Acting Capitol Police chief defends intelligence role leading up to insurrection

Acting chief Pittman set to appear before Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman is set to appear before lawmakers Thursday.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman is set to appear before lawmakers Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 24, 2021 at 8:35pm

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman oversaw intelligence operations of the agency leading up to and during the violent insurrection on Jan. 6, a role she plans to defend at a Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Thursday.

Before she was promoted to succeed Steven Sund as chief on Jan. 8, Pittman was assistant chief of the Protective and Intelligence Operations, a role that included oversight of the Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division (IICD), an entity that partners with security and law enforcement agencies to obtain information about potential threats to Congress.

“Following the events of January 6th, it has been suggested that the Department either was ignorant of or ignored critical intelligence that indicated that an attack of the magnitude experienced on January 6th was known and probable,” Pittman says in her written testimony. “This implication simply is not true.”

At a joint Senate hearing Tuesday, Sund told lawmakers the department received a Jan. 5 FBI intelligence report from the bureau’s Norfolk field office warning of a “war” the next day, but that a sergeant in the department’s intelligence division who received the crucial information did not elevate it to the top. It is not clear why the threat report didn’t make it past the sergeant.

“The United States Capitol Police department did get that report. I was just advised of that in the last 24 hours,” Sund said at the hearing. “That report made it from the joint terrorism task force over to our intelligence bureau, over to a sergeant there, and ceased moving forward at that point. No leadership, myself included, over at Capitol Police was made aware of that at the time of the event.”

Pittman says in her written remarks that leading up to Jan. 6, the IICD “gathered information about the anticipated events of that day, which came from law enforcement partners such as the FBI and open sources.” Pittman said that unit issued a final special assessment on Jan. 3 indicating that militia members, white supremacists and other extremist groups would be participating and planned to be armed.

Further, unlike previous post-election protests, the demonstrators were targeting the Joint Session of Congress to certify the Electoral College win of Joe Biden and the threat of violence could not be ruled out. Additionally, the assessment noted that supporters of then-President Donald Trump saw Jan. 6 as the final chance to overturn the presidential election results, and that a sense of desperation and disappointment could lead to more of an incentive to become violent.

This assessment, which was emailed to all officers above the rank of sergeant, alerted the Capitol Police that the demonstration on Jan. 6 would be different than other pro-Trump protests organized after the election.

“Based on the assessment, the Department understood that this demonstration would be unlike the previous demonstrations held by protesters with similar ideologies in November and December 2020,” Pittman said.

The Capitol Police made substantial changes to its security posture after the Jan. 3 assessment to prepare, including increasing the size of dignitary protection details, posting agents at congressional leaders’ residences, and extending the operations of the Investigations Division and the IICD to work around the clock, among other efforts.

“Although the Department’s January 3rd Special Assessment foretold of a significant
likelihood for violence on Capitol grounds by extremists groups, it did not identify a specific credible threat indicating that thousands of American citizens would descend upon the U.S. Capitol attacking police officers with the goal of breaking into the U.S. Capitol Building to harm Members and prevent the certification of Electoral College votes,” Pittman says in her testimony. “Nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partners include any specific credible threat that thousands of American citizens would attack the U.S. Capitol.”

Pittman, along with six other officials, recently received a no confidence vote from the Capitol Police department’s union.

After the insurrection was subdued, Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said the department failed to properly plan.

“There were clearly enormous, strategic and planning failures by the Capitol Police, by the Sergeant at Arms and anybody else who was a part of coordinating this effort here,” Ryan, an Ohio Democrat, said on Jan. 6. “This is the United States Capitol building with the United States Congress in session handling the presidential election process.”

Ryan has previously said he supports the union’s call for Pittman and Assistant Chief Chad Thomas to be terminated.