Capitol Police intelligence report warned three days before attack that ‘Congress itself’ could be targeted
“In a 12-page report on Jan. 3, the intelligence unit of the congressional police force described how thousands of enraged protesters, egged on by Trump and flanked by white supremacists and extreme militia groups, were likely to stream into Washington armed for battle.
This time, the focus of their ire would be members of Congress, the report said.
“Supporters of the current president see January 6, 2021, as the last opportunity to overturn the results of the presidential election,” according to the memo, portions of which were obtained by The Washington Post. “This sense of desperation and disappointment may lead to more of an incentive to become violent. 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.”
The internal report — which does not appear to have been shared widely with other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI — was among a number of flags that security experts say should have alerted officials to the high security risks on Jan. 6.
A day before the attack, an FBI office in Virginia issued an explicit warning that some extremists were preparing to travel to Washington and threatening to commit violence and “war.” And dozens of people on a terrorist watch list were in D.C. the day of the riot, including many suspected white supremacists, as The Post previously reported.
On Friday, the inspectors general of four federal agencies announced that they will investigate how security officials prepared for and responded to the pro-Trump rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol.
Two people familiar with the Capitol Police intelligence memo, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe security preparations, said the report was conveyed to all Capitol Police command staff by the intelligence unit’s director, Jack Donohue. Another law enforcement official said the report prompted the Capitol Police chief to seek the emergency activation of the National Guard and led the department to place its perimeter barricades farther from the Capitol than during past events.
Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki declined to comment on the intelligence report’s contents or how it was used to plan security for the protests that day.
Former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund, who resigned in the wake of the siege, said in an interview Friday that it would be inappropriate to publicly discuss an internal intelligence memo, given its sensitive nature and the risk of revealing sources and methods. But he said he was familiar with the department’s intelligence reports, which he said guided security planning.
Sund previously told The Post in an interview Sunday that in the days immediately preceding the attack, he grew concerned that additional security measures were needed. He asked top congressional security officials for permission to declare an emergency and activate the National Guard, a request he said they rebuffed.
“We looked at the intelligence,” he said. “We knew we would have large crowds, the potential for some violent altercations. I had nothing indicating we would have a large mob seize the Capitol.”
Nevertheless, the Jan. 3 intelligence report produced by his former agency includes chilling descriptions of the ferocity of the combat that activists appeared to be planning on forums where white supremacists and followers of the alt-right movement gather — presaging the mayhem days later.
The report said organizers were urging Trump supporters to come armed with guns and to bring specialized combat gear — including gas masks and military-style bulletproof vests called “plate carriers” — to Washington on Jan. 6.
The memo concluded that Jan. 6 was shaping up to potentially be a perfect storm of danger because of the size of the expected crowds, the urgency of the group’s mission, the call for demonstrators to bring lethal weapons, the location of the two largest protests in proximity to the Capitol grounds and the fact that “both have been promoted by President Trump himself.”
“The Stop the Steal protest in particular does not have a permit, but several high profile speakers, including Members of Congress are expected to speak at the event,” the document stated. “This combined with Stop the Steal’s propensity to attract white supremacists, militia members and others who actively promote violence, may lead to a significantly dangerous situation for law enforcement and the general public alike.”
Two people familiar with the report said it was not shared widely outside the police force.
An FBI official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the agency has a policy of not discussing internal intelligence products, said, “At this time, it does not appear such a product was ever shared with the FBI through the normal intelligence sharing channels.”
A D.C. police official did not immediately respond to questions Friday about whether the agency was aware of the report.
On Jan. 4, the day after the intelligence unit shared its warning and conclusions with more than a dozen Capitol Police command staff members, Sund said he asked the Senate and House sergeants at arms for permission to put the National Guard on emergency standby.
Sund said House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger rejected that idea and suggested he instead informally seek out his Guard contacts, asking them to “lean forward” and be on alert in case Capitol Police needed help.
Irving has not responded to requests for comment, and Stenger has declined to comment.
On the day of the attack, Sund said, he urgently renewed the request for emergency National Guard support after a mob broke through the Capitol barricades around 1 p.m. The minutes ticked by as the sergeants at arms sought approval from congressional leadership. The initial wave of the military reinforcements would not arrive for more than four hours — at 5:40 p.m.
The Capitol Police intelligence report was a collaborative product of its intelligence division, led by Donohue, a national expert on the rise of radicalization and violence among extremist groups and domestic terrorists who was recently hired by the department.
Donohue did not respond to requests for comment.
He took over in November as head of the Capitol Police’s Intelligence and Information Coordination Division, just as the force was preparing for a string of pro-Trump rallies. He previously worked for five years as a chief at the New York Police Department, helping oversee the force’s intelligence bureau, whose detectives and analysts deploy intelligence to disrupt criminal and terrorist plots. After 32 years with the NYPD, Donohue worked briefly as a private consultant.
In July 2020, Donohue testified before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence and counterterrorism about how social media was being used to radicalize and foment violence in right-wing and left-wing extremist groups. He warned about the increasingly incendiary nature of events billed as free-speech protests and extremists’ attempts to harm government officials and police in their calls for insurrection.
When “protesters arrive intent on violence or occupation and are carrying semiautomatic weapons, the stakes grow exponentially,” Donohue told the committee, adding, “Law enforcement must remain vigilant in identifying before they act, but the time frame may be remarkably short.”
Mary McCord, former acting assistant attorney general for national security, said the lack of more robust security around the Capitol on Jan. 6 has been “a complete mystery to me,” but she said the Capitol Police’s handling of its own intelligence was even more disturbing.
“It needs to be investigated,” said McCord, who is a fellow in a George Washington University program on extremism and a leader of Georgetown’s center on constitutional law. “It could be those who received the report were under pressure to handle this a certain way. It could mean that there were inherent biases, where people discounted this, and just didn’t think a large group of White conservatives who generally ally with the police and the GOP lawmakers, who were also present there that day, would be violent.”
One law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation of the security failures, said the report was viewed internally as predicting something the Capitol Police had already experienced at smaller pro-Trump rallies in November and December: some militia members interspersed among the protesters, and the likelihood of a few violent skirmishes breaking out. It did not signal a thousands-strong army storming the Capitol doors, the official said.
Meanwhile, an FBI internal report prepared the day before the attack by a field office in Norfolk described an online thread indicating that extremists were planning to travel to D.C. for “war.”
That document was shared with the field office in Washington, which — within 40 minutes — briefed officials in a command post there set up to respond to possible problems stemming from the rally, said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono. It was also shared through a Joint Terrorism Task Force that includes representatives from the Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies, D’Antuono said, though precisely who saw it remains unclear.
Officials said FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen were not briefed on the document in particular because it was considered a raw intelligence product, and investigators had not identified those responsible for the posts. But, the officials said, Wray was briefed in advance more broadly regarding online chatter about violence, as well as information from the FBI’s sources about possible extremists intending to travel to the Capitol.
Officials have said FBI agents visited some of those extremists to discourage them from traveling. But the bureau did not take other steps — such as issuing a formal threat assessment to law enforcement — that might have raised the level of alarm.
FBI officials have said it is difficult to distinguish cheap talk from actual threats online, where the volume of incendiary posts is astronomical. “One of the real challenges in this space is trying to distinguish what’s aspirational vs. what’s intentional,” Wray said at a briefing Thursday.
Matt Zapotosky, Peter Hermann and Julie Tate contributed to this report.“