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Why Didn't The FBI And DHS Produce A Threat Report Ahead of The Capitol Insurrection?


January 14, 2021

When law enforcement officials failed to anticipate that pro-Trump supporters would devolve into a violent mob, they fell victim to what one expert calls "the invisible obvious." He said it was hard for authorities to see that people who looked like them could want to commit this kind of violence. Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

In late December, the New York Police Department sent a packet of material to the U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI. It was full of what's known as raw intelligence - bits and pieces of information that turned up by scraping various social media sites. It all indicated that there would likely be violence when lawmakers certified the presidential election on Jan. 6.

The NYPD sent the information to Washington under the assumption it would be folded into a formal intelligence bulletin by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. The FBI's version is known as a joint intelligence bulletin. The DHS produces a threat assessment. These reports are typically written as a matter of course ahead of high-profile events. Local law enforcement officials see them as actionable intelligence - an early warning system to help them prepare for incoming threats.

And yet, for last week's deadly attack on the Capitol, an event the president himself had promised would be "wild," no formal report was ever released.

A DHS Intelligence and Analysis spokesperson confirmed to NPR that the agency didn't produce any threat assessment about the possibility of violence on Jan. 6. The FBI confirmed it didn't produce one either. Instead, DHS provided a report about the "heightened threat environment during the 2020-2021 election season, including the extent to which the political transition and political polarization are contributing to the mobilization of individuals to commit violence," the DHS spokesperson said.


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