“These emails raise serious questions about the response to the threat of January 6th,” said Jordan Libowitz, a spokesperson for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government watchdog group that obtained the email through a public records request and shared it with POLITICO.
A DHS spokesperson declined to directly address the previous administration’s Jan. 6 response, or answer follow-up questions about whether the department conveyed additional updates to the Pentagon via other channels.
“Under Secretary Mayorkas’ leadership, addressing domestic violent extremism is a top priority for DHS,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The Department is working closely with federal, state, local, tribal, and non-government partners to improve our ability to detect, evaluate, and mitigate the threats posed by domestic terrorists.”
Army spokesperson Cynthia Smith said Army senior leaders worked with real-time information “to assess the situation and determine the best response options available to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army.”
The Pentagon did receive more accurate information about the threat on Jan. 6 via frequent communications throughout the day with other agencies, as well as lawmakers, the White House, the DC mayor and the local law enforcement. A detailed timeline released by DOD at the time reflects multiple phone calls between the Army Secretary, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Department leadership, as well as others between DOD leaders and lawmakers.
The email listing DHS’s updates was sent from someone at the Army’s operations center in the basement of the Pentagon to a number of senior Army officials, including Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, who at the time was serving as the Army’s deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and training at the Pentagon (and who is the brother of Trump’s former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn); and then-Army Undersecretary James McPherson. Before sharing the email with CREW in response to their request, the Defense Department redacted the name of the sender.
The updates from DHS were conveyed over an internal government messaging system, which automatically converted the time stamp to Greenwich Mean Time, according to an Army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic.
The document shows that at 1:40 p.m. senior DOD officials received the “DHS National Operations Center update as of 1330, 06 Jan,” as described in the Army email.
The NOC “Provides timely reporting and products…to support senior-leader decision making,” according to DHS’s website. Part of its mission is “to link senior leaders to facilitate unity of effort and incident management efforts.”
In other words, the center exists to get accurate information to decision-makers right when they need it. Its updates routinely go out in realtime to the Army Operations Center, which then forwards them to the relevant Army officials, according to people familiar with the process.
The first item on DHS’s 1:30 p.m. update list wasn’t even about D.C, according to the Army email; it was about National Guard units deployed in Wisconsin “in anticipation of prosecutorial decision” in the case of Jacob Blake, a Black man shot in the back seven times by a white police officer. The shooting left Blake partially paralyzed and generated national outcry. The DHS update noted that 851 National Guard personnel were ready for “Civil Disturbance Operations” in the wake of a local prosecutor’s announcement that he would not bring charges against the officer.
Then the update listed “DC Events Reported to DHS NOC” as its second item.
“In the last 2 hrs – There are no major incidents of illegal activity at this time,” the report read.
Then it listed a number of non-issues: A suspicious package at a Metro station near the capitol was “cleared no threat;” a law enforcement agency “determined Proud Boys threatening to shut down the water system in the downtown area not a credible threat;” and “Protestors near 16th & Pennsylvania Ave reportedly with baseball bats; exaggerated report.”
It also noted that two buildings in the Capitol Complex were being evacuated because of a bomb threat against the Capitol Hill Club. The report did not note that that club — a hangout for Republican lobbyists and operatives — is next door to the Republican National Committee. A pipe bomb was found there that day.
As the two hours covered in that update came to a close, the attacks on the Capitol had already started. But you wouldn’t know it from the update.
“Why were significantly more National Guard personnel prepared to protect the Kenosha, Wisconsin area after the decision not to prosecute the police officer who shot Jacob Blake than were on hand to protect DC from Trump supporters?” said Libowitz. “An update as of 1:30 PM reported up to 20,000 people marching to the Capitol, but ‘There are no major incidents of illegal activity at this time.’ But by 1 PM, rioters had already breached the barricade at the Capitol. Why did they not consider what was clearly going on to be serious?”
The events playing out at the Capitol throughout the afternoon, shown on live TV across the world, belied the understated DHS tick tock.
At 12:52 p.m. that day, then-U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund had said he realized danger was imminent. A huge group was heading to the Capitol, he said in congressional testimony, and it wasn’t any old D.C. protest.
“It was immediately clear that their primary goal was to defeat our perimeter as quickly as possible and to get past the police line,” Sund testified. “This mob was like nothing I have seen in my law enforcement career. The group consisted of thousands of well-coordinated, well-equipped violent criminals. They had weapons, chemical munitions, protective equipment, explosives, and climbing gear. A number of them were wearing radio earpieces indicating a high level of coordination.”
At 12:53 p.m., protesters had breached the Capitol Building’s outer perimeter, according to The New York Times.
At 12:58 p.m., Sund asked the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department for help.
At 1:05 p.m., Washington Post reporter Rebecca Tan tweeted a picture of the growing crowd. “Protesters are charging toward the Captiol [sic] steps,” she wrote. “Some tried to scale the construction structures and have been tackled by police. They want to enter the building and are making attempts at intervals. Capitol police trying to hold them back.”
At 1:09 p.m., Sund urged the Sergeants at Arms — officials responsible for the day-to-day operations of the House and Senate — to send in support and “authorize the National Guard,” he later testified.
The danger was great enough that Capitol Hill’s top law enforcement officer had called for the National Guard to come in. But those troops didn’t arrive until after 5 p.m.
At 1:26 p.m., according to the DOD timeline, the U.S. Capitol Police “ordered the evacuation of the Capitol complex.”
DHS sent out another update “as of 1400,” or 2 p.m. ET, according to the Army email. It gave a slightly more accurate picture of the chaos.
“US Capitol is reportedly locked down due to multiple attempts to cross police barriers and police injuries,” it read, followed by a partially redacted sentence that ended with the phrase “situation continues to develop.”
That characterization is a drastic understatement. From 1:30 to 2 p.m., the situation at the Capitol grew far worse. At 1:44 p.m., Trump supporters were climbing the scaffolding outside the building, according to Just Security.
At 1:49 p.m., Sund called the head of the D.C. National Guard, Maj. Gen. William Walker. Walker later testified that Sund said “there was a dire emergency on Capitol Hill and requested the immediate assistance of as many Guardsmen as I could muster.”