DHS Knew Trump Supporters Were Headed To DC With Guns, Didn't Bother To Mention It, NBD
Next week, the House January 6 Select Committee will issue its final report on the attempted coup three years ago. As expected, it will put the blame squarely on Donald Trump, where it belongs. Politico notes that the document is expected to lay out the former president's lies about election fraud, his pressure on swing state legislators to overturn the will of the voters, his attempt to unlawfully wield the power of the Justice Department to pressure those legislators, the fake electors plot, his summoning the mob to DC, and the three hours in which he watched his supporters sack the Capitol and refused to call them off.
All of which is really, really bad. But it's not the whole story. There were systemic failures of intelligence in the lead up to this event, one of which is documented in an as-yet unreleased report by the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General from March of 2022. That report focuses on the Office of Intelligence and Analysis’s responsibility to provide intel to state and local officials before the attack on the Capitol. But Yahoo investigative correspondent Jana Winters got her hands on an unredacted copy, and it too is really, really bad.
First of all, this is a good lede:
On Dec. 20, 2020, a 21-year-old intelligence analyst went online to search for local Washington, D.C., fishing holes and stumbled upon the blueprint of a plot to storm the Capitol and execute members of Congress and law enforcement officers to prevent the certification of electoral votes to make Joe Biden the next president.
Yikes! Some kid at DHS is on Reddit looking for local fishing holes and stumbles on a plot to overthrow the government? Kinda seems like it was pretty much out in the open for anyone who cared to look. Like maybe if the federal government wasn't prepared for it, that was by choice — or at the very least because the people in power couldn't conceive of white "patriots" as a dangerous terrorist cell.
In any event, the young analyst immediately brought evidence to "a senior member of the Counterterrorism Mission Center" that Trump's supporters were plotting "overthrowing the US Government by force/sparking a second civil war, and veiled credible threats of violence toward other US persons who were perceived enemies, specifically Members of Congress and other federal employees." The analyst also noted that the plotters were heavily armed and discussing how to illegally smuggle weapons into DC.
“Bring your gun,” one poster wrote on January 4, 2021. “It’s just gonna be another protest if you don’t, and you’ll watch Biden slide into the white house.”
On December 21, the supervisor tasked the analyst with generating an urgent Request for Information to the open source collection office, which he or she did immediately. And then ... nothing happened.
Well, something happened, and that something was that the coup plotters continued to more or less publicly plan their attack on the Capitol. But inside DHS, which had a duty to warn of the impending attack, the response was more or less nothing:
Over those 16 days, this analyst and others inside DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis saw the plot unfold in excruciating detail. They watched as maps of the Capitol access tunnels were circulated online, along with tactical information about how to smuggle illegal weapons into D.C. and which radio frequencies to use for communication during the attack. They saw threats to members of Congress and local D.C. and Capitol police, and operational plans for the attack. They saw online posts by people who said they had put their last will and testament in order and told their children they were going to Washington, D.C., to defend the country and were willing, and expecting, to die for their cause.
“Like so many Americans l watched the events of January 6th, 2021 transpire — shocked, scared, and horrified; but for me there was a deeper connection to the event, I was one of the DHS intelligence officials charged with trying to prevent that day’s violence,” the analyst wrote in a four-page letter included in the IG report. And this analyst took that charge seriously, repeatedly asking his or her superiors to generate an actionable plan to be shared with people who could prepare for the attack with boots on the ground.
But in the event, no report was issued until January 8, two days after the attack, and long past when it could have done some good.
The reasons for this catastrophic failure are complicated. According to the report, the open source collectors were gun shy after having been coopted into the administration's political attack on racial justice protestors in Oregon the prior summer, which got the Trump official who led the charge at DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis removed. The report suggests that this raised the threshold to flag any domestic actors as potential terrorist threats, and that the collectors wrongly thought that people trading maps of the tunnels under the Capitol and talking about bringing an arsenal of weapons to DC didn't meet it.
"I found a map of all the exits and entrances to the capitol building. I feel like people are actually going to try and hurt politicians. Jan 6 is gonna be crazy," wrote one collector, who nevertheless failed to find actionable material to report out to the agencies.
“I mean people are talking about storming Congress, bringing guns, willing to die for the cause, hanging politicians with ropes but still not meeting threshold lol," said another on January 3.
They also missed signs that the Proud Boys were involved in this event, perhaps due to the persistent refusal of the Trump administration to treat white nationalist groups as a domestic terrorist threat. Let's take a wildass guess that these analysts wouldn't have been so sanguine if it were, say, American-born Muslims posting these kind of threats online. But for whatever reason, when it was white nationalists talking about attacking the seat of government in support of Trump, they did nothing.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.