Opinion | National Security

U.S. Capitol protection — intelligence drives operations

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

The U.S. Capitol is bracing for a large protest on Saturday, Sept. 18, dubbed the "Justice for J6" rally. This rally is being billed as one in support of the rioters who violently stormed the Capitol building on Jan. 6 - an event that has been partly attributable to a failure of the U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) heeding intelligence and the lack of a comprehensive security plan.

The U.S. Capitol Police inspector general wrote in its report about the riot that the department failed to act on and pass along critical information from others, including the FBI, that warned of potential violence and a "war" at the Capitol. That was disseminated on Jan. 5. According to the report, a Capitol Police intelligence officer sent the email internally that concluded the "chances of civil disobedience and arrests related to the January 6 protest were improbable" even though another assessment highlighted protestors' anger and frustrations could be source violence targeted at Congress.

The fundamental flaw of Jan. 6 was that the Capitol Police failed to follow the basic precept taught by U.S. Army Special forces and held in the intelligence community that intelligence should always drive operations. As we saw on Jan. 6, that failure to do so can lead to catastrophic results.

One of the excuses used by U.S. Capitol leadership was that the intelligence did not get to the command ranks and had nothing specific or actionable. In an article written by Lieutenant General William G. Boykin, in special forces lexicon, "Most failures of battlefield intelligence are due not to insufficient data or intelligence-collection efforts but instead to intelligence products that were either ignored or analytically weak. The products are often weak because the analyst is unskilled or uses an intuition-based, or 'gut-based' approach instead of a systematic process, or because rigid analytical processes and templated frameworks do not provide the responses that missions demand." Essentially, even though the intelligence was known, those tasked with compiling or disseminating it did not handle it appropriately.

Additionally, another flaw with intelligence dissemination is when the intelligence is "mirror-imaging, in which the analyst bases his findings on the assumption." The IG report stated the USCP Jan. 6 report was rife with assumptions. 

But, despite the flaws with the USCP intelligence analysis prior to the insurrection, ultimately it is the commanding officer's responsibility to ensure that intelligence is required, analyzed properly and focused. Army Special Forces say that to have a successful mission planning and tactical performance, a commander needs to be the principal determinant and the intelligence must act as the commander's expert advisers. This allows for "quick and sure responses to rapidly shifting conditions"

The report issued by the inspector general also faulted the U.S. Capitol Police for not preparing a comprehensive, department-wide plan for the demonstrations scheduled for Jan. 6. That report also implicated them for failing to request support from surrounding agencies, even though in Washington, D.C., agency inter-operations are a regular occurrence due to the proximity, jurisdiction and nature of the district. That inter-agency cooperation is often so good that the 9/11 Commission complimented the responding agencies in D.C. for their handling of the attack on the Pentagon. 

That level of coordination between local and federal jurisdictions was nonexistent on Jan.6. 

Yet, in Washington, D.C., and as a lesson from the Sept. 11 attacks, the government created the Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) system, which permits the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Operations Coordination to assess "the threat, vulnerability, and consequences for each event. This system allows for better planning, coordination, resources allocation, intelligence and operations among the requesting agency. Clearly, U.S. Capitol Police failed to use the system on Jan. 6.   

Thus far, reports and social media buzz about the "Justice for J6" rally appear to indicate that approximately 700 people could attend where, like all protests these days, a potential for violence is present. It's been reported that the U.S. Capitol Police have asked for an emergency declaration in D.C., which will also go into effect about the time of the demonstration that allows Capitol Police to deputize outside law enforcement officers as U.S. Capitol Police special officers and Department of Defense support has been requested. 

Let's hope the lessons of Jan. 6, like the lessons of the 9/11 attacks, have resonated and are not forgotten.  

Donald J. Mihalek is a retired senior Secret Service agent and regional field training instructor who served during two presidential transitions and coordinated multiple National Special Security Events and was also a police officer and in the U.S. Coast Guard.

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