Report by Peters' panel details Jan. 6 failures to heed warnings of violence

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
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Washington — A new bipartisan review of the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol blames federal intelligence agencies for failing to heed warnings about the potential for violence, and Capitol police leadership who were ill-prepared for a siege by rioters "ready for war."

The review offers new details about the advance planning of the attack by groups including the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, including the sharing online of maps of the tunnels used by lawmakers under the Capitol complex.

Tuesday’s report is the first product of the bipartisan probe of the riot, informed by two public hearings, interviews with top officials, written statements by 50 Capitol officers and thousands of documents.

It also lays out more clearly what U.S. Capitol Police leaders knew and when they knew it ahead of the incident, including an internal report from late December highlighting comments on the blog thedonald.win by protest organizers about plans to confront members of Congress and urging their comrades to bring firearms.

"Get into Capitol Building, stand outside congress. Be in the room next to them. They wont have time (to) run if they play dumb," read one post. 

"Anyone going armed needs to be mentally prepared to draw down on LEOs (law enforcement officers). Let them shoot first, but make sure they know what happens if they do," according to another post. 

These screenshots and other internal assessments containing similar pieces of intelligence about threats of armed conflict at the Capitol were only shared with a narrow group of command staff within Capitol police and didn't make it to rank-and-file officers, according to the committees' report. Capitol security officials had testified that none of the information they had on hand suggested a large, coordinated attack on Jan. 6.

"The intelligence wasn’t there to suggest that thousands of people, insurrectionists, were going to breach the United States Capitol, attacking law enforcement officers," Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told committee staff in an April interview.

Tuesday's report is the first product of the joint, bipartisan investigation of the Jan. 6 riot by the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees, which was informed by two public hearings, interviews with top current and former officials, written statements by 50 Capitol police officers and a staff review of thousands of documents.

The report offers 20 recommendations to boost security at the Capitol, including legislation to empower the chief of Capitol police to unilaterally ask for emergency help from the National Guard without having to go through a cumbersome approval process with a police oversight board.

The panels are urging the intelligence community to reevaluate its handling and dissemination of threats of violence on social media and online message boards, as well as the sharing of intelligence among agencies. The committees are also suggesting the Pentagon and District of Columbia National Guard develop contingency and operational plans to be able to respond swiftly to civil disturbance and domestic terrorism incidents. 

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, cited “unacceptable breakdowns.”

"We do know that there were significant widespread and unacceptable breakdowns in the intelligence gathering and security preparations and emergency response during the attack,” said Sen. Gary Peters, the Bloomfield Township Democrat who chairs the Homeland Security panel.

“The attack was, quite frankly, planned in plain sight," he added. "There was widespread information on social media and public tips to law enforcement that were not fully heeded as Capitol police and others made their security plans for the day."

Peters said he was "disappointed" that the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Justice — specifically the Federal Bureau of Investigation — only partially complied with requests for information about the Jan. 6 intelligence failures — documents that an aide said Peters' panel will continue to pursue.

Additionally, the House sergeant at arms did not comply at all with information requests, which could be because oversight of that office has in practice rested with the House, and the requests were made by Senate panels, an aide said. A deputy chief with Capitol Police also refused to be interviewed by the committees, but the individual is not identified in the report.  

"It's clear we still have more work to do," Peters said. "This report is certainly an important start for Congress to begin tackling the most immediate needs to prevent an attack like this from ever happening again. Our work will continue."

The 95-page Senate review comes five months after the violent attack prompted by former President Donald Trump's unproven claims that the 2020 election was stolen. That day, hundreds of Trump supporters broke into the Capitol building, ransacked offices and battled police in an effort to disrupt the certification of President Joe Biden's victory.

More than 140 police officers reported injuries, including an officer who is going to lose his eye, another who was stabbed with a metal fence stake, and one who suffered a heart attack after being attacked multiple times with a stun gun, according to the report. Seven people ultimately died, including some by apparently natural causes, and two officers who died by suicide days after the siege.

Officers told the committees of verbal and "absolutely brutal" violent physical assaults on that day, plus death threats, name-calling of "traitors" and "Nazis" and racial slurs, as well as being sprayed with chemical irritants, hit with objects or beaten with flag poles. 

The report does not refer to the attack as an insurrection, except when quoting witnesses. It also does not delve into the involvement of the Trump White House or the motives of the groups and individuals who perpetrated the attack, largely sticking to security preparation and response by law enforcement.

Delayed response by Guard

Senate committee aides said the investigation found no evidence of communication between Trump and the Department of Defense on Jan. 6, despite questions about whether the president or senior aides tried to influence the decision to deploy the National Guard to the Capitol.

According tothe report, when asked if Trump had a role in the approval process for deploying the National Guard, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller told the committees that Trump “had delegated that authority and authorization to me,” so Miller did not require the president's approval.

