WASHINGTON — Transcripts of interviews with law enforcement officials released this week by the Jan. 6 committee reveal the panel learned that numerous security concerns had been raised in the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol.
Many of the revelations came in interviews with high-ranking individuals such as former Secret Service and White House official Anthony Ornato; former executive director of the National Capitol Threat Intelligence Center Donell Harvin; former Deputy FBI Director David Bowdich; Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee; former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund; and House Staff Director Jamie Fleet.
But some of the new information came from questions posed to those officials by Jan. 6 committee staffers based on details they had gathered in the course of the 18-month investigation.
Much of that information, mentioned by investigators during the interviews, was not included in the appendix of the committee's final report that addressed law enforcement and intelligence failures. For the most part, Jan. 6 committee leaders decided against focusing the final report on how law enforcement came to be so underprepared for the attack.
The new revelations add to a growing body of evidence from news reports and court proceedings that illustrate how federal law enforcement officials were in possession of ample information that indicated Jan. 6 was going to be violent. As NBC News first reported last month, staffers were informed that chapters prepared by committee staff — including material focused on law enforcement and intelligence failures — would be cut from the final version.
Among the revelations from the transcripts: One FBI employee wrote in a Dec. 26, 2020, memo about planning for Jan. 6 that was unfolding on a pro-Trump forum called TheDonald.
“They think they will have a large enough group to march into DC armed, and it will outnumber the police so they can’t be stopped," read the notification in the eGuardian system, which is meant to help federal, state and local law enforcement officials coordinate. "They believe that since the election was stolen, that it’s their constitutional right to over take the government and during this coup no U.S. laws apply. Another group of Proud Boys will be in DC already and are planning on blocking the roads with their cars in order to stop traffic."
NBC News previously reported that one of the FBI’s own confidential sources informed the bureau on the day that Trump sent his Dec. 19, 2020, “will be wild” tweet about Jan. 6 that far-right groups saw it as a “call to arms.” The FBI received numerous tips about the potential for violence on Jan. 6, including from the son of a Texas man who ultimately came to the Capitol with a gun, and the bureau briefed other law enforcement entities about threats, including intelligence that suggested the Oath Keepers had set up armed "quick reaction forces" in Virginia that were set to come into D.C. at Trump's command. Two members of the Oath Keepers were convicted of seditious conspiracy at a trial that ended last month, and three others pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy charges.
The Jan. 6 committee transcripts detailed the challenges facing the FBI in the lead-up to Jan. 6. Days before the attack, the FBI lost use of the program it had been using to track threats on social media, as the bureau transitioned to a new product to gather open source information. An FBI intelligence analyst raised concerns about that on New Year's Eve, as threats about Jan. 6 continued to increase.
“We have an urgent need for the DataMinr replacement to be on and active starting on January 4th in support of some potential issues in the D.C. area,” the analyst wrote in a Dec. 31, 2020, email. “The sudden discontinuation is most untimely as much of our crisis response funnels through DataMinr.”
Bowdich, in his interview with Jan. 6 investigators, said there was a lot happening at the bureau in the days before the attack: There had been a major cyber intrusion; a bomb had gone off in downtown Nashville, Tenn.; the first anniversary of the U.S. killing of Iranian Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani was approaching; and the bureau was receiving a lot of intelligence about the potential for violence, much of which was publicly available on social media.
“I wish you could see the volume,” Bowdich told the committee, referring to the number of threats the FBI reviews. “It is off the charts. ... One of our greatest challenges is social media today.”
The bureau did make efforts to try to disrupt extremists' travel to D.C.; the FBI's Domestic Terrorism Operations Section messaged all domestic terrorism assistant special agents in charge across the country to determine whether any of the extremists they were watching were planning to go to D.C. on Jan. 6.
Ultimately, the FBI set up a national command post for the event inside the Strategic Information Operations Center at FBI headquarters in Washington.
“The noise seemed to be growing as we got closer to the event, and it reached a point of we just didn’t know what was going to happen," Bowdich said. "Sometimes you just get a sense for it when you’ve been doing it.”
Some of those officials interviewed by the committee about the intelligence failures made clear they thought there were problems that needed to be fixed, both before Jan. 6 and going forward.
“[Y]ou don’t need intelligence. I mean, everybody knew that people were directed to come there by the President. November was a run-up, December was practice, and January 6th was executed,” said House Sergeant at Arms William J. Walker, who was head of the D.C. National Guard on Jan. 6. The information publicly available made clear that Jan. 6 “was going to be a big deal,” he said.
Sund, the former Capitol Police chief who resigned the day after the attack, said that intelligence he received didn't "send up a bunch of red flags for me" because most protests target Congress. Harvin, the former chief of homeland security and intelligence for D.C., told the committee that Sund shouldn't characterize what happened as an intelligence failure, but as a failure to act on intelligence.
“He said it was intelligence failure," Harvin said. "It may have been an intelligence failure on his agency’s part and a failure to properly contextualize and pervade the threat environment, but it wasn’t an intelligence failure at large.”
Contee, the D.C. police chief, said there needed to be better sharing of intelligence, and that he would have liked to have known about a Capitol Police report about some of the threats related to Jan. 6.
“I don’t think I want to get notified about Armageddon through an email," Contee said. "That would not be my preferred notification, right?”
When asked about what she thought the intelligence failures were, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was blunt.
"People didn't think that these white nationalists would overthrow the Capitol building," the Democratic mayor said.