USA TODAY International Edition
FBI chief pressed on riot warning
Threat of ‘ war’ shared widely, Wray testifies
FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday described an ominous warning the night before the Capitol riots about the prospect of extreme violence as “raw, unverified, uncorroborated information” – but he said the bureau’s report was shared extensively with Capitol Police and other authorities.
Wray said the report, which concluded that extremists were “preparing for war,” was provided to authorities at the command level, distributed to its local Joint Terrorism Task Force network and posted on a national electronic portal for review by law enforcement authorities across the country.
The FBI director’s testimony before a Senate panel comes nearly a week after former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund told a separate Senate committee that the intelligence never made it to him and others before the attack that left five dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.
Sund acknowledged that the bulletin landed at the Capitol police agency’s intelligence unit but was never forwarded.
Though Wray told lawmakers Tuesday that he did not become aware of the report’s existence until “some number of days” after Jan. 6, he said
the contents of the advisory were important enough for the FBI to distribute it across law enforcement the way they did at the time.
“Because of the level of detail that was in it, the judgment was, given the press of time, given the specificity ... was to push it to the people who needed it,” he said.
Pressed by lawmakers on why the information had not been seen by either the former Capitol chief, who resigned shortly after the attack, or the acting District of Columbia police chief, Wray said, “I don’t have a good answer.”
“It was more than just an email,” the director said, adding that at least five Capitol police officers who also serve as members of a Capitol- area terrorism task force would have received it.
In addition to the report’s placement on an electronic portal, Wray said, the information was included a “verbal” briefing for law enforcement officials at a local command center.
But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, DConn., citing the volume of threat- related information circulating across social media in the days before Jan. 6, suggested the FBI should have called more urgent attention to the risk.
“Why didn’t you sound the alarm in a more visible and ringing way?” Blumenthal asked.
The director said he had warned repeatedly of the mounting domestic threat in recent years and again defended the bureau’s handling of the threat report distributed the night before the attack.
Wray’s testimony comes six months after he offered a now- prescient warning of the threat posed by domestic extremists. “Trends may shift, but the underlying drivers for domestic violent extremism – such as perceptions of government or law enforcement overreach, sociopolitical conditions, racism, antiSemitism, Islamophobia, misogyny and reactions to legislative actions – remain constant,” he said then.
The director on Tuesday described how the Capitol assault involved some of the very classes of extremists he warned about in September.
Wray said the Capitol extremists represent just part of a burgeoning domestic threat landscape in which agents are working about 2,000 investigations, double the number the FBI reported four years ago.
In opening Tuesday’s hearing, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D- Ill., declared that the “federal government has failed to address the growing terrorist menace in our own backyard.”
He took sharp aim at the Trump administration, saying officials “spent four years downplaying the threat posed by white supremacists.”
Domestic right- wing extremists were responsible for almost 70% of terrorist attacks and plots in the U. S. in 2020, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washingtonbased think tank.
Wray’s testimony comes as a separate joint committee of the Senate continues its investigation of the Capitol assault and law enforcement’s failure to prepare for it and repel the rioters.
Since the attack, the FBI has been leading a far- reaching criminal investigation that has resulted in charges against more than 300 suspects and the arrests of at least 280 others. On Tuesday, Wray was pressed for an update into the federal investigation into Sicknick’s death and conflicting accounts about the cause of his death. The director said the bureau still was not in a position to determine that.
Under Wray’s direction, the bureau has been examining tens of thousands of digital images leading to the identification of suspected rioters while appealing for the public’s help to identify suspects who were involved in planting pipe bombs at the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic national committees.
Citing the “massive” scale of the Capitol investigation and a “metastasizing” overall domestic threat, Wray acknowledged Tuesday that the bureau needed more help.
“We need more agents; we need more analysts,” the director said.
Last week, federal officials said that the threat to the Biden administration persists and that authorities are “very closely” monitoring the run- up to President Joe Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress. The assessment, provided in a domestic terror briefing, followed a separate warning by acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman, who told lawmakers that “militia groups” that took part in the Jan. 6 attack seek to “blow up the Capitol,” possibly targeting Biden’s address.
In the coming weeks, Biden is expected to give his first formal address to Congress – similar to a State of the Union address. The date of the speech has not been scheduled.