Violent online messages before the Capitol riot was undivided by DHS, shows emails

The group of e-mails – sent from kl. 14.12 to kl. 15.12 on 6 January 2021 – shows that in the 48 hours leading up to the attack, officials weighed what they should share with law enforcement and ultimately proceeded with caution. In some cases, DHS officials worried that reporting violent messages found online could violate Americans’ civil liberties.

In the two days before the uprising, intelligence analysts had found “significant talk” on an online forum, showing emails but chose not to report them because they found the comments to be “hyperbole” and therefore protected speech.

Excerpts from previously unreported internal DHS emails, obtained by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington through a request for public records and shared with POLITICO, illuminating the department’s response to the Capitol attack.

DHS spokeswoman Sarah Peck said the department has made meaningful changes in the past year and did not comment on the email thread. “Over the past year, DHS has significantly strengthened its intelligence analysis, improved information sharing and operational coordination, and identified new resources to combat domestic violence, as part of the Biden Administration’s national strategy to combat domestic terrorism,” she said in a statement. declaration. to POLITICO.

A spokesman for the Capitol Police declined to comment.

“The challenge for intelligence officials is a constant evaluation of what is exaggeration and what is a real threat,” said Frank X. Taylor, who headed the office from April 2014 to January 2017. “And it’s not easy.”

And Javed Ali, a former counter-terrorism chief, said emails highlight “tensions in the intelligence system” over how to share information about Americans.

These new details about DHS’s handling of prior intelligence come as its inspector general completes a report examining its Office of Intelligence and Analysis by Jan. 6, according to three people familiar with the project. That report has found that the agency’s training of analysts is deficient, said one of those individuals.

The department’s internal watchdog reached a similar conclusion a year ago following an investigation into how the agency monitored 2020 civilian unrest in Portland, Ore.

In late 2020, after clashes between law enforcement and rioters in Portland, leaders in DHS’s intelligence office decided to tighten the rules on how its analysts would collect online information on potential violence. The Wall Street Journal has previously reported this. The day before the Capitol attack, intelligence told law enforcement around the country that they “had nothing significant to report,” the Journal reported.

One year after the uprising, there are signs that DHS is changing its intelligence strategy. In May, the department set up a unit in its intelligence office that focused specifically on domestic terrorist threats. And Home Security Minister Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters last week that the department has released more than 80 intelligence products focusing on violent extremism in the home in the past year.

In the recently revealed emails received by CREW, a progressive non-profit organization, the names of DHS officials have been edited. Twenty-eight minutes after the email with information about the Capitol Police’s request for intelligence was sent, a DHS official followed up with a group of officials at the department’s headquarters.

“Refresh on request,” was the email. “Groups have broken Capitol and are inside the rotunda. Capitol Police are awaiting assistance from [National Guard] and other [law enforcement] to assist. However, they still want to know if anyone is talking about tactics that can be used ion [sic] the future. Thank you.”

Then, at 2:58 p.m., an official wrote that DHS’s intelligence and analysis office had seen worrying comments in the days before the attack.

Five minutes later, a senior intelligence official signaled that officials should withhold information from the Capitol Police.

“Please make sure we label these as DHS I&A [Intelligence and Analysis] Only internally, and that we only pass on information that meets reporting thresholds outside of I&A channels, ”replied the director of the Office’s Current and Emerging Threats Center, whose name was edited.

“Keep the information flowing within I&A,” the director added, “but make sure we take a step back before we share this information outside of I&A and keep our authorities and thresholds in mind.”

Then officials went back and forth over what they, if anything, could share with the Capitol Police.

At 15:12 the last email in the thread reads: “Just let me know what I can and cannot share with [law enforcement] who needs it. “

The thread ends there. It does not show what intelligence – if any – the DHS office shared with the Capitol Police.

A former senior U.S. intelligence official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the matter openly, said emails were worrying.

“If I had headed the I&A, we would have thrown caution into the air to provide the Capitol Police with everything we knew,” the former official said. “I can not say what was in the minds of management at I&A, but given this series of emails, it seems they were far too careful to share what information they had in real time with the Capitol Police.”

Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for CREW, said emails highlighted how U.S. law enforcement underestimated the threats that preceded the attack.

“These emails show what we have long suspected: that the government knew of the potential threat on January 6 and did not take it seriously,” he said in a statement. “That DHS ‘immediate response that day was to remind people not to pass by. Information on potential threats to other law enforcement agencies is particularly worrying.”

Other January 6 announcements from the department have also come under scrutiny. At 1:40 p.m., half an hour after the attackers broke police barricades, the department’s National Operations Center sent out an update that said “there are no major incidents of illegal activity at present” in Washington.

And the Capitol riot was not the only violent episode that resulted in the fallout for the office. During the riots in Portland in 2020, in which rioters engaged in sustained attacks on a federal courthouse, I&A created intelligence reports on journalists – which quickly generated setbacks.

Acting Head of Department, Chad Wolf, condemned the assault and ordered an investigation and the head of I&A was removed. The possible internal review, published on January 6 last year, criticized the agency for lacks a formal training program for key employees.

While DHS’s watchdog is expected to blame the department’s training program for its intelligence errors, some current and former employees blame its management. I&A analysts saw worrying talk on social media before the uprising that they did not think was merely exaggeration, but was “In handcuffs” on reporting it by management at the time, said a DHS official familiar with the matter.

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