On the day of the Capitol Riot, I oversaw the District of Columbia’s Fusion Intelligence Center, which is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating threat intelligence for local government. I have appeared before the committee three times. And it is clear that the report does not fully contextualize or analyze the vital security issues and failures that have taken place.
“Before Jan. 6, it was unimaginable” that a violent mob would attack the Capitol at the behest of the president, the report said. This premise is the critical flaw in the committee’s logic. The events of January 6 represented the most telegraphed and predictable attack on the homeland in history.
The intelligence community knew the purpose of the rioters. As a senior intelligence official in the DC government, my staff and I “red-teamed” the scenario exactly as it unfolded a week before January 6th. The plausibility of the threat prompted us to raise red flags. We called an emergency conference call of all 79 state and local “fusion” intelligence centers across the country – an act without historical precedent.
The committee’s report assumes that in the future, “the best defense against [the danger to the Capitol] will not come from law enforcement, but from an informed and active population. It’s poetic at best, misleading at worst. The thoughts and actions of those who want to incite or commit violence cannot be controlled, especially when they use the First Amendment as a shield. The “best defense” against this danger is an intelligence-informed physical defense posture led by capable leaders.
The report weighs more than 800 pages. Security and intelligence issues, however, are relegated to just 44 pages in the appendices, or about 5% of the report. These appendices read like a script for a Netflix series, detailing the behind-the-scenes discussions, deliberations, and decisions (or non-decisions) of key players. What is missing is an analysis of what should have happened and who was responsible for the massive security failure that day. The absence of such conclusive analysis leaves ample room for conspiracy theorists to string together disparate facts and weave elaborate but believable lies.
Only two of the report’s 11 recommendations are tangentially related to homeland security, and these are low-hanging fruit and do not get to the heart of national security issues. The report calls for a “whole of government” approach to countering violent extremism. Most Americans would be surprised that this doesn’t happen in a post-9/11 world, but the committee isn’t asking any agency or official to lead this effort. This is basically a recommendation uttered in the wind.
The second recommendation is the one I offered to the committee, realizing that there were no major federal agencies coordinating or planning (or willing to do so) around the events of January 6th. Designating these types of high-risk events as a Security Special Event (NSSE) would ameliorate the command and control vacuum we experienced during this time. A third recommendation calling for better oversight of Capitol Police is good, but it doesn’t move the needle to keep normal citizens or state and local governments safe in their home jurisdictions.
There is much more to do. The recommendations I made to the committee last year are still relevant today:
Assign Director of National Intelligence to oversee domestic intelligence
The DNI delegates responsibility for domestic intelligence matters to the FBI and DHS, providing a supporting role to these agencies. It is clear from the report and the transcripts that the FBI and DHS are not playing to the same score. Either we need the DNI to take the lead in all intelligence, not just international intelligence, or we need a national version of the DNI to coordinate intelligence for the homeland.
Fight against prohibitive repressive dogmas
There is “no credible or specific threat” was a refrain I heard no less than 40 times before January 6th. But there were mountains of non-credible and non-specific threats, enough to trigger a robust preparedness response. In addition, the concept of “law enforcement sensitive” (LRA) information hampers information sharing between agencies and the “whole of government” approach recommended by the committee. At all levels of government, law enforcement agencies are legally or structurally prohibited from sharing information about ongoing threats with other law enforcement agencies or with agencies engaged in emergency preparedness, response and consequence management (such as fire, EMS, emergency management and homeland security). agencies). These two issues combined create a patchwork of formal and informal information networks that can work on “clear sky” days but fail during a crisis.
Strengthen state and local “fusion” intelligence centers
Created following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the network of fusion centers serve as information and intelligence centers for their respective states and jurisdictions. Their collaboration and coordination was one of the few bright spots in January 2021. And yet, many of these centers are understaffed. They must be mandated to share information and intelligence with various agencies in cities, states, and with the federal government, which they are currently not obligated to do.
Authorize the DC Mayor to activate the DC National Guard
It is the only National Guard unit that cannot be activated by the Chief Executive of the jurisdiction. Mobilizing the DC Guard is a complex and bureaucratic process that has clearly not been well understood by many key stakeholders. Short of granting DC full statehood, the mayor must be able to do what his counterparts across the country can do without asking permission from the Pentagon: call on his citizen soldiers in defense of the district. .
Congress must lead and oversee intelligence reform
The report says “relevant oversight committees and oversight bodies should continue to find efficiencies and improvements” without naming those oversight committees or groups, or providing much concrete guidance. Congress must ensure that the necessary reforms are made and do so in an apolitical and bipartisan manner. The politicization of intelligence and law enforcement is a preeminent threat to the homeland and must be avoided at all costs.
Since 9/11, the United States has spent billions to create a massive homeland security and intelligence apparatus. In light of January 6, the return on that investment seems questionable.
The January 6 Committee has undoubtedly assumed a historic and difficult role. Its members and witnesses have faced political and security threats. It is in this environment that the committee collected and analyzed an unprecedented amount of testimony and documents. While the shortcomings in the committee’s report do not reflect a lack of effort on the part of members or staff, they do signal a dire need for continued oversight and reform of our homeland security apparatus. Two years after a murderous assault on our democracy, we are no closer to correcting the systemic processes and cultures that turned a dark and mundane day on the election calendar into a massive government failure to be immortalized in the history books.