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‘Does anybody have a plan?’ Senate report details Jan. 6 security failures

The US Capitol was seen under dark skies in Washington on Tuesday as barriers remained in place six months after the Jan. 6 attack. A Senate report examining security failures surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol blames missed intelligence, poor planning, and multiple layers of bureaucracy for the deadly siege.
The US Capitol was seen under dark skies in Washington on Tuesday as barriers remained in place six months after the Jan. 6 attack. A Senate report examining security failures surrounding the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol blames missed intelligence, poor planning, and multiple layers of bureaucracy for the deadly siege.J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Top federal intelligence agencies failed to adequately warn law enforcement officials before the Jan. 6 riot that pro-Trump extremists were threatening violence, including plans to “storm the Capitol,” infiltrate its tunnel system, and “bring guns,” according to a new report by two Senate committees that outlines large-scale failures that contributed to the deadly assault.

An FBI memo Jan. 5 warning of people traveling to Washington for “war” at the Capitol never made its way to top law enforcement officials. The Capitol Police failed to widely circulate information its own intelligence unit had collected as early as mid-December about the threat of violence Jan. 6, including a report that said right-wing extremist groups and supporters of President Trump had been posting online and in far-right chat groups about gathering at the Capitol, armed with weapons, to pressure lawmakers to overturn his election loss.

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“If they don’t show up, we enter the Capitol as the Third Continental Congress and certify the Trump Electors,” one post said.

The first congressional report on the Capitol riot is the most comprehensive and detailed account of the dozens of intelligence failures, miscommunications, and security lapses that led to what the bipartisan team of senators that assembled it concluded was an “unprecedented attack” on American democracy and the most significant assault on the Capitol in more than 200 years.

“The failure to adequately assess the threat of violence on that day contributed significantly to the breach of the Capitol,” said Senator Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “The attack was quite frankly planned in plain sight.”

The 127-page joint report, a product of more than three months of hearings and interviews and reviews of thousands of pages of documents, presents a damning portrait of the preparations and response at multiple levels. Law enforcement officials did not take seriously threats of violence, it found, and a dysfunctional police force at the Capitol lacked the capacity to respond effectively when those threats materialized.

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“The failures are obvious,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and chairwoman of the Rules and Administration Committee. “To me, it was all summed up by one of the officers who was heard on the radio that day asking a tragically simple question: ‘Does anybody have a plan?’ Sadly, no one did.”

In response to the report, the Capitol Police said in a statement that its leaders agreed that the force needed improvement, including changing the way it collects and shares intelligence. But it insisted that law enforcement officials had no way of knowing that a pro-Trump rally would turn into a mass assault.

“Before Jan. 6, the Capitol Police leadership knew Congress and the Capitol grounds were to be the focus of a large demonstration attracting various groups, including some encouraging violence,” the statement said. But, it added, “neither the USCP, nor the FBI, US Secret Service, Metropolitan Police, or our other law enforcement partners knew thousands of rioters were planning to attack the US Capitol. The known intelligence simply didn’t support that conclusion.”

Yet the Senate investigation found that the department had ample warning weeks earlier that violent extremists, including members of Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, were planning such action, and failed to share it widely or incorporate the warnings into its operational plan for Jan. 6.

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“Several comments promote confronting members of Congress and carrying firearms during the protest,” a Capitol Police intelligence analyst wrote in a threat report Dec. 21, which included a map of the Capitol complex that had been posted on the pro-Trump blog thedonald.win. Among the posts cited in the threat report: “Bring guns. It’s now or never,” and, “We can’t give them a choice. Overwhelming armed numbers is our only chance.”

The Senate’s investigative report is the product of a collaboration among Peters, Klobuchar, and the top Republicans on the two committees they lead: Senators Rob Portman of Ohio on the Homeland Security Committee and Roy Blunt of Missouri on the Rules Committee. It is limited by its bipartisan nature, given that Republicans have refused to ask questions about the riot that could turn up unflattering information about Trump or members of their party, as they try to put its political implications behind them before the 2022 midterm elections.

Although the report states flatly that Trump “continued to assert that the election was stolen from him” and promoted the “Stop the Steal” gathering in Washington before the riot, it does not chart his actions or motivations, state that his election claims were false, or explore the implications of a president and elected leaders in his party stoking outrage among millions of supporters.

The inquiry does not describe the events of Jan. 6 as an “insurrection,” a term that many Republicans had joined Democrats in embracing immediately after the attack. Aides involved in its drafting said they had refrained from trying to summarize or contextualize Trump’s false claims just before the riot took place. They opted instead to include the full text of his speech in an appendix.

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Many of the findings in the report were culled from public testimony from committee hearings, though five people sat for detailed interviews with the committee: Christopher C. Miller, who was the acting defense secretary; Ryan D. McCarthy, the Army secretary; General James C. McConville, the Army chief of staff; Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol Police; and J​. Brett Blanton, the architect of the Capitol.

The committee staff solicited more than 50 statements from Capitol Police officers that painted a vivid portrayal of the rioters, some of whom gave Nazi salutes and hurled racist slurs at them. One officer described being crushed by the mob. Another told the committee that she still suffered from chemical burns she experienced that day.

About 140 law enforcement officers reported injuries from the riot. The bipartisan report also tied seven fatalities to the assault.

The document lays out profound problems with the special Capitol Police unit that handles civil disturbances, only a fraction of which was adequately trained to respond to a riot, and which was poorly equipped. On Jan. 6, its officers were not authorized to wear protective gear at the beginning of their shifts or to use their most powerful nonlethal weapons — such as grenade launchers and sting ball grenades — to push back crowds, because they lacked the training to do so.

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“Let’s be honest: Capitol Police were put in an impossible situation,” Portman said. “Without adequate intelligence, training, and equipment, they did not have the tools to protect the Capitol.”

The committees recommended 20 improvements, including beefing up police training and equipment and forming a single intelligence bureau in the Capitol Police to better share information. Their suggestions followed those from Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, a retired Army officer whom Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, chose to lead a House task force that recommended the hiring of more than 800 Capitol Police officers, the construction of mobile fencing around the complex, and changes to Capitol Police Board procedures to allow the agency’s chief to quickly summon the National Guard in an emergency.

Blunt said that he and Klobuchar would soon introduce legislation to grant the Capitol Police chief power to unilaterally summon the National Guard in emergencies. He said they were also likely to assemble a spending bill to increase funding for the department and carry out other changes.

There was much information the panel was unable to learn. The senators secured only limited cooperation from key agencies, including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and the House sergeant-at-arms. Other agencies failed to meet deadlines to hand over documents.

The findings — and their limitations — are likely to fuel renewed calls for an independent commission like the one created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, populated by experts and armed with subpoena power to investigate what happened that day and why. Senate Republicans blocked the creation of such a body late last month, arguing in part that it would duplicate the work already underway by the Senate committees and prosecutors at the Justice Department.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, praised the committees’ work Tuesday but said he reserved the right to bring up the commission for another vote in the future.

“Just as glaring was what the report didn’t consider — indeed, what it was not allowed to consider,” Schumer said. “The report did not investigate, report on, or hardly make any reference to the actual cause, the actual impetus for the attack on Jan. 6.”

Yet Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, pointed to the report as “one of the many reasons I’m confident in the ability of existing investigations to uncover all actionable facts about the events of Jan. 6,” and proof that no independent commission that he said could “politicize the process” was needed.