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The Office of Intelligence and Analysis is a little-known agency within the Department of Homeland Security. And what that agency did or didn't do in the lead-up to the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol could have big consequences. Today, a Senate panel will examine that very question. And NPR has obtained a report by a former New York Police Department intelligence chief about why DHS did not anticipate the violence that day. Tim Mak and Dina Temple-Raston of NPR's Investigations Team report.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: The Office of Intelligence and Analysis, or I&A, is the intelligence arm of the Department of Homeland Security. And a key part of its job is to provide an advanced written analysis of possible domestic threats. These threat assessments aren't just done for events that might have the potential for violence. Juliette Kayyem, former assistant secretary at DHS, says that I&A assessments are routine, even for gatherings like the Kentucky Derby or the New Orleans Jazz Fest.
JULIETTE KAYYEM: Its job is to create these threat assessments so that its consumers have a better sense of how to deploy resources, how to think about what a threat may be.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: And ahead of January 6, the consumers of an I&A assessment would have been the Capitol Police or the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. But the threat assessment that would have put everyone on notice never came.
MAK: Mitch Silber is the former head of the New York Police Department's intelligence unit. He's the author of an upcoming Atlantic Council report which looked at what went wrong ahead of the riots. He says the FBI, the New York Police Department and DHS all had the information they needed to see that there would likely be violence. What failed, he says, was the analysis.
MITCH SILBER: Because when we think about an intelligence agency, they have three functions. Collect the intelligence. Analyze the intelligence that - you know when you connect the dots, what does it look like? And when you have that picture, then you warn the appropriate authorities so that they can take some actions to mitigate what you think is coming.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Former DHS officials and intelligence analysts interviewed by NPR made plain that any review of the failures ahead of January 6 should start with I&A. It turns out that despite its critical role in identifying threats here at home, the division is not seen as a plum assignment.
KAYYEM: If you're a 23-year-old and you want to get into the intelligence business, the fun stuff, you are not picking DHS I&A. And that has been a struggle for the department from the beginning.
TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Kayyem again. And remember, she used to be the assistant secretary of DHS.
KAYYEM: Within the intelligence agencies, DHS I&A was not an equal partner. It might not even have been viewed as a cousin. It was a distant friend that you tolerated who showed up to the party.
MAK: What makes DHS I&A different from other intelligence agencies is that its priorities have traditionally been set by the White House. The Obama administration focused on ISIS and its effects on young people here in the United States. For the Trump administration, it was the border with Mexico and threats from extremists on the left.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Todd Rosenblum, a deputy undersecretary of intelligence at DHS up until 2015, still has contacts in the department. And he believes that the Trump administration was pressuring DHS analysts.
TODD ROSENBLUM: They were insisting on a narrative that wasn't true, which made it far harder for I&A. You know, you had the president screaming antifa, antifa is behind all this. And DHS leadership was very much aligned in accommodating the president.
MAK: And though there were warnings, raw intelligence from the NYPD, warnings from the FBI and threats on social media that the entire world could see, I&A never put it all together in one assessment.
TEMPLE-RASTON: DHS has said it provided a general report about threats during the election season. Rosenblum sees a failure of imagination as part of the problem.
ROSENBLUM: The dots were all there - absolutely. But, I mean, I'm among the many who could not conceive of an insurrection against the Capitol being led by the president of the United States.
TEMPLE-RASTON: For Mitch Silber, the way to learn from the riot is to see it as a turning point for intelligence officials, just as 9/11 was.
SILBER: Certainly, for the last 20 years, we've sort of been externally facing. And now, obviously, we have to take a look within - within our borders for people who would do the country harm. And that is a different type of challenge.
TEMPLE-RASTON: The Biden administration announced last week that it was creating a new branch within I&A. It will focus on domestic terrorism.
MAK: And the House of Representatives has plans to form a bipartisan commission to examine the events of January 6. Investigators are expected to focus on what happened at I&A. I'm Tim Mack.
TEMPLE-RASTON: And I'm Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Washington.
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