US Senate committee: FBI and Homeland Security had systematic intelligence failures in lead-up to January 6 Capitol attack News
G. Edward Johnson, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
US Senate committee: FBI and Homeland Security had systematic intelligence failures in lead-up to January 6 Capitol attack

The US Senate Homeland Security Committee released a report Tuesday detailing “intelligence failures” amongst law enforcement officials surrounding the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol. The report describes how the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) failed to act on intelligence provided to them weeks ahead of the planned attack.

The 106-page report outlines how, in the days and weeks leading up to the attack, the FBI and DHS received credible tips that alerted them to rioters’ plans to attack the Capitol. The committee obtained thousands of emails and documents indicating that far-right groups, such as the Proud Boys, planned to descend upon the Capitol armed and ready to invade and attack lawmakers within.

The report claims that the FBI and DHS received credible threats via publicly-available channels—such as social media and news websites—as well as non-public intelligence warnings. Included in the report is a detailed timeline of all of the warnings law enforcement officials received ahead of the attack, with some stemming back to as early as December 21, 2020. Despite that, the FBI only produced two “limited raw intelligence documents” the night before the January 6, 2021 attack. DHS did not issue “any intelligence products.”

The report accuses the FBI and DHS of failing “to fully and accurately assess the severity of the threat identified by that intelligence, and formally disseminate guidance to their law enforcement partners with sufficient urgency.” Speaking to committee investigators, Former Assistant Director for the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI Jill Sanborn said, “None of us had any intelligence that suggested individuals were going to storm and breach the Capitol.”

Representatives from the FBI and DHS told the committee they hesitated to act on the information out of fear that it would infringe upon the rioters’ First Amendment rights under the US Constitution. However, the report notes, “[They] had the authority — indeed, the responsibility — to report the intelligence they were seeing to their law enforcement partners.”

The findings echo a similar June 2021 report, which found that both the FBI and DHS received credible threats of violence ahead of the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. A press release announcing Tuesday’s report argued that the difference between the first report and this one was the “sheer volume of warnings these agencies received” and their efforts to “repeatedly downplay[]” the threat level.

With the release of Tuesday’s report, the committee recommended several actions both the FBI and DHS could take to correct the intelligence failures they identified. Included among the recommendations are internal reviews of both the FBI and DHS’s actions in advance of January 6 and policy updates to ensure proper dissemination of intelligence to law enforcement partners.