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“Why Was the Federal Gov’t So Unprepared?” Newsweek Reporter William Arkin on Jan. 6

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One year since Trump supporters staged a violent mob attack on the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s presidency, we discuss exactly what was happening behind the scenes in the intelligence community that day. We are joined by Newsweek national security reporter William Arkin, who appeared on Democracy Now! just hours prior to the Capitol attack and predicted a violent outcome hours later. Arkin says the intelligence community failed to prepare for the strength of Trump’s movement and needs to beef up its approach in anticipation for the next insurrection or coup attempt. “It’s really stunning to me that we haven’t looked more closely at what the role of the federal agencies were, what the intelligence was and what the intelligence agencies knew,” says Arkin.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

Exactly one year ago today, on the morning of January 6, 2021, we spoke with our next guest, William Arkin, national security reporter for Newsweek. Our show broadcasts at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. We interviewed him before the violent attack on the Capitol. As we spoke, thousands were set to protest in Washington, D.C., over Trump’s 2020 election loss to Joe Biden as Congress met to certify the results. I asked Bill Arkin what the police and the authorities were most concerned about happening that day.

WILLIAM ARKIN: They’re most concerned about Donald Trump, whether he is going to instigate the thousands of people who have flooded into the district to take up violence, either to march on the Capitol or even try to enter the Capitol during the elector count.

The people I’ve talked to — and it’s been a broad range of National Guard, law enforcement and military officials — all say to me that this is an unprecedented moment, unprecedented because you have a president who is not only instigating protest and violence against this constitutional process, but also because there are other conditions which have been introduced: first, talk of martial law; second, talk of an implementation of the Insurrection Act, which would allow the military and the National Guard to engage in law enforcement; third, a kind of break between the District of Columbia and the federal government, as was exemplified by a letter sent yesterday by the mayor of the district to the acting attorney general, to the acting secretary of defense, asking them not to put any nonuniformed people onto the streets of D.C.; and then, finally, the question of who is actually in charge of the U.S. Capitol Police, the U.S. Park Police, the uniformed branch of the Secret Service today and in the coming week, because there’s really no one in charge.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was a year ago today, the morning of January 6th. William Arkin joins us again now, national security reporter for Newsweek, where he has a series on “The Road to Jan. 6,” his recent piece, “Exclusive: Secret Service Intel Saw 'No Indication of Civil Disobedience.'”

So, Bill Arkin, your predictions are very significant. Talk about how you knew what seemed like even the president didn’t know.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, I have to say, Amy, that, a year later, I’m both dissatisfied with the investigation, and I’m alarmed that the federal government hasn’t been held accountable for its failures on January 6. There was a riot at the Capitol, and there was an insurrection by some of the people who were there. And it’s really stunning to me that we haven’t looked more closely at what the role of the federal agencies were, what the intelligence was and what the intelligence agencies knew.

I was hearing a year ago, and I’ve been studying this event ever since — I was hearing people say not only that there was going to be a riot at the Capitol, and they expected that there might even be an attempt to stop the joint session of Congress from counting and accepting the electoral votes, but I was also hearing from people who were protesting and people who were in the organizations, like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, which were present at the Capitol that day, and those people were saying to me that they had planned to be there, long before Donald Trump gave any speech, to act against the Congress. So, I was hearing this from all parties, from people inside the Pentagon, from people from inside the FBI, from knowledgeable observers within the military and also from protesters themselves.

So, we have to ask ourselves the question, “Why was the federal government so unprepared?” and ask ourselves also the question as to whether or not the select committee is focusing on the right thing, focusing on something — I would say, Donald Trump and a supposed smoking gun — at the exclusion of not looking at the performance and the activities of the federal government. Because, ultimately, that’s what we can influence. We can influence these federal government agencies.

