Federal agencies responsible for protecting the U.S. Capitol did not “fully process” or share critical information — including about militia groups arming themselves ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection — a failure that stymied the response that day, according to a new 122-page report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.
The FBI and the U.S. Capitol Police had seen “threats that were true or credible” days ahead of the assault on the Capitol building, the report said. But much as with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a failure by multiple agencies to share information and connect dots left those securing the Capitol unprepared for the onslaught.
“Some agencies did not fully process information or share it, preventing critical information from reaching key federal entities responsible for securing the National Capital Region against threats,” the report said.
The GAO report also revealed specific tips that were obtained by some federal agencies ahead of the attack. For example, the Capitol Police obtained information “regarding a tip that a member of the Proud Boys had recently obtained ballistic helmets, armored gloves, vests, and purchased weapons, including a sniper rifle and suppressors for the weapons.”
The tip, which the Secret Service also obtained from its Denver Field Office, revealed the individual flew with others to Washington D.C. “on January 5, 2021” to incite violence. According to the report, the Secret Service interviewed the individual and his son when they arrived in Washington, D.C., and investigated whether they were traveling with “loaded weapons.” Capitol Police also attempted to locate the individual using “cell phone pings.”
According to the report, investigators from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security reviewed a tip a day before the Jan. 6 attacks about an individual who had “staked out parking lots of federal buildings to determine how to bring firearms into D.C. at January 6th events.”
The report also indicates there was a threat against the D.C. water system between Dec. 16, 2020 – Jan. 4, 2021. Information about the threat was obtained by the Architect of the Capitol and was shared with the Capitol Police.
In addition to the Capitol Police and the FBI, five other federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, United States Secret Service, Park Police, Senate Sergeant at Arms and Postal Inspection Service “developed a total of 27 threat products specific to the planned events of January 6 prior to the attack on the Capitol,” according to the obtained report. The GAO found that “14 products included an assessment of the likelihood that violence could occur.”
A tip shared by intelligence officials from New York State with their counterparts in Washington D.C., included a social media post where the user “described intent to conduct an attack in Washington D.C. on January 6 — targeting Democratic members of Congress.”
The report singled out the FBI, concluding the agency “did not consistently follow policies for processing tips.”
“FBI officials we spoke with said that from December 29, 2020 through January 6, 2021, they tracked domestic terrorism subjects that were traveling to Washington, D.C. and developed reports related to January 6 events,” said the report. “As of January 6, 2021, FBI officials noted that the Washington Field Office was tracking 18 domestic terrorism subjects as potential travelers to the D.C. area.”
In response to the GAO’s findings, the Justice Department said that the FBI would be working “diligently to address the recommendations in the GAO’s report,” and at the same time, the department would “incorporate GAO’s conclusion that, despite collecting and sharing significant pieces of threat reporting, the FBI did not process all relevant information related to potential violence on January 6.”
“The FBI continues to be introspective regarding its roles in sharing intelligence regarding the event of January 6,” Justice Department official Larissa Knapp said in a letter to the GAO.
U.S. Capitol Police Chief J. Thomas Manger told the GAO his department is “currently drafting policy that will provide guidance for sharing threat-related information agency-wide” and said this policy is “currently under executive review.”
The U.S. Park Police concurred with GAO’s findings, and an Interior Department official stated that the agency is working to update policy by March 2023, regarding the “collection, analysis, and distribution of intelligence information.”