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‘Colossal’ breakdown: FBI warning not fully shared before Capitol riot; police lacked training, gear

  • February 24, 2021

Top Capitol law enforcement officials Tuesday described cascading intelligence breakdowns before the deadly Jan. 6 riots, including failure to adequately distribute an ominous bulletin provided by the FBI the night before warning that protesters were “preparing for war.”

In the first public testimony from officials tasked with the security strategy, former Capitol Police chief Steven Sund told a joint Senate investigating committee that the FBI report prepared by agents in the bureau’s office in Norfolk, Virginia, was received by the police department’s intelligence division but was never shared with the agency’s command staff.

The new disclosure only underscored what lawmakers described as a “colossal” security breakdown in intelligence sharing, training and equipping officers who were badly overrun by an armed mob bent on halting the certification of President Joe Biden’s election.

Dominic Pezzola, who the FBI says is a member of the Proud Boys, is shown during the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, wearing an ear piece and using a riot shield belonging to the U.S. Capitol Police to break open a window, according to the FBI.

Assistant FBI Director Steven D’Antuono has described the Jan. 5 warning as part of a “thread from a (social media) message board” that described an array of preparations for an assault, including a map of Capitol-area tunnels and staging areas in in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

D’Antuono said that while the information could not be attributed to an actual suspect, the information was shared within “40 minutes” with law enforcement partners, including the Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which includes the Capitol Police.

On Tuesday, Sund acknowledged that the FBI’s warning “would have been beneficial to be aware of” and indicated that the intelligence failure was “under review.”

“I agree that is something we need to look at,” the former chief said, adding that he became aware only this week that the bulletin had been received by his agency.

The FBI bulletin not only stands out for its timing and stark language, but it also countered every previous intelligence assessment considered by Sund and other law enforcement officials.

An incredulous Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, hammered the former Capitol Police chief with rapid-fire questions about lack of coordination.

“That report had specific information,” Peters said, referring to the FBI bulletin. “That raises a big question. … It does not get to operational command? How could that happen?”

Paul Irving, the former House sergeant at arms who resigned after the attack, and his Senate counterpart, Michael Stenger, also said they were unaware of the FBI warning at the time.

“We all believed that the plan met the threat,” Irving told senators. “We all now know we had the wrong plan.

“As sergeant at arms and as a senior official responsible for the security of the Capitol, I accept responsibility for my approval of that plan,” Irving said. “And as you know, I resigned from my position on Jan. 7.”

‘We had not had that training’

The intelligence breakdown, however, was only one of several troubling revelations to emerge in the Senate hearing.

Sund also told senators that officers had not been trained for an actual breach of the building.

The former chief said officers have participated in exercises aimed at individuals who might attempt unauthorized access to the Capitol grounds.

“But training for thousands of armed insurrectionists, no we had not had that training,” Sund said. 

The former chief also said not all officers assigned to civil disturbance units had access to riot gear.

“I don’t know why you would have a civil disturbance unit that didn’t have riot gear,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “They were not trained and they didn’t have the equipment. We owe it to the officers to provide the training and equipment they need.”

National Guard delays

Conflicting accounts also emerged over requests for National Guard assistance during the throes of the assault.

Sund testified that he requested National Guard help at 1:09 p.m. Jan. 6, adding that the call was made to Irving.

The request, however, was not approved until 2:10 p.m.

Irving said he had “no recollection of a conversation with Chief Sund at that time” and said it was likely closer to 1:30 p.m. Irving said he huddled with Stenger, the former Senate sergeant at arms, about the request before it was approved.

Lawmakers requested the officials’ phone records in an effort to establish a clearer timeline for the requests for the Guard, though Irving told lawmakers his phone records would show he did not receive a call at 1:09 p.m. on the day of the attack.

Sund had previously said his requests to have the Guard in position in the days before the riot were denied, with Irving citing the “optics” of having troops at the Capitol. Irving denied the account, saying they had based the decision on intelligence that was available at the time.

With the assault in full force, acting District of Columbia Police Chief Robert Contee III said he was part of a 2:22 p.m. conference call in which he described being “stunned” at the Department of the Army’s hesitance to send Guard troops to the Capitol.

“While I certainly understand the importance of both planning and public perception – the factors cited by the staff on the call – these issues become secondary when you are watching your employees, vastly outnumbered by a mob, being physically assaulted,” Contee said. “I was just stunned.”

‘These criminals came prepared for war’

The Senate hearing is the first  of what lawmakers promised would be more to come in a public examination of the security preparations and response by law enforcement.

Lawmakers said federal authorities, including representatives from the FBI, Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security, would be called next week.

“Casting blame solely on the United States Capitol Police leadership is not only misplaced, but it also minimizes what truly occurred,” Sund told the committee, repeatedly saying the department’s best efforts weren’t enough.

Earlier in Tuesday’s hearing, Sund said he regrets leaving the department despite the acknowledged security breakdowns. The former chief’s resignation was demanded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi immediately after the assault.

He said Pelosi acted “without a full understanding of what we prepared for.”

“These criminals came prepared for war,” Sund said. “They came with weapons, chemical munitions and explosives. They came with shields, ballistic protection and tactical gear. They came with their own radio system to coordinate the attack, as well as climbing gear and other equipment to defeat the Capitol’s security features.”

Capt. Carneysha Mendoza was among the officers sent to the riot scene.

Mendoza offered senators a moving recounting of the multiple, urgent calls for help to contain a mob that had done the once-unthinkable: orchestrate a mass breach of the Capitol.

Mendoza, who lauded Sund’s leadership, described a cloud of “military-grade gas” that hung in the hallways, saying she still suffers from burns from the chemicals.

During more than four hours of fighting, Mendoza said, she witnessed colleagues falling around her while others pleaded for help to keep the crowd at bay.

“This was by far the worst of the worst,” Mendoza said, suggesting no amount of additional personnel might have repelled the mob.

“We could have had 10 times the people working with us and I still believe this battle would been just as devastating,” the captain said.

More:Capitol Police investigating 35 officers for Jan. 6 riot as union denounces ‘witch hunt’

resigned, the Capitol Police have launched a separate investigation into their its own response. The department recently acknowledged that 35 of its officers were under investigation in relation to the riot, with six suspended without pay, a move their union denounced as a “witch hunt.”  

Merrick Garland:Merrick Garland calls Capitol riot probe ‘first priority’ in confirmation hearing; promises no political interference

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