It is simply not possible that law enforcement lacked information about the possibility of extremist plans and intensions.
So if they knew, if they understood there was even some risk of extremist violence, then why didn’t they act? Why did all those law enforcement agencies stand down, fail to prepare, and respond slowly even when rioters breached the Capitol building?
Why didn’t security follow tried and true procedures, working to eliminate or at least mitigate the risk?
The answer: Politics.
Discussions of politicization of intelligence usually center on the skewing of intelligence, deliberately or unintentionally, to meet the objectives or preferences of policy makers. They do this to gain access or praise or who knows what else.
But politics can also play a role in intelligence when decision makers ignore intelligence and choose not to act on that intelligence because it is politically unpalatable.
Based on what we know, it seems this is the type of politicization that happened on 6 January, and that left DC law enforcement woefully unprepared to deal with a criminal mob.
Decision makers were unwilling or unable to act on intelligence regarding the intentions of at least some protestors because it did not fit into someone’s political preferences, and those same decision makers did not want to risk losing the support of higher ups.
Mutilating intelligence to force it to fit into a political paradigm, or ignoring intelligence because it doesn’t match prevailing political winds, is dangerous. Intelligence can be inconvenient and it can contradict assumptions. Most career intelligence officers have experienced the disapproval or disappointment of decision makers who receive intel they didn’t want to hear, and have faced the wrath of decision makers over information discordant with their own views.
But that doesn’t – or shouldn’t – change the facts they present.
The job of intel officers is to provide objective, accurate, actionable intelligence to policy makers who can then act on it.
Or, policy makers can ignore it and hide their heads in the sand.
Ignoring intelligence is never a good idea. It leaves us naked and unarmed in the face of danger, or unable to take advantage of opportunity. It also forces organizations to clean up sometimes catastrophic messes when preparation could have positioned them for success.
The debacle at the Capitol was not an intelligence failure. It was, instead, a failure of intellect.
It was also one that could have been avoided.