And, ultimately, we can begin to understand why 120,000 people were at the Capitol in the first place, what they hoped to achieve and what they were doing. And we should remind ourselves that only 1% of those 120,000 entered the Capitol building. And of those, only 700 or so have been so far arrested. The FBI says there might be as many as 2,500 people when they’re finished with their investigation. But what were the other 99% there? What were they thinking? What were they doing? What were they hoping? And that is the cadre of the 70 million people who voted for Donald Trump who are today the roots of this civil unrest that Jimmy Carter refers to.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about — you talk about the failure of intelligence. Was it a failure of intelligence, or they were directly told to allow this to move forward, whether we’re talking about the National Guard or the police? Now we’ve heard repeatedly from police saying they were not instructed in the morning that this was going to be violent. In fact, they were told the very opposite, why they were so unprepared. But they were the individuals on the ground. What was happening at the highest level? And what have you uncovered of deliberate preventing law enforcement from taking action?

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, I know that this is the narrative that most people have grasped upon, that somehow the law enforcement agencies or the federal government was taking direction from Donald Trump or was actively standing in the way of an effective response to the protests and the riots. I just haven’t found that in my investigations. I’ve been working on this now for a year. I’ve been talking to people from the inside. I’ve looked at secret documents. I just don’t see this narrative being confirmed.

What I see is Donald Trump completely isolated from the rest of the federal government on January 6, as an example. He was watching television in the dining room. He didn’t speak to anyone within the federal government, not the attorney general, not the secretary of defense. The secretary of homeland security was in the Middle East. The national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, was in Florida vacationing. I mean, the truth of the matter is, there was just a complete disconnect at this point between Donald Trump and the government.

And when you look at the performance of those individuals, Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general, or Chris Miller, the acting secretary of defense, they were befuddled by what was going on that day. They were not grand conspirators somehow facilitating the riot and the insurrection. They were ignorant men who were completely out of touch.

And so, the U.S. Capitol Police and the Metro Police Department, the D.C. Police, you know, they operated valiantly on January 6, but they were unprepared for the crowds. That’s an intelligence failure. They were not adequately understanding the protesters and their nature, and that’s our failure. And finally, I think they were just not getting any direction. By the time people were begging Donald Trump to take action, the riot was in full swing. And really, there wasn’t much hope of getting the mob to stop, because at this point nobody’s watching their phones. Nobody’s thinking text or Twitter or caring what Donald Trump had to say. There was a mob. And the mob was basically just following its own direction.

AMY GOODMAN: The Washington Post reported there were 17 requests for backup in 78 minutes, in an hour.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, the reality is that the National Guard wasn’t ready to provide backup. That’s really the greatest lie of all about the military. There weren’t enough people mobilized and ready, even if they had rapidly responded.

And so, therefore, other than the Department of Justice, which is the FBI, the ATF, the U.S. Marshals Service, etc., which ultimately brought 500 people to Capitol Hill at 6 p.m., when everybody had already been ejected from the Capitol, when they had already found a way to restore the Capitol so that the joint session of Congress could resume — those people all came too late. And so, even though they had mobilized some 500 people from various special operations groups of the Justice Department to be ready, none of them moved in time to have any impact on either the breach of the Capitol itself or the evacuation of people from the building.

So, the D.C. Police and the U.S. Capitol Police did as well as they can do, but, even there, a thousand people and probably no more than 300 or 400 law enforcement officers inside the Capitol were just no match for the size of the crowd. And so —

AMY GOODMAN: You also write, the day after Christmas, Trump tweeted, “Never give up. See everyone in D.C. on January 6th.” You talk about the Trump-obsessed media missing the threat of the insurrection itself, but clearly his supporters didn’t. You write, “The Trump supporters, who called themselves insurrectionists and spoke openly about war, were still not taken seriously within the federal government and Congress.” End with that, William Arkin.

WILLIAM ARKIN: Well, the reality is that the terrorists weren’t taken seriously before 9/11. And here we have a repeat of the same thing: a failure to connect the dots, a failure to move the information that they did have, and really, the saddest thing of all, a failure on their part to see in American society what was going on, to actually read the social media to be able to realize that these were people who already had declared that they were going to be bringing weapons to the Capitol, who came with the intent of an insurrection — that is, to interrupt and overthrow the processes of the U.S. government. That’s the reality. And if we continue to look for a smoking gun against Donald Trump, we are missing the fact that there are thousands, if not millions, of people in America who are intent upon overthrowing the current system.

AMY GOODMAN: William Arkin, we’re going to end with that warning, a national security reporter for Newsweek. We will link to your two-month series on “The Road to Jan. 6.”

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