FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Photo: AP)
WASHINGTON: FBI Director Christopher Wray on Tuesday defended the bureau against criticism that it missed warning signs about the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and failed to adequately sound the alarm about the possibility of violence by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, VOA reported.
At the same time, Wray, in his first congressional appearance since the riot, disputed assertions promoted by some on the right that far-left activists masquerading as Trump supporters were involved in the deadly attack.
The attack left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, and more than 100 other officers injured. A nationwide manhunt in the aftermath of the insurrection has led to the arrest of more than 270 rioters, including 33 members of anti-government militias and other far-right groups, according to VOA.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wray said the FBI took multiple steps to ensure a “raw” intelligence report warning about the possibility of a violent attack on the Capitol — the seat of the U.S. Congress — reached key law enforcement agencies the day before.
The January 5 report, prepared by the FBI’s Norfolk, Virginia, field office, cited online extremist chatter about the possibility of violence and “war.”
The FBI typically verifies such raw information before sharing it with law enforcement agencies. But in this case, Wray said, the threat was concerning and “specific enough” that the FBI decided to share it with the Capitol Police, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies as soon as possible.
“We did pass that on to the people in the best position to take action on the threat. Not one, not two, but three different ways,” Wray said.
Yet the report was not flagged for top officials responsible for securing the Capitol, hose officials testified last week, raising questions about a breakdown in intelligence- sharing, it added.
The officials — the former chief of Capitol Police, and the former sergeants-at-arms for the House and the Senate — told lawmakers that while they had prepared for a large and potentially violent protest outside the Capitol on January 6, they had not been warned about the possibility of a violent takeover.
Asked by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal why the FBI failed to “sound the alarm in some more visible and ringing way,” Wray, calling the attack an act of domestic terrorism, said the FBI had repeatedly warned about the threat in recent months.
“The FBI over the course of 2020 put out a number of intelligence products specifically warning about domestic violent extremism.
Including specifically warning about it in connection with the election. Including specifically warning about that threat in relation to the election and continuing past the election itself and up through the inauguration,” Wray said.
In December, for example, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security warned that “terrorist-inspired individuals and homegrown violent extremists may be encouraged or inspired to target public events or places.”
In the lead-up to January 6, Wray said the FBI had been tracking a “large amount of information” about people intending to travel to Washington and the potential for violence.
A major challenge for the FBI is separating extremist online rhetoric that is “aspirational” from “intentional,” he said.