According to a new watchdog report, the Department of Homeland Security intelligence division identified “specific” threats related to January 6, 2021, prior to the attack on the US Capitol, but did not widely share any intelligence it had gathered until two days after the riot.
The DHS Office of Inspector General discovered that three different divisions within the Trump-era DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis had either collected intelligence or identified potential violent threats and did not release that information in reports outside the department prior to January 6, instead emailing threat information to local Washington, DC, partners prior to the attack in a way that was “not as widely disseminated” as its usual intelligence products. According to the report, such threats include storming the Capitol, targeting politicians and law enforcement, and “sacrificing their lives while carrying out violence.” Due to the lapse in information sharing,” DHS “was unable to provide timely, actionable, and predictive intelligence to its many state, local, and Federal partners,” the report discovered.
The Inspector General report, released on Tuesday, is the first of three DHS watchdog reports related to the Capitol attack. The findings come a day after the Government Accountability Office revealed that dozens more US Capitol Police officers were injured during the insurgency than previously thought, according to a report.
The DHS intelligence office is the only federal intelligence agency mandated by law to share information with state, local, and other non-federal officials. The office is also in charge of gathering and analyzing open-source data.
Intelligence sharing breakdowns were common in the lead-up to the attack on the US Capitol, and law enforcement officials have since blamed DHS and other agencies.
The watchdog discovered that staff in the Open Source Collection Operations branch gathered threat data but “did not produce any actionable information.” According to the IG, this was due in part to “inexperienced” collectors who did not receive adequate training.
Collectors in that office expressed “hesitation” following criticism of how the office handled intelligence during the protests in Portland, Oregon, in the summer of 2020. An earlier DHS investigation discovered that the intel office gathered and disseminated intelligence on US journalists in the region, in part, because an unprepared and ill-trained workforce was thrown into assisting with intelligence collection.
The events in Portland caused a reshuffle in the office’s upper ranks and caused long-term damage to its reputation. Since May 2020, the office has been without a Senate-confirmed leader, and President Joe Biden’s nominee, Kenneth Wainstein, has been awaiting a vote in the Senate.
According to the report, on January 2, “after a collector learned that individuals online were sharing a map of the US Capitol building, he messaged his colleague saying he thought people would ‘try and hurt politicians.'” Two employees discussed a possible employee “surge” in response to the escalating threats, but they did not discuss the release of an intelligence product.
On the same day, two collectors discussed online threats to hang Democrats in Washington, DC, but determined that the threats did not meet the reporting threshold. The collectors noted discussion about hanging politicians, storming Congress, and sacrificing lives the next morning, but no reports were written.
The watchdog identified three major causes of the lapse: insufficient training related to open source collection, a lack of understanding about reporting guidelines, and a reluctance to report following scrutiny of the office’s actions surrounding the Portland protests.
The watchdog discovered that the intelligence office did email threat information about the January 6 events to state and local partners “on at least five occasions” prior to the Capitol breach, but sharing information by email does not disseminate information as widely as publishing intelligence products, according to the report. Staff at the intelligence office disagree about whether an intelligence product would have changed the outcome on January 6, the report found, but the Inspector General said that “nevertheless” the issues identified in the review “demonstrate the need for essential changes” to ensure a better response in the future.