Government watchdog finds DHS should have considered Jan. 6 a special security event

Government watchdog finds DHS should have considered Jan. 6 a special security event
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The first of three reports from a government watchdog on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) response to Jan. 6 found the agency failed to consider designating lawmakers' certification of the 2020 election as a special security event — a move that would have funneled additional resources to the Capitol that day.

The report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found DHS didn’t assign a National Special Security Event (NSSE) or a Special Event Assessment Rating (SEAR) to the Jan. 6 certification, something DHS said would be an unusual approach to standard congressional business.

“A designation would likely have assured additional security to help respond to the January 6 attack on the Capitol,” GAO concluded in its report. 

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“This non-permitted incident was not designated, even though there were other indications, such as social media posts, that additional security may have been needed at the Capitol Complex on January 6,” the report stated.

The two designations can cover events ranging from the inauguration to the Super Bowl, with SEARs generally used to cover events with less of a political nexus. 

GAO found the Jan. 6 certification could have qualified for either “because, for example, they were large events with presidential or vice presidential attendance.”

“DHS officials we spoke with stated that a SEAR designation would not be applicable to the joint session of Congress to certify election results because it was considered routine congressional business, not a special event. As a result, DHS officials indicated that this designation was not considered,” the report stated.

It also said the agency needs to refine its NSSE process to cover a wider range of events.

“While election certification by the Congress was a routine event in the past, the threat environment in 2021 was different from past elections,” GAO wrote in the report.

“DHS and its homeland security partners must be flexible in their approach to managing risk. This means that homeland security solutions must be dynamic,” the report stated. 

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The GAO report follows a request from Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowThe United States must lead the way on artificial intelligence standards Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates MORE (D-Colo.) and House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPowerful Democrats push back on one-year extension of child tax credit The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Democrats optimistic after Biden meetings House to vote Thursday on holding Bannon in contempt MORE (D-Md.) to investigate action taken by DHS and other law enforcement agencies in the days leading up to Jan. 6.

Coming reports will evaluate how law enforcement and intelligence agencies acted on information available through social media and the role of intelligence sharing between state, local and federal partners.

“Today’s report makes it clear that confusion around the Department of Homeland Security’s process for designating certain events as 'special events' led to a security plan that was insufficient to meet the potential threat,” the duo said in a statement.