With the renewed finger pointing around January 6, was it an intelligence failure or a political failure?


Secret Service documents provided to congressional investigators, obtained exclusively by CNN, tell us a lot about what law enforcement knew and when they knew it up until January 6th.

There is a custom in post-9/11 Washington, especially among politicians, to refer to any failure to predict the future as an “intelligence failure.” This will allow elected officials to put people’s feet to the fire on the front lines of information gathering.

But Secret Service documents obtained by CNN tell us that before Jan. 6, there was plenty of information about the potential for violence.

The documents tell us that in the days leading up to January 6, federal law enforcement agencies were meeting regularly and intelligence was being moved between agencies. The Secret Service documents represent a summary of FBI reports based on coordination intelligence that occurred every two hours between 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM the night before the protest that would become a riot.

A Jan. 5 FBI intelligence brief reads: “Right-wing groups respond from across the nation and deploy ‘rapid reaction forces’ in Virginia. POTUS should be ready to call for help.”

The brief stated that the FBI was following up on 52 threat reports received from field offices across the country.

There was also information provided to the Secret Service by the U.S. Marshals Service after 9:00 a.m. on January 6th from a post on the conservative online site known as Parler: November,” one Trump supporter wrote. “I’m here for justice. F—k Pence we better see the sold-out traitor coming out of that building in handcuffs or going in.

Another post on the same app two days earlier announced: “It will turn violent as federal buildings are charged and corrupt politicians are dragged alive!”

When the attack on the Capitol took place on January 6, I was the New York Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism. My intelligence analysts also shared the information we gathered with the US Capitol Police and the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police. Now the Secret Service finds itself in the crosshairs of Congressional critics over whether the Secret Service shared information with other agencies.

The question reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how intelligence flows between agencies. The two organizations that must share information widely with law enforcement partners are the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.

Documents the Secret Service shared with the committee on Jan. 6 show that most of the information came from the FBI. Much of it was being relayed from the FBI’s Washington office to all agencies preparing for the January 6 protests. Critics also point to a December 31, 2020, Secret Service summary of Facebook promoting pro-Trump protests on January 6, each paragraph stating “there is no indication of civil disobedience.”

Critics said it showed the Secret Service was underestimating the potential for violence. As an intelligence professional who has read similar briefs for nearly two decades, I can say that the memo simply meant this: There is no planned violence on Facebook.

To underline this point, the same document took pains on its front page to report that previous demonstrations by some of the same groups in Washington a few weeks earlier had resulted in “physical altercations between pro- and anti-Trump protest groups as well as numerous arrests” for, among other things, assaults on a police officer. for assault, possession of a weapon and incitement to violence.

The biggest paper in the days leading up to January 6 may be the threat assessment conducted by the US Capitol Police’s intelligence arm on January 3, three days before the attack on the Capitol.

The document was written by a group of Capitol Police intelligence analysts working for Jack Donohue, an expert on politically motivated extremism. Before joining the Capitol Police, Donohue was one of my deputies in the NYPD.

The statement of January 3 concluded: “Supporters of the current president consider January 6, 2021 as the last chance to annul the results of the presidential election. That feeling of hopelessness and despair can create more incentives to be violent.’ Another top verdict from that page: “Unlike previous post-election protests, the targets of Trump supporters aren’t necessarily counter-protesters … but Congress itself.”

The study concludes with these words: “This, along with Stop the Steal’s tendency to attract white supremacists, militias, and others who actively promote violence, can create a significantly dangerous situation for both law enforcement and the general public.” That was on Sunday, January 3, at 3:00 p.m

So where is the failure of intelligence? If information was the goal, and information was being shared, how did the events of January 6 unfold as they did?

After the attack on the Capitol by thousands of demonstrators, one of the main questions was, where was the National Guard?

A day after Capitol Police Chief Steve Sund read Donohue’s Intelligence analysis, according to his Senate testimony, “I approached the two sergeants at arms to ask for National Guard assistance because I didn’t have the authority to do so without an Emergency.” Capitol Police Commission Statement.

Sund testified that Paul Irving had asked the House of Representatives to call for National Guard troops by January 6. According to Sund’s testimony, Irving, who briefed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “said he was concerned about the ‘optics’ of the National Guard being present and he didn’t feel the intelligence supported it.” Irving denied Sunden’s account in his written testimony,

“Some media outlets have suggested that ‘optics’ determined my opinion on the use of these National Guard troops. That is completely false. The ‘optics’ portrayed in the media did not determine our security posture; security was always paramount in assessing security for January 6th.”

Sund, at Irving’s suggestion, prosecuted Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger, who reported to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

According to Sund, Stenger would not accept the request either, but “suggested asking me how much help we could get if needed and ‘leaning in’ if we had to ask for help on January 6th.” Sund called William Walker of the National Guard in the days leading up to January 6th. When he told him, Walker asked if he would be able to put troops on the ground if necessary.Walker told Sund yes, but he needed formal approval to mobilize.

Both sergeants-at-arms testified in March that they never took the Jan. 3 Capitol leadership request to either Pelosi or McConnell until the Capitol was under complete siege. Irving said, “There was no intelligence that there was going to be a coordinated attack on the Capitol, nor was it planned in the interagency meetings I attended before the attack.” Stenger died of cancer in June.

If there was one thing that could have changed, the White House advance could have been that President Donald Trump would give a speech to a crowd of supporters outside the Ellipse and tell them to “fight like hell.” ” as they prepared to march on the Capitol to save the country. That didn’t come into the threat stream until it actually happened.

In the end, the two sergeants and the chief of the Capitol Police had to fall on their swords. In March, Congress called for a review of how the Capitol Police makes critical operational decisions. Congress passed legislation giving the Capitol Police chief the authority to request emergency assistance from the D.C. National Guard and other federal agencies without having to go through the Capitol Police Commission.

The speedy approval of the new law shows us that even the elected officials in the commission understood that the chief of police should not suffer a crisis.