployed before the riot at the Capitol began.

Steve Sund, then chief of the Capitol Police, had testified that he recommended that a National Guard force be ready for that day, but Paul Irving, the House Sergeant at Arms, who reported to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, expressed concerns about the “optics” of having National Guard troops on the Capitol grounds. Irving has disputed Sund’s account, but the committee report does not delve deeply into the dispute or resolve the contradiction.

Yahoo News previously reported that an intelligence analyst with the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis found more than 500 pages of credible national security threats specifically related to plans being discussed online to violently storm the Capitol on Jan 6. This intelligence was ignored by DHS for 16 days leading up to the attack.

This DHS office is the sole U.S intelligence agency charged by law with sharing emerging threat information with state and local law enforcement. It was helmed at the time by Joseph Maher, who was brought on to the Jan. 6 committee as senior counsel to the vice chair. It’s unclear if his role in the investigation affected the lack of information about DHS in the final report.

Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer, said the committee “turned a blind eye” to DHS’s role.

“What role did Maher and his office play in failing to prevent January 6th?” Zaid asked Yahoo News. “Apparently we are left to guess.”

Maher did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. The committee also did not immediately respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment.

Despite the credible threats found by its analyst, the DHS Intelligence and Analysis Office did not issue a single report, bulletin or warning to Capitol Police or anyone else. There is no mention of the threats reported by Yahoo News or DHS’s failure to act on them in the committee report.

All of this is why Harvin, the former D.C. fusion director, calls the report “anemic.”

“I was waiting for this report and it wasn’t worth the wait,” he said.

“Jan. 6 was one of the worst national security failures since Sept. 11,” said Olivia Troye, who served as Vice President Mike Pence’s homeland security adviser and as an official in the Office of Intelligence and Analysis. “The January 6th report effectively exposes Trump but the national security section (stuck in the appendix) is devoid of any specific recommendations or conclusions, and that is shockingly disappointing.”

She added: “This is a missed opportunity to fix the homeland enterprise and prevent this from happening again.”