The report notes that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley did raise concerns on a Jan. 4 call that included Miller about whether there was a mechanism to revoke permits that had been issued for 1,000 to 2,000 people to gather Jan. 6 on the Capitol grounds. But federal and D.C. officials told Pentagon leadership that the protests were free speech activities, according to the report.

During that call, according to Miller, he and Milley also suggested locking down the city to avoid potential violence; "however, the idea was not pursued," according to the report.

"Mr. Miller described that the consensus from law enforcement was that, given the current threat picture, they believed they had all 'resources and capability they needed to control the demonstration,'" the report says.

The review did probe the reasons behind the delayed requests for aid from the D.C. National Guard to help at the Capitol grounds as violence was escalating on Jan. 6. The first troops didn't arrive on the scene for over three hours, until 5:20 p.m.

That delay is attributed to several factors, including that help wasn't requested from the Guard ahead of time, and the chief of the Capitol police doesn't have the emergency authority to request aid from the National Guard without the approval of the Capitol Police Board. 

The Department of Defense had put unusual restrictions on the D.C. guard after the Pentagon was criticized for its heavy response to civil unrest in Washington last summer following the killing of George Floyd.

Gen. William Walker, commander of the D.C. guard, testified that he could deploy a "quick-response" force only with the express approval of Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy. The DOD has disputed this characterization, with Miller saying he wasn't aware that Walker wanted to deploy a force on Jan. 6.

Pentagon officials told the committees they didn't have a clear or "workable" request for National Guard assistance until about 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 6. But the report faults the Defense Department for then wasting hours on "mission planning" after Miller approved the request for deployment shortly after 3 p.m. 

Defense officials defended the mission-planning hours as "vital" to the Guard's response, but Walker said his troops were fully equipped and ready to respond to the Capitol significantly earlier. 

The report says the Pentagon and D.C. National Guard have "conflicting records" of when orders and authorizations were given, and that "no one" could explain why the Guard didn't deploy until after 5 p.m. 

No intelligence assessment

The report emphasizes the federal intelligence community didn't issue a threat assessment warning that would typically have been expected about the potential for violence targeting the Capitol, despite online calls for violence in the days and weeks before the demonstration. 

This lack of a threat assessment ahead of Jan. 6 has perplexed David Carter, a criminal justice professor and director of the Intelligence Program at Michigan State University.

Such an assessment could have prevented the violence by ensuring officers were better prepared, allowed for physical reinforcements around the Capitol and brought in other agencies to assist with the protesters, he said.

"Law enforcement does this for all sorts of demonstrations. For the life of me, I don’t know why it wasn’t done," said Carter, who had not reviewed the committees' report. 

"I don’t doubt that there’s a political element to it. If there’s a political chain of command, I would assume there’s a political element in the decision-making there."

Homeland Security officials had produced reports during 2020 identifying certain government facilities and events as likely targets for domestic extremists, but none identified the Jan. 6 joint session.  

Asked why a particular intelligence division at Homeland Security didn't flag any of the social media posts calling for an attack on the Capitol prior to Jan. 6, officials told the committees that it can be difficult to distinguish between "mere rhetoric and overt threats" on social media. 

Capitol police missteps

The report faults U.S. Capitol Police for not incorporating its own intelligence about threats of violence into its internal assessments about the Jan. 6 joint session. That meant that critical details about those threats were never conveyed to officers or other law enforcement partners, and contributed to a "lack of consensus about the gravity of the threat," according to the report.

For instance, information received by email from a component of Capitol police from the FBI's Norfolk Field Office about online discussions about protesters coming to Congress "prepared for war" was never distributed to the department's leadership or intelligence division, officials said.

Pittman, the acting Capitol Police chief, was asked by the committees to explain discrepancies between the intelligence possessed by one of its intelligence units — that the threat of violence was growing — and the fact that a Dec. 23 threat analysis left out that information. The report says Pittman acknowledged the discrepancy but couldn't explain it. 

"... We know that there are several lessons to be learned for making sure that there is not conflicting information, regardless of which version of the assessment is distributed," she said in her committee interview. 

Initial intelligence within Capitol police suggested any violence on Jan. 6 would be similar to other post-election protests, meaning between pro-Trump protesters and counter-protesters. The final intelligence assessment, issued Jan. 3, suggested the potential for violence targeted at the Capitol, rather than just between protesters.

The report recommends that Pittman be replaced by a new chief with "appropriate input" by Capitol police officers, congressional leadership and the committees with jurisdiction, and suggests that the Capitol Police Board "document and streamline" board policies. 

The committees found that Capitol police leaders had no operational plan for the demonstration. Many officers lacked proper protective riot gear, and communication with front-line officers was "chaotic, sporadic and ... non-existent," the report says, noting that two incident commanders responsible for relaying information were forced to engage with rioters during the attack.

According to one officer's account, he heard a police lieutenant repeatedly pleading over the radio: “Does anybody have a plan?”

mburke@detroitnews.com

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