WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC), U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) questioned Melissa Smislova, Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary within the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Jill Sanborn, Assistant Director of Counterterrorism Division for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about DHS’s intelligence gathering in the lead up to the January 6th insurrection at the United States Capitol, as well as the FBI’s intelligence sharing and communication with the Metropolitan Police Department of D.C. and U.S. Capitol Police in the lead up to the attack. A transcript of the Senator’s full exchange can be found below, and a video of the Senator’s full exchange can be found here.
ROSEN: In October 2020, DHS warned that, and I quote, “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists—will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland” and that, quote again, “violent actors might target events related to…the post-election period.”
According to a former DHS Assistant Secretary for Counterterrorism and Threat Prevention, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, or I&A, was aware of the potential for violence on January 6, and I quote again, “but for reasons of fear didn’t want to formalize reports.” But, in fact, the day before the attacks, I&A sent a national summary to law enforcement partners stating there was “Nothing significant to report.”
If DHS assessed white supremacists to be the most lethal threat to Americans, and if I&A was aware of domestic violent extremists mobilizing to cause violence on January 6, then why didn’t the Department issue a formal intelligence warning that violence could occur? And I ask this of Ms. Smislova.
SMISLOVA: Yes, yes, ma’am. First, we have heard of that report that we supposedly sent out that said: “Nothing significant to report.” We cannot locate that. So, I have no idea where that notion came from. We cannot locate that.
ROSEN: Can you follow up with us on that? See if you can find it?
SMISLOVA: We’ve looked ma’am for a while. So, we don’t have a copy of that report. This wouldn’t be an official report that I&A sent out. It is possible, ma’am, that what it came from was maybe a phone call or something else where we said we had nothing additional to support.
We did view the work we had done prior to January 6th as being sufficiently specific in warning of the possible threats. Some of the reports we did distribute you just quoted from yourself. So, it was our belief that those warnings were enough. Obviously, they were not.
We are working very hard to do two things. One, get better specificity and insight into this particular threat, and then secondly, understand better how our customers receive our products, read our products, who gets our products.
It is unclear to us why they were not received, and we were not better prepared for a possible attack.
ROSEN: Thank you, I want to follow up on that. Did I&A share any intelligence products with National Fusion Centers relaying information about possible violence on January 6th, and is Capitol Police part of the DC-area fusion center?
SMISLOVA: Yes, we talked specifically to the Capitol Police in early December and made sure they were in receipt of all our products and that they received again the one we put out just a week before the attack that we co-authored with FBI National Counter-Terrorism Center.
We know that all of our products do go to the National Network of Fusion Centers, and we, in fact, participated in a phone call that was sponsored by the national network of fusion centers the day before on January 5th, where we also reiterated our concerns that we were in a heightened threat environment, that this particular adversary could mobilize quickly, most likely in small cells, lone offenders, that they would most likely come armed, and that they were interested in attacking specifically government buildings and large gatherings.
ROSEN: Well, I appreciate that, but it seems like we weren’t exactly ready.
So, moving forward, I know that you alluded that you’re going to try and figure out where your product goes, but how are you going to specifically elevate I&A’s assessment that white supremacists are the homeland’s most lethal threat, so that quality, detailed, and informed intelligence reaches actually reaches our communities – including local law enforcement – ahead of possible attacks so that we can prevent any loss of life and certainly other kinds of damage?
SMISLOVA: Yes ma’am, and the Department [of Homeland Security] is committed to doing that. Our Secretary is very committed to coming up with a whole-of-DHS approach to better combat domestic terrorism. We are working across the Department to understand how to better articulate the threat and deliver the threat and how to mitigate it with our state and local partners.
ROSEN: Thank you. I want to move on because the day before the insurrection, the FBI issued an internal warning that extremists planned to take part in violence on January 6th.
Last week, I asked Metro PD about the intelligence failures leading up to the attacks. Acting Chief of Police Contee told me that the FBI emailed MPD an alert bulletin warning about potential violence at 7 p.m. the night before the attack.
Mr. Contee told me, again, I’m going to quote here, “I would certainly think that something as violent as an insurrection at the Capitol would warrant a phone call or something.”
But yesterday, FBI Director Wray shared that this information had been provided to local law enforcement multiple times and in multiple forms.
So, Ms. Sanborn [FBI], it sounds like either Mr. Contee or Director Wray was mistaken.
So, can you corroborate Director Wray’s statement? And if indeed the warning was only sent in writing, why didn’t the FBI go a little bit further. Why did the FBI not alert local law enforcement about the possible violent insurrection in a manner more consistent with the gravity of the threat on our capitol?
SANBORN: Yes ma’am, I appreciate the question. The information we received just to characterize what it was, was information off the internet, un-attributable to a specific person.
That being said, the content and the suggestion of what may or may not happen was concerning enough that, based on our prioritizing – this is a collection priority for our 56 field offices – they quickly wrote that up and within the hour had that information to the Washington field office. They wrote it up in a document specifically for dissemination to state and local partners, but really they tried to belt and suspender that together.
They wanted to make sure that we just didn’t rely on the dissemination of a product, that we also followed up with an email, so it went out in an email to all Task Force officers on the Washington JTTF Task Force, and there’s numerous of those from the national capital region that received that email.
Still, on top of that, they didn’t want to rely on just the email and the written document. In one of the command post briefings that they were doing back then every couple of hours, they specifically stood up and talked about this to try to have a common operating picture of what this information was.
And then still, to go a step further, and not rely on just that, and make sure we broaden the visibility not just to the national capital region, but that we open that aperture to the whole country for our state and local partners, we posted that situation information report on what we call the leap portal, which is available to all state and local partners, and while that is significant is it gives them awareness, but it also gives them the opportunity to maybe even potentially add collection to what our piece that we got from the social media posting online.
ROSEN: Thank you, I know my time is expired, so I’ll take my question offline, but you’re encountering so many online threatening posts we need to maybe change the definition of specific threats and raise them up.