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National News

Warnings of potential threats to US Capitol, Feds on high alert: Intelligence report

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Warnings of potential threats to US Capitol, Feds on high alert: Intelligence report

2021-03-04 07:33:34

By K. Shalini

Federal law enforcement is on high alert Thursday in the wake of an intelligence bulletin issued earlier this week about a group of violent militia extremists having discussed plans to take control of the US Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about March 4.

The joint warning from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday underscores a broader effort by federal agencies to avoid repeating the mistakes made ahead of January 6, when officers were overtaken by a violent pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol. Those intelligence sharing and planning failures have been laid bare over the last two months in several hearings and have been a focal point of criticism from lawmakers investigating the violent attack that left several people dead.

The violent extremists also discussed plans to persuade thousands to travel to Washington, DC, to participate in the March 4 plot, according to the joint intelligence bulletin.

Some of the conspiracy theorists believe that the former President will be inaugurated on March 4, according to the joint bulletin. Between 1793 and 1933, inauguration often fell on March 4 or a surrounding date.

US Capitol Police acting chief Yogananda Pittman told Congress earlier Wednesday that her department had "concerning intelligence" regarding the next few days in Congress but said it wouldn't be "prudent" of her to share the "law-enforcement sensitive" intelligence in a public hearing or public format.

Pittman assured lawmakers, though, that her department is in an "enhanced" security posture and that the National Guard and Capitol Police have been briefed on what to expect in the coming days.

There has been a concerted effort among federal agencies to communicate the possible threats ahead of March 4 in a way they failed to do before January 6.

The effort to improve preparation extends to communicating with state and local officials. DHS held a call Wednesday with state and local law enforcement officials from around the country to discuss current threats posed by domestic extremists, including concerns about potential violence surrounding March 4 and beyond, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

While specific details from the call remain unclear, both sources said the overarching message from DHS officials is that addressing threats posed by domestic extremists requires increased communication and intelligence sharing across federal and state and local entities, as well as a shift in how law enforcement officials interpret the information they receive.

In a clear sign federal agencies are working to avoid the same communication failures for which they have been roundly criticized since the Capitol attack, DHS officials are stressing that law enforcement should not view intelligence solely through the lens of whether a threat qualifies as "credible and specific," but use the warnings coming from DHS, FBI and other partner agencies to inform decisions about their security posture, even if the information provided falls short of pointing to an imminent attack or violence, the sources said.

Federal officials are emphasizing the point that gaps in intelligence sharing left law enforcement unprepared for the chaos that unfolded on January 6, even though they were notified of potential violence days before the attack, and that going forward, bulletins issued by DHS and FBI indicate a threat is serious enough to be communicated to relevant entities, even if the intelligence is based primarily on online chatter or other less definitive indicators, the sources said.

The Capitol complex is currently fortified like a military installation, I don't anticipate any successful attacks against the property," said Brian Harrell, the former assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at DHS. "However, all threats should be taken seriously and investigations launched against those who would call for violence. We continue to see far-right extremist groups that are fueled by misinformation and conspiracy theories quickly become the most dangerous threat to society."

In the current environment, "You really cannot underestimate the potential that an individual or a small group of individuals will engage in violence because they believe a false narrative that they're seeing online," the US official said.

 

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