FBI felt many warnings before Jan. 6 were ‘aspirational’ and could not be pursued: report
Senior FBI officials are reportedly defending the bureau’s actions before the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, contending that many warnings appeared to be protected free speech because of their “aspirational” nature.
In an extensive report published by The Washington Post, senior FBI officials argued in interviews and statements that the concerning discussions they observed online were largely “aspirational,” and thus safeguarded free speech in accordance with the First Amendment.
They also said the observed chatter did not include thorough evidence that planning was underway, according to the Post, which was needed to set an investigation into motion.
Officials also told the newspaper they did not predict an attack on the Capitol as extensive as the one that took place because of the lack of detailed plans.
The bureau has a specific distinction between “aspirational” speech regarding violence and “a specific intent to commit violence,” officials told the Post.
One official said that “broad claims and online chatter often lack specificity or detail about concrete plans and participants and, therefore, are not susceptible to disruption.”
In some instances, officials told the newspaper that the FBI contacted individuals already under investigation to tell them not to travel to Washington, D.C.
The FBI also reportedly told its field offices across the country to be on alert for threats targeting Washington ahead of the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote for the 2020 presidential election.
FBI Assistant Director Cathy Milhoan told The Hill in a statement that the bureau “was actively engaged in gathering intelligence, disrupting travel, and sharing information with our partners” in the lead up to Jan. 6.
“The FBI specifically warned state, local, and federal partners about the potential for violence at the January 6 events,” Milhoan added.
Milhoan also said that before the planned protests the FBI “mobilized in preparation for potential violence by activating our command posts to facilitate the immediate exchange of intelligence and other information with partner agencies, and by placing special tactical teams on standby.”
She said the bureau deployed more than 250 special agents and other personnel to help protect members of Congress who were sheltering in place and assist with efforts to clear the Capitol and secure the perimeter of the complex.
“While we are constantly evaluating our response to critical incidents — especially after an attack of historic proportion — the FBI took the threat of violence during the events of January 6 seriously and prepared accordingly. The FBI will continue to pursue threats or acts of violence without fear or favor, regardless of the underlying motivation or socio-political goal,” Milhoan said.
A House select committee is currently investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. The panel held its first hearing in July, which featured at times emotional testimony from four police officers who defended the Capitol on that day.
Last month, the U.S. Capitol Police Office of Inspector General outlined faults the division tasked with protecting congressional leadership had during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including that the group was short staffed, did not have adequate protection and lacked a plan of action for the day.
Updated at 4:48 p.m.
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