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Communication Failures Left Capitol Police Unprepared for 6 January Attack, U.S. Senate Report Finds

Federal authorities from a variety of U.S. agencies failed to communicate potential threats ahead of the riot at the U.S. Capitol on 6 January, which left U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) unprepared and lacking much-needed support for prolonged periods, according to a joint U.S. Senate committee report.

The report by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Committee on Rules and Administration determined that the USCP and federal authorities, including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Defense (DOD), and Department of Justice (DOJ), failed to communicate potential threats. 

Police also lacked an operational or staffing plan for the joint counting session as the 2020 Electoral College votes were counted. The attack temporarily disrupted Congress’s efforts to validate the electoral vote, confirming Joe Biden’s win of the 2020 presidential election.  

The report was based not only on documents, some new, but also interviews with members of the intelligence community and military, security leaders, and more than 50 USCP officers.

“The report provides a vivid picture of how poor communication and unheeded warnings left officers underequipped to face violent threats about which they had not been made aware, leaving the Capitol vulnerable to an attack that otherwise might have preventable,” The Washington Post wrote.  

According to the bipartisan report, in December 2020 the USCP Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division (IICD) discovered on social media plans to attack the Capitol building and calls for violence on 6 January. The IICD even found maps shared on the sites that depicted the building’s tunnel systems.

“Now-acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told congressional investigators that data on the social media posts was sent only to ‘command staff’ and never reached the department's highest level,” Politico reported. Along with failing to inform USCP leadership, other officers and law enforcement agencies were also left unaware of the threats found on social media posts.

“Intelligence officials across various agencies cited the difficulty of separating rhetoric from overt threats,” The Hill wrote. “But lawmakers also slammed the top agencies for failing to provide any official warnings.” 

The other key findings of the report showed that neither the DHS or FBI issued formal intelligence bulletins about the potential for violence that day. An FBI field office in Virginia created a situational memo “regarding online discussions of violence directed at Congress, including that protesters were coming to Congress ‘prepared for war,’” the report said. “This report, similar to other information received by IICD, was never distributed to IICD or USCP leadership before January 6.” 

Meanwhile, the DOD’s reactions to the attack were tangled up by recent criticisms about its “heavy-handed response” to Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. The department spent hours “mission planning” while the attack continued before deploying the D.C. National Guard (DCNG) to the Capitol.  

Ryan McCarthy, secretary of the U.S. Army, said the DOJ was the agency in charge of security for the Capitol on 6 January but never created an integrated security plan or point of contact. He said DOJ was also ineffective in coordinating a response to the attack. The DOJ did not fully comply with the committees’ requests for information and has not acknowledged that it was the lead federal agency on 6 January. Other agencies that only partially complied with the investigation included DHS and the FBI. 

The 128-page report did not investigate the motivations of the rioters, given that the DOJ is still investigating the persons involved in the attack. Instead, it focused on 20 different recommendations aimed at improving USCP practices. USCP agreed with the need to improve itself, but, in a statement about the report, maintained that information collected prior to 6 January did not suggest an attack on the building.

Some recommendations included a department-wide plan for USCP to generate threat assessments for special events, additional funding for USCP training and protective equipment, and granting the Capitol Police chief authority to call on the DCNG in response to emergency situations. The report also recommended that the DOD improve responses to mobilize the DCNG in events involving civil unrest and terrorism, as well as that intelligence agencies report information on domestic terrorism to Congress.