But the alert went unreported for senior officials at either agency, congressional testimony said Tuesday – extensive questions about the blackouts that contributed to massive security failures on January 6 .
DC Acting Police Chief Robert J. Contee III and former Capitol Building Police Chief Steven Sund said the intelligence community as a whole had failed to detect key information on the intentions of the attackers and to adequately communicate what was known on the eve of the Capitol riot.
“I would definitely think something as violent as an insurgency on Capitol Hill would warrant a phone call or something,” Contee told lawmakers.
Sund called the Capitol Police “consumers” of intelligence from 18 federal agencies.
“If they found efforts that this was a coordinated attack, which had been coordinated among many states for some time before that, this is the information that would have been extremely helpful to us,” Sund said, adding: “This type of information could have given us sufficient prior warning to prepare, plan an attack like the one we have seen.
But Tuesday’s joint hearing of two Senate committees also highlighted the stern warnings that were issued before Congress met in joint session to formalize Joe Biden’s victory.
One came in the form of the Capitol Police intelligence report three days before the attack, as 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 viewed the electoral college certification as “the last chance to win. ‘cancel the results of the presidential election’.
Two days later, the FBI alert issued by its field office in Norfolk described how “an online discussion thread discussed specific calls for violence to include the statement ‘Be prepared to fight. Congress needs to hear the glass shatter, the doors smashed, and the blood of their slave soldiers BLM and Pantifa spill. “
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 members sometimes engage in violent clashes with right-wing extremists.
“Be violent,” the online thread continued, according to the newsletter. “Stop calling it a march, rally, or demonstration. Go there ready for war. We get our president or we die. NOTHING else will achieve this goal. “
Separately, dozens of people on a terrorist watch list were in Washington on the day of the riot, including many suspected white supremacists, as The Post reported.
“There were clearly intelligence issues with information that did not reach the right people, actions that were not taken,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chair of the committee on rules and administration. journalists during a break in the audience.
The FBI said in a statement Tuesday that the Norfolk report was shared with the Washington Field Office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force within 40 minutes and discussed inside a command post. It was also posted on the corporate law enforcement portal, which is accessible to law enforcement officials across the country, the office said.
The FBI said the information was raw and could not be immediately traced to a specific person.
“The information obtained by our Norfolk office was on a thread and could not be traced to any particular person,” the office said. “The language was ambitious in nature, without specific and credible details.”
The deluge of inflammatory threats online, law enforcement officials said, has made it difficult to distinguish between bragging rights and real public safety concerns.
But Senator Gary Peters (R-Mich.), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said the chaos that engulfed the Capitol on January 6 made it clear that law enforcement cannot getting used to threatening social media chatter.
“The federal government needs to start taking these online threats seriously to ensure they don’t end up in real world violence,” he said.
The Capitol Police internal memo 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 of the protests to the grounds from the Capitol. Promote all this chaos and violence: “President Trump himself,” the memo notes.
“Supporters of the current president see January 6, 2021 as the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election,” according to the memo, parts of which were obtained by The Post. “This feeling of hopelessness and disappointment can further encourage one to become violent. Unlike previous post-election protests, the targets of pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters as they were before, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th.
Two people familiar with the memo, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the security preparations, said the report was passed on to all staff at Capitol Police Command by the director of the intelligence unit , Jack Donohue. According to the report, organizers were urging Trump supporters to come up with specialized guns and combat gear, including gas masks and military-style body armor called “plate carriers.”
But on Tuesday, former Capitol Hill security officials said intelligence services had failed to indicate with sufficient precision the potential for an attack on the complex.
“The intelligence was not that there would be a coordinated assault on Capitol Hill, nor was this considered in any of the interagency discussions I attended in the days leading up to the attack,” the former said. House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving in a written statement to committees, adding that Capitol Police have rated the potential for civil disobedience and arrests as “at a distance” or “unlikely.”
The FBI report highlighted ongoing organized plans, including individuals sharing a map of the Capitol Complex tunnels and pointing to places in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and South Carolina where extremists could congregate before they go. get to Washington.
“As of January 5, 2021, the FBI Norfolk has received reports of calls for violence in response to ‘illegal lockdowns’ scheduled to begin January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC,” the document reads.
The Jan. 5 warning was shared with the DC field office, and within an hour officials at a command post were notified, FBI deputy director in charge Steven M. D’Antuono said. He also said the document was shared through a joint terrorism task force 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 “isn’t something that’s a moderate, 24-hour list that would generate an immediate response.”
“I assure you that my phone is working 24/7, and that I am available for any phone call from any agency that has information on something of this magnitude happening in our city,” a- he added.
Contee also pointed out that the FBI warning was “raw information” that was not “fully verified”. DC police were preparing for a “large, violent protest” similar to previous pro-Trump rallies, Contee said, adding that “intelligence did not get where it needed to be.”
For his part, Sund said that in the past 24 hours, he first learned that 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 passed it on to an official in the intelligence division at the US Capitol Police Headquarters,” he said. Sund said he had never seen the report himself, nor senior security officials from the Capitol, House and Senate sergeants-at-arms.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen were also not made aware of the Norfolk document because it was considered raw intelligence and investigators failed to identify the individuals. behind online publications. Internally, some officials questioned whether the threats were being taken more seriously because the rally participants were white conservatives. loyal to Trump.
Others said widespread criticism of law enforcement’s brutal approach to racial justice protests over the summer caused them to scale back their response to warnings of potential unrest on January 6. On the eve of the rally, DC Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) sent a letter to Rosen, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy and Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher C. Miller, claiming that Unless federal law enforcement coordinates with DC police, it “discourages” them from patrolling the city streets the next day.
Aaron C. Davis, Peter Hermann, and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.