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Did Secret Service drop the ball before Jan. 6?

Jason Leopold and Mike Dorning
Bloomberg News (TNS)

A Secret Service unit responsible for identifying threats repeatedly downplayed advance warnings of potential violence on Jan. 6, 2021, newly released documents show, a lapse that is now part of the House investigation into the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The Secret Service Protective Intelligence & Assessment Division’s preparation and response to Jan. 6 is laid bare in nearly 900 pages of emails, internal reports and threat assessments obtained by Bloomberg News in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The reports tell of extremist groups heading for Washington, including some that openly discussed employing violence to overturn the 2020 election results. But a series of internal memos circulated among agents repeatedly say “there is no indication of civil disobedience” associated with any of the planned protests.

The performance of the Secret Service and other law enforcement has become a flashpoint in a House committee’s investigation of the Jan. 6 assault since it was revealed that the agency had deleted text messages sent among agents that were sought by the committee.

The panel, in a televised hearing Thursday, revealed the chilling alarms that flowed into the agency before the assault, including multiple online posters targeting members of Congress and instructing others to march into the Capitol on Jan. 6, when both the House and Senate would be certifying Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.

One social media user flagged by the agency threatened to bring a sniper rifle to protests that day.

After President Donald Trump delivered a fiery address on the Ellipse near the White House, a mob of his supporters that far outnumbered the police ranks outside the Capitol breached its defenses and stormed inside. Video shows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi imploring then-Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia to send the National Guard and the state police.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House panel, said the committee would continue to examine how the Secret Service handled threat information it received.

Secret Service Deputy Director Faron Paramore said in a statement Friday that the agency “is not a member of the Intelligence Community (IC).”

“We are a consumer of information from the IC and we routinely receive pertinent information from the appropriate agencies within the IC with intelligence gathering authority,” Paramore said. “In the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, Secret Service was in constant communication and sharing information with our law enforcement partners.”

The agency’s intelligence division’s work was crucial since much of the planning for Jan. 6 took place on social media. In late December 2020, the agency had identified a “demonstration hosted by Proud Boys” to be held on Jan. 6 and pointed out that “the group advised they will not wear their traditional black and yellow attire and will dress ‘incognito’” and will turn out in record numbers in Washington then disburse into smaller groups.

Yet the intelligence division officer who highlighted the Proud Boys’ plans wrote in a report “There is no indication of civil disobedience.”

No hint

The officer gleaned from Facebook and other platforms details about the Proud Boys’ and other groups’ protest plans and wrote in a summary for each one that there wasn’t any hint that the demonstrations would become unruly.

During the insurrection, more than 150 law enforcement officers were injured and one rioter fatally shot. The intruders came within 40 feet of Vice President Mike Pence, whom the Secret Service is charged with protecting, as he and other leaders fled to safe areas.

An 11-page intelligence brief on a “March for Trump” and dated Dec. 31, 2020, included detailed information about the protests planned for Jan. 6. It named the organizers associated with each of the groups, and states that similar events held by some of the same factions in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election ended in violence and dozens of arrests.

The intelligence report focused in part on the Proud Boys and says the extremist group is “of record with USSS for demonstration activity since 2017; no civil disobedience or arrests have been recorded.”

The intelligence report’s assessment, which is partly redacted, concludes by stating, “Many of the groups planning to engage in demonstration activities on Jan. 6, 2021, are the same which participated in demonstration activities on Nov. 14, 2020 and Dec. 12, 2020. Verbal and physical altercations ensued between pro-Trump and anti-Trump supporters during both events.”

On Jan. 4, 2021, the intelligence division distributed an advisory to its officers entitled “Notable Trends and Tactics for Consideration Ahead of Potential Civil Unrest in the National Capitol Region.”

The document warned officers to be hyper vigilant regarding violent tactics by protesters who may try and harm officers. The Proud Boys factored heavily into the advisory. However, according to the advisory, “The group has not been known to engage in civil disobedience and their demonstrations have ended without incidents or arrests.”

Members of the group now face seditious conspiracy charges resulting from the the assault. The leader of an allied group, the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, is now on trial along with four others, accused of sedition or attacking the US government.

The House committee revealed Thursday that the Secret Service received a tip from the FBI on Dec. 26 warning that the Proud Boys planned to “literally kill people” on Jan. 6.

Situational awareness

The agency, in its statement, said the majority of exhibits displayed by the committee “were provided by agencies outside of the U.S. Secret Service” and that information was shared with local and federal law enforcement agencies.

At 9:56 a.m. on Jan. 6, a Secret Service protective intelligence division officer distributed a situational awareness report as events were unfolding that said the agency’s counter-surveillance division estimated there were about 10,000 people in line “waiting to go through the Main Magnetometers” for Trump’s planned rally at the Ellipse on Constitution Avenue near the White House and some 25,000 people around the Washington Monument.

Attached to the report was a list of 85 groups, such as Stop the Steal, Eat Pray Kill, and the Fred Hampton Gun Club, that planned to protest the results of the 2020 election.

“Some members of the of the crowd are wearing ballistic helmets, body armor and carrying radio equipment and military grade backpacks,” the report said. Counter-surveillance teams “will continue to monitor all crowds in the area of the White House zone. No civil disobedience at this time.”


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