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Top Capitol Police officials did not receive FBI warning about plans for 'war'

Caitlin Dickson
·Reporter
·5-min read

An FBI report describing specific threats of violence by extremists preparing for “war” in Washington made its way to the U.S. Capitol Police headquarters one day before the violent attack on Congress, but the top three officials responsible for Capitol security say they never saw it, according to testimony provided during a Senate hearing Tuesday.

This revelation was made during a joint oversight hearing conducted by members of the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees to examine the security failures that led to the Capitol breach on Jan. 6.

The existence of the report, which was issued on Jan. 5 by an FBI office in Norfolk, Va., was first made public by the Washington Post on Jan. 12, just days after the insurrection that left five people dead. However, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund testified Tuesday that he’d been informed only “in the last 24 hours” that the Capitol Police department had, in fact, received the report.

Sund said the intelligence report was first received by a member of the Capitol Police force assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces on the evening of Jan. 5. That person “reviewed it and then forwarded it over to an individual at the intelligence division in U.S. Capitol Police headquarters.”

Sund said that, as far as he knows, “it did not go any further than that.”

Steven Sund
Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund. (Andrew Harnik/AFP via Getty Images)

Michael Stenger and Paul Irving, former sergeants-at-arms for the Senate and House, stated that they did not receive the FBI report either. Sund, Stenger and Irving all resigned their posts amid scrutiny over security failures following the deadly siege, which they unanimously agreed during Tuesday’s hearing was a “coordinated attack.”

According to the Washington Post, the situational information report produced by the Norfolk FBI office offered insight into online discussions among individuals preparing to travel to Washington on Jan. 6, including circulation of a map of the tunnels beneath the U.S. Capitol complex, and explicit calls for participants to “Get violent. Stop calling this a march, or rally, or a protest. Go there ready for war.”

While several senators were disturbed to learn that such apparently valuable intelligence did not reach the top officials charged with securing the Capitol, it was not clear from the witnesses’ statements whether and how the information contained in that Jan. 5 report might have triggered additional security measures.

Sund repeatedly referred to the threats described in the report, which were reportedly posted by unknown individuals to a thread on an online message board, as “raw data.”

“Taken in consideration with everything else, none of the other intelligence was showing that we were looking at this type of a broad insurrectionist type of event with thousands of armed, coordinated individuals,” Sund said.

The Jan. 6 insurrection
The Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

In fact, the Capitol Police’s intelligence unit had already produced its own internal report outlining the very real potential for violence by the thousands of people, including “white supremacists, militia members, and others who actively promote violence,” who were expected to descend on Washington for a day of protests promoted by then-President Donald Trump.

“Supporters of the current president see January 6, 2021, as the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election,” read part of the internal Capitol Police report, which was issued on Jan. 3. “This sense of desperation and disappointment may lead to more of an incentive to become violent.”

In addition to “worrisome calls for protesters to come to these events armed,” the report noted that, “Unlike previous post-election protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th.”

Sund and the other witnesses said the Jan. 3 report, along with other intelligence received in the weeks and days leading up to Jan. 6, informed the security measures that were put in place for that day, including an expansion of the Capitol Police’s perimeter around the Capitol complex, and a request for additional support from the D.C. Metropolitan Police.

“We planned for an increased level of violence at the Capitol and that some participants may be armed,” Sund said during his opening remarks. “What we got was a military-style coordinated assault on my officers and a violent takeover of the Capitol building.”

“These criminals came prepared for war,” he said.

“Based on the intelligence, we all believed the plan met the threat and that we were prepared,” said Irving, the former House sergeant-at-arms. “We now know that we had the wrong plan.”

However, Sund and Irving provided conflicting timelines regarding when requests for National Guard assistance were first made and approved, raising questions about what ultimately caused the delays in mobilizing additional troops to the Capitol once the riots were underway.

Before the witnesses were sworn in Tuesday, senators heard from Capitol Police Capt. Carneysha Mendoza, who responded to the violent siege on Jan. 6. Mendoza said that inside the Capitol Rotunda she “noticed heavy smoke” and smelled what seemed to her like military-grade tear gas.

“Officers received a lot of gas exposure,” she said. “I received chemical burns to my face that have still not healed to this day.”

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