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20 years after 9/11, FBI accused of information failure before riot on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON – Almost two decades after non-sharing of intelligence helped prevent the FBI from thwarting the 9/11 attacks, the office is now accused of failing to ensure that local law enforcement agencies fully appreciated the threats who were brewing among the militias and white supremacists in the preceding days. the assault on the United States Capitol.

An FBI intelligence report outlining the plans for violence on the Capitol was emailed to lower level officials the night before the January 6 riot and was never read by the Capitol police or officials of the Capitol. Washington, DC, according to testimony at Tuesday’s Senate hearing.

Senators called it “an intelligence failure” by the Capitol Police and the FBI.

“You can’t just push send … and hope it gets to the right person,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Democrat from Minnesota who chairs the Rules and Administration Committee.

The FBI declined to comment. But the intelligence failure that left Capitol and Washington, D.C. police forces unprepared for the mob that invaded the U.S. Capitol goes far beyond a single unread email from a US office. FBI field, current and former US officials and experts say. At stake, they say, is the reluctance of the FBI and other agencies – born of legitimate free speech concerns – to collect and disseminate intelligence based on the social media posts of domestic political actors.

“It should be a warning to everyone that we have a major problem on our hands, because the intelligence was there,” said Frank Figliuzzi, the former head of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division and a current analyst. from NBC News. “The whole system is broken in terms of what they can and can’t watch.”

Supporters of President Donald Trump demonstrate inside the Capitol on January 6, 2021.Brent Stirton File / Getty Images

In the weeks leading up to January 6, the extremists openly stated on social media that they planned to use violence to stop Congressional certification of the presidential election, as reported by NBC News and others. organizations.

But witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing said they had received no indication through official intelligence channels – from the FBI and their own intelligence operations – that a storming of Capitol Hill was likely. . Although a report from the FBI field office in Norfolk, Virginia – the one emailed the night before the riot – described threats of social media violence against the Capitol, senior FBI officials never did. mentioned nor other threats at planning meetings, Acting Washington said DC Police Chief Robert Contee.

Figliuzzi and other former FBI officials say FBI lawyers have long viewed intelligence reports based on public statements by domestic political actors with suspicion for fear that the office would be accused of violating constitutional law freedom of expression. As NBC News reported, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security did not issue a joint intelligence bulletin until the Electoral College certification on January 6, although those bulletins are usually released before major events. A bulletin was not published in part for reasons of free speech, officials said.

20 years after 9/11, FBI accused of information failure before riot on Capitol Hill

“Without the intelligence to properly prepare, (Capitol Police) were largely outnumbered and left to defend the Capitol against an extremely violent crowd,” said former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund.

This explanation did not satisfy some lawmakers, however, who said no one needed an FBI intelligence analyst to tell them violence was a possibility on January 6.

“In the days leading up to January 6, I received a flood of texts from my family and friends telling me to ‘be safe’ at the joint session,” said Rep. Eric Swallwell, a Democrat. Californian who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. NBC News. “They didn’t have access to the intelligence. But they read the tweets from President Trump and his supporters. It was quite predictable.”

Capitol Police and DC Police officials “seem to be incompetent when they say the information was not there,” Figliuzzi said. “It reminds us of September 11th. Here we are again. A failure to connect the dots.”

Even in the context of the larger systemic issue, however, the handling of the intelligence report from the local FBI office in Norfolk was cited by senators as a notable failure.

The unapproved report, first leaked by The Washington Post, cited social media posts from extremists preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and “war,” including a message saying: “Be prepared to fight. Congress needs to hear the glass shatter, the doors kicked and blood… shed. “

Sund and Contee testified that the report was emailed to Capitol and DC Police by the FBI Joint Task Force on Terrorism after office hours on January 5, and email no. never reached senior officials. They criticized the FBI for failing to ensure that key players were informed.

“We are talking about a report from the Norfolk office that went to email boxes,” Contee said. “As the Chief of Police of the Metropolitan Police Department, I assure you that my phone is working 24/7, and that I am available to receive a phone call from any agency with information about something of this magnitude is happening in our city. “

Civil liberties groups have expressed opposition in recent days to granting new surveillance powers to law enforcement in the face of the domestic terrorist threat, because they say they fear those powers will be turned on marginalized communities.

The debate is only just beginning, however.

At the end of the hearing, Senator Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, said: “There is no doubt that our federal government resources are not focused on effectively combating the growing domestic threat. “

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