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Security Officials Blame Poor Intel for Failure to Blunt Capitol Attack

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 5 days ago Rachael Levy, Siobhan Hughes
a man wearing a suit and tie © Erin Scott/Press Pool

WASHINGTON—Top officials responsible for the security of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack told a congressional panel on Tuesday that intelligence failures hampered their ability to prepare for and counter a deadly riot on the day lawmakers convened to certify the presidential election results.

Testifying before a joint bipartisan committee of senators, former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned in the wake of the attack, blamed the disaster in part on what he called intelligence failures by the federal government, saying its agencies pointed to activity similar to previous rallies by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

“A clear lack of accurate and complete intelligence across several federal agencies contributed to this event, and not poor planning by the United States Capitol Police,” he said. “Based on the intelligence that we received, we planned for an increased level of violence at the Capitol and that some participants may be armed. But none of the intelligence we received predicted what actually occurred.”

In questioning he also said he had never seen a Jan. 5 report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Norfolk, Va., field office that detailed specific threats for the following day, including a rallying call for war and the sharing of maps of the Capitol. Mr. Sund testified that he had only learned over the past 24 hours that his department had received it.

Tuesday’s hearing is organized by Sens. Gary Peters (D., Mich.) and Rob Portman (R., Ohio), the chairman and ranking member respectively of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), chairwoman and ranking member of the Rules and Administration Committee.

Republicans and Democrats said Congress needed to answer key questions to make the Capitol safe in the future, from why it took so long to call in the National Guard to whether there was credible intelligence about the attack before it happened.

The senators heard similar testimony from former House Sergeant at Arms Paul D. Irving and former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, both of whom also resigned after Jan. 6.

Mr. Irving blamed the lack of reliable intelligence that would have strengthened the Capitol Police’s planning. In written testimony, he said that the Capitol Police relies on intelligence from federal agencies such as the FBI and DHS, “neither of which assessed or forecast a coordinated assault on the Capitol like the one that took place.”

Meanwhile, the Capitol Police’s own intelligence branch, in the days leading up to Jan. 6 as well as on Jan. 6 “issued a daily intelligence report in which it assessed the potential for civil disobedience and arrests as ‘remote’ to ‘improbable,’” he said.

Robert Contee, the acting chief of Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department, testified that his department recognized the possibility of violence on Jan. 6 from groups that contributed to violence after pro-Trump demonstrations in November and December, but noted that the city doesn’t have jurisdiction over federal land or property, where the riots occurred.

Democratic senators pushed back on Mr. Sund’s position that the federal government’s intelligence failures contributed to the disaster on Jan. 6, pointing to the then Capitol Police chief’s statements that intelligence had prompted him to expand a security perimeter and deliver more protective equipment to forces.

“If the information was enough to get you to do that, why didn’t we take some additional steps?” Ms. Klobuchar said. “Why didn’t you and others involved, to be better prepared to confront the violence?”

“We expanded our perimeter,” Mr. Sund said. He also said he had asked the sergeant at arms to call in the National Guard, a request that was denied. In the future, he added, the Capitol police chief should have the authority to call in the National Guard.

Democrats also pointed to the FBI’s Norfolk field office’s Jan. 5 report. Like Mr. Sund, Messrs. Irving and Stenger also said they hadn’t seen it.

The hearing is part of a wider bipartisan probe into the security failures that resulted in the breach of the Capitol by a mob of Donald Trump supporters that included members of far-right extremist groups. Five people died, including a rioter shot by police and a Capitol Police officer who succumbed a day later.

Four government watchdogs and several congressional committees are scrutinizing a law-enforcement response that amounts to one of the biggest lapses since the federal security apparatus was overhauled following the Sept. 11 attacks nearly two decades ago.

“While today’s hearing is our first on the Jan. 6th attack, it will not be our last,” Mr. Peters said. “We will continue to seek testimony and information from a range of agencies and officials who were involved in preparing for and responding to the events of the day for the U.S. Capitol and for the entire region. The attack on Jan. 6th was an extraordinary event that requires exhaustive consideration.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah) said Monday that the hearing could serve as an opening into a larger “commission-like effort” that would fully investigate the circumstances leading to the riot. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) has called for a 9/11-style commission to investigate what precipitated the security failure.

Congress is set on examining the many reasons why the mob was able to breach the Capitol and overwhelm a security force made up chiefly of members of the Capitol Police.

The Wall Street Journal reported that while information about the threat was shared, a multipoint warning system broke down and failed to generate sufficient follow-up. Law-enforcement officials spotted and dismissed some signals while missing others entirely, according to interviews with current and former officials and a review of internal government documents.

On Jan. 4, the heads of intelligence-sharing centers convened a rare national call to discuss alarming information they were gathering about the coming rally where then-President Trump was scheduled to speak. The Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence branch, responsible for monitoring threats online and sharing them with law enforcement, said it had “nothing significant to report” in a Jan. 5 summary reviewed by the Journal. 

On the same day, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser urged federal agencies not to send additional forces without consulting local police, drawing on the city’s experiences during last year’s racial-justice protests in which heavily armed security forces clashed with protesters outside Lafayette Square near the White House.

Citing the Journal’s reporting, Democrats on the House Committee on Homeland Security sent a letter last week requesting the DHS intelligence branch to answer questions about “any intelligence or information sharing failures.”

In his prepared remarks for Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Sund said he and other Capitol Police officials held a virtual meeting on Jan. 5 with top law-enforcement and military officials from D.C., including the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, and the National Guard.

“During the meeting, no entity, including the FBI, provided any intelligence indicating that there would be a coordinated violent attack on the United States Capitol by thousands of well-equipped armed insurrectionists,” Mr. Sund said in the written testimony. “At no time did the Department of Homeland Security issue a threat advisory bulletin in reference to violent extremists planning a coordinated, violent attack on the U.S. Capitol.”

Mr. Sund also noted that the head of the Department of Homeland Security didn’t raise the alert level for Jan. 6 and testified to hourslong delays in securing backup from the National Guard.

“At approximately 2:28 p.m., I learned that in order to get authorization for National Guard support, the Pentagon needed to approve the request,” he said in his prepared remarks. “Almost two hours later, we had still not received authorization from the Pentagon to activate the National Guard.’

He added, “The first 150 members of the National Guard were not sworn in on Capitol grounds until 5:40 p.m., four and a half hours after I first requested them and three and a half hours after my request was approved by the Capitol Police Board.”

Write to Rachael Levy at rachael.levy@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

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