Donald Trump, supporters, January 6
Donald Trump supporters massing at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021. Photo credit: Brett Davis / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

New FBI briefing notes from January 6 describe a situation that is spiraling out of control, but, due to massive redactions, they pose more questions than they answer.

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When the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a new set of FBI documents related to the January 6 insurrection on Tuesday, the most interesting aspect of these briefing notes was that they offered a glimpse into the real-time response of the agency to the escalating violence at the Capitol. 

Upon closer examination, however, what may be even more intriguing is the information that isn’t there. That’s because the documents are heavily redacted (in this case whited out). 

For example, the notes from a 10:00 a.m. briefing show that the FBI’s intel said that about 10,000 people were trying to get through the magnetometers to attend a rally that then-President Donald Trump was to hold later in the day. 

The first item listed in the “Intel” section is redacted. 

The second states that some members of the crowd are “wearing ballistic helmets, body armor, carrying radio equipment and military grade backpacks.” 

The third item begins with “Uncorroborated, but have information that…” and the next line is redacted before the sentence ends with the word “guardians.” 

This is followed by additional redactions and the note that there are “No credible threats at this time.” 

The document also shows that, at the time it was written, the Secret Service had reported that the crowd had doubled in size to approximately 20,000 by 10:00 a.m. All other information has been redacted as well. 

Two hours later, a much more detailed report was put together, and it shows how the situation in the nation’s capital was already beginning to spiral out of control. 

The “Intel” section of that document describes “multiple reports of suspicious packages [REDACTED] at capital complex grounds.” It stands to reason that this refers to the Capitol. 

Apart from a crowd estimate of 25,000 people near the White House, all other information is redacted. 

At the same time, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) had notified the FBI that it was “actively following reports of armed individuals around the city,” as more and more of Trump’s followers got ready to interrupt the ceremonial certification of Electoral College votes. 

The next part of the document is once again redacted. 

The 12:00 p.m. briefing document concludes with the words: “Deputy director, concerned with [REDACTED].”

By then, the FBI had closed its visitor center and a pedestrian entrance on 9th Street.

The 2:00 p.m. briefing document conveys a much greater sense of urgency… and once again includes many redactions. 

It states that the MPD had declared a riot and that there was “lots of activity” near the Capitol. 

And then, there is no new information until the 4:00 p.m. briefing document (which was time-stamped at 9:00 p.m.), which is almost entirely redacted.

Curiously, the Secret Service had “nothing to report,” even though it had evacuated then-Vice President Mike Pence after insurrectionists had called for him to be hanged. 

The new tranche of documents that CREW received following a Freedom of Information Act request also includes a series of heavily redacted emails that indicate that, ahead of Trump’s rally, no credible threats had been received.

It is possible that, following consultation with other agencies and litigation, all of this information will eventually see the light of day. 

That would be welcome news for all those who want the full picture of who knew what and when on January 6 and how this insurrection was able to take place.


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