Capitol Riots

Intelligence failures left police officers exposed to a violent mob of Trump supporters

Despite ample evidence of plots there was an intelligence breakdown

The bipartisan investigation does not examine the causes of the riot, assess whether Donald Trump incited it by calling for his supporters to “fight like hell”, or even use the term “insurrection”

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INVESTIGATIVE PRESS GROUP

The deadly insurrection at the US Capitol was “planned in plain sight” but intelligence failures left police officers exposed to a violent mob of Trump supporters, a Senate investigation has found. The Capitol police intelligence division had been gathering online data since December about plots to storm the building on 6 January, including messages such as: “Bring guns. It’s now or never.” But a combination of bad communications, poor planning, faulty equipment and lack of leadership meant the warnings went unheeded, allowing the insurrectionists to overrun the Capitol and disrupt certification of Joe Biden’s election victory. Five people died.

The bipartisan investigation does not examine the causes of the riot, assess whether Donald Trump incited it by calling for his supporters to “fight like hell”, or even use the term “insurrection”.

On the Senate floor on Tuesday, Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer said: “Just as glaring is what the report didn’t consider. Indeed, what it was not allowed to consider. The report did not investigate, report on, or hardly make any reference to the actual cause – the actual impetus – for the attack on 6 January.”

But the senators do paint a portrait of bureaucratic flaws that left Capitol police scrambling to protect members of Congress and Vice-President Mike Pence. They also highlight the failure of the FBI to collect information on domestic extremists, despite a wealth of evidence on social media.

Gary Peters, Democratic chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, told reporters: “There were significant, widespread and unacceptable breakdowns in the intelligence gathering … The failure to adequately assess the threat of violence on that day contributed significantly to the breach of the Capitol. The attack was, quite frankly, planned in plain sight.”

The 127-page report by the homeland security and rules committees found that Capitol police became aware in December of detailed threats to the heart of American democracy.

“Through open-source collection, tips from the public and other sources, [the intelligence division] knew about social media posts calling for violence at the Capitol on 6 January, including a plot to breach the Capitol, the online sharing of maps of the Capitol complex’s tunnel systems, and other specific threats of violence,” the report says.

The division compiled online comments including: “Bring guns. It’s now or never”; “If a million patriots show up bristling with AR’s, just how brave do you think they’ll be when it comes to enforcing their unconstitutional laws? Don’t cuck out. This is do or die. Bring your guns”; and “Surround every building with a tunnel entrance/exit. They better dig a tunnel all the way to China if they want to escape.”

But the intelligence was not passed to the FBI and departments of defense, justice or homeland security. The justice department, the lead agency for security, did not create a security plan or coordinate a response.

And despite media reports about possible threats to the electoral college ratification as Trump pushed false claims of voter fraud, Capitol police had no operational or staffing plan for the joint session of Congress, the report says.

Police on the frontlines suffered chemical burns, brain injuries and broken bones and told senators they were left with no direction when command systems broke down.

“Communications were chaotic, sporadic, and, according to many front-line officers, non-existent,” the report says.

One unnamed officer is quoted as saying: “We were ill prepared. We were NOT informed with intelligence. We were betrayed. We were abandoned by ALL the deputy chiefs and above that day. We still have not been told where exactly the chiefs were that day and what their [role] was on the sixth.”

Another said: “I was horrified that NO deputy chief or above was on the radio or helping us. For hours the screams on the radio were horrific, the sights were unimaginable, and there was a complete loss of control … For hours NO chief or above took command and control. Officers were begging and pleading for help for medical triage.”

Officers did not have adequate equipment or training and were forced to improvise. In at least one instance, when a platoon attempted to retrieve equipment, “the bus was locked, leaving the platoon without access to this critical equipment”.

Other security forces were slow to respond. The report details hours of calls between officials in the Capitol and the Pentagon as the then chief of Capitol police, Steven Sund, begged for help.

The Pentagon wasted hours “mission planning” and seeking multiple layers of approvals even as Capitol police were being overwhelmed and beaten. The Pentagon over-corrected by seeking to avoid looking too aggressive following its heavy-handed response to Black Lives Matter protests.

The senators criticized the FBI and homeland security for downplaying threats and not issuing formal intelligence bulletins that help law enforcement plan.

They also rebuked the Capitol police board, a three-member panel that includes the heads of security for the House and Senate and the architect of the Capitol. Two of the three members, the House and Senate sergeants-at-arms, were pushed out after the attack. Sund also resigned.

The report recommends immediate changes to give the Capitol police chief more authority and the ability to directly call in the national guard, provide better planning and equipment for law enforcement and streamline intelligence-gathering.

The findings come two weeks after Republicans blocked a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the insurrection more broadly. The narrow scope of the Senate report left Democrats insisting a commission is still necessary.

The Capitol police department acknowledged the need for improvements, saying some were already being made.

“Law enforcement agencies across the country rely on intelligence, and the quality of that intelligence can mean the difference between life and death,” a statement said.

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