Intel failures compounded Capitol riot, senators hear

Intel failures compounded US Capitol riot, senators hear

In a compelling testimony, they painted a picture of officers badly outnumbered by armed and coordinated insurgents

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol. Credit: AFP File Photo

The deadly US Capitol riot on January 6 exposed devastating security and intelligence weaknesses, with military authorities reacting too slowly to calls for National Guard backup against an overwhelming mob, security officials told Congress Tuesday.

Among the most serious lapses revealed: the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent US Capitol Police a report on the eve of the unrest warning that extremists groups were coming to Washington "ready for war," but the document did not reach USCP leadership.

And lawmakers also heard that military officials had been "reluctant" to send troops to defend Congress, even when it was clear conditions at the Capitol had deteriorated.

In the first congressional hearing on the attack, police chiefs and the House and Senate sergeants at arms acknowledged they were blindsided by lack of intelligence and response coordination to the worst domestic insurrection since the Civil War.

Also read: Police say FBI didn't flag Capitol 'war' report

In a compelling testimony, they painted a picture of officers badly outnumbered by armed and coordinated insurgents.

They pointed to a series of intelligence shortcomings about the threat level, including assessments of "remote" and "improbable" chances of major violence on January 6, even though extremist groups like the Proud Boys made clear they were coming to Washington that day to stir up trouble.

"No entity, including the FBI, provided any intelligence indicating that there would be a coordinated violent attack on the United States Capitol by thousands of well-equipped armed insurrectionists," a situation that left his officers woefully unprepared against a violent mob, said the US Capitol Police's then-chief Steven Sund.

Later in the four-hour joint hearing before the Senate homeland security and rules committees, however, Sund said the USCP "did get" the FBI report warning of violence, but "no leadership, myself included, over at Capitol Police was made aware of that at the time of the event."

"That's very concerning," Senator Jeff Merkley told Sund during questioning.

Sund resigned his post days after the riot, which left five dead including one police officer and four other people. Two other police officers died by suicide shortly afterwards.

House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving and Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael Stenger also resigned.

Irving testified that "the intelligence was not that there would be a coordinated assault on the Capitol, nor was that contemplated in any of the inter-agency discussions that I attended in the days before the attack."

The unprecedented breach of the citadel of American democracy occurred on January 6 after then-president Donald Trump whipped up a crowd of his supporters, urging them to march on Congress and "fight like hell."

The riot, fuelled by Trump's repeated false claims that the election was rigged, appeared aimed at blocking the certification of Joe Biden as winner of the November 3 vote.

Washington's acting police chief Robert Contee said his officers were literally "fighting for their lives" on Capitol Hill.

Also read: Former US President Donald Trump sued for Capitol attack under 'Ku Klux Klan Act'

But he was "stunned at the response" by the Department of the Army, which he said was "reluctant" to send National Guard troops to protect the Capitol.

Officials participating in the hearing agreed that a thorough review of intelligence sharing operations and internal processes is needed to determine reforms to be made in order to prevent any new attacks.

And Senate Rules Committee chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, noting the "intelligence breakdown" regarding the FBI report, announced that a new hearing would be convened next week with testimony from officials at the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon.

Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman Gary Peters described January 6 as "one of our nation's darkest days," and said the security problems at the Capitol marked "a systemic and leadership failure" that must be addressed.

Lawmakers heard a gripping account of the unrest by Capitol Police Captain Carneysha Mendoza, including how she helped keep a group of rioters at bay as they forced their way into the building.

"This was by far the worst of the worst," Mendoza said, noting how rioters deployed "military grade" tear gas in the Rotunda as they fought with police.

"We could have had 10 times the amount of people working with us, and I still believe the battle would have been just as devastating," she said.

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