Thursday, January 28, 2021


When I served as an associate professor at the Army Command General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, fresh from a posting in the Middle East war zone, I began my lectures on intelligence with a deep dive on the partnership between the CIA and the government as a whole.

A key element of the CIA’s mission was to recruit sources to steal secrets from al Qaeda, produce all-source analysis, and share the reporting as quickly as possible so that the Pentagon could take appropriate evasive or kinetic action.  

This was, in essence, the art of intelligence, a three stage-process beginning with source collection, also known as human intelligence (HUMINT); analysis, which incorporates HUMINT, publicly available material, signals intelligence (SIGINT) and other reporting; and effective decision-making. A breakdown in any one of these three phases can result in an intelligence failure. 

The deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol was just such a catastrophic intelligence failure, most especially in the analytical and decision-making stages. 

After breaking through a thinly defended police line, insurrectionists pillaged the Senate and House chambers, where lawmakers had been certifying the presidential vote. The riots resulted in five deaths and more than 100 injuries. Only after the outer perimeter of security at the Capitol had been breached did Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser request additional D.C. National Guard troops to augment the contingent of roughly 350 troops on duty at the time. 

Hostile forces despoiled the Capitol for the first time since the British burned it during the War of 1812.  This time the peaceful transfer of power, a hallmark of our democracy, was besieged by our own citizens. 

Social media and networking activity online had been blinking red, portending violent confrontations and riots after President Trump announced the “big protest” on Twitter in mid-December. The New York Police Department in late December reportedly collected social media information indicating there would be violence on that fateful day.

And on Jan. 3, Capitol Police intelligence picked up reports about the potential presence of thousands of protesters, including extreme militia groups, seeking to “overturn the results of the presidential election.” 

There is no indication that those findings were incorporated in an FBI joint intelligence bulletin or Department of Homeland Security threat assessment, which would have been shared with officials responsible for security at the Capitol.

To their credit, federal, state and local law enforcement responded to the lessons learned Jan. 6 with greatly improved collection, threat analysis and executive decision-making processes. As a result, overwhelming force was deployed in the District and state capitols around the nation on the day President Biden was sworn in, deterring any who would seek to harm innocent civilians and disrupt our democratic process. 

Inauguration Day, thankfully, went off without a hitch.

But after all the barriers have been removed, the troops dispersed and the bridges opened, the threat from domestic violent extremists will persist. On Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security declared a nationwide terrorism alert based on the threat of “ideologically-motivated extremists.”

Recently confirmed Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines whose office was created in 2004 in the wake of 9/11 surprise attack and the flawed assessment of Iraqi WMD, is on the hook to ensure the U.S. intelligence agencies, especially the FBI and state and local law enforcement, absorb and implement the painful lessons learned this month.  

The Biden administration wasted no time in announcing that the DNI’s office, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security were rushing to produce a “comprehensive threat assessment” on violent domestic extremism. 

An assessment is a necessary first step, but strategic planning, for which the Biden administration will be held accountable, requires at least three concrete lines of approach and action.  

First, Ms. Haines will need to fine-tune the coordination between the intelligence community and law enforcement to ensure threats are analyzed and shared with lightning speed.

Second, the intelligence agencies must pay particular attention to foreign adversaries and terrorists seeking to exploit the fissures in our society, including via the Internet, which enable the transfer of funds, sharing tactics for launching terrorist attacks, and the dissemination of radical ideology to recruit new followers.

Third, armed with a better understanding of the threat, government officials can develop and implement policies — consistent with the rule of law — to target the roots of radical ideology, which incite these individuals to commit violence against their fellow citizens and institutions.

• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.

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