The Road to Jan 6 Final

'Trump' Was Named in 1,200 Homeland Security Threat Reports Before the Election

In this daily series, Newsweek explores the steps that led to the January 6 Capitol Riot.

"Dominion Deleted 2.7 Million Trump Votes Nationwide," Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday, November 12. Citing a news story he saw on the right-wing One America News Network, Trump said that 1.2 million Trump votes in Pennsylvania had either been deleted or switched by Dominion Voting Systems machines. States using Dominion machines, Trump said, had overall switched 435,000 Trump votes to Joe Biden.

Many people found the claims laughable, but at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Christopher Krebs, the head of the department's cyber security agency, was affronted. The idea that voting machines themselves were compromised was first raised by Rudy Giuliani's sidekick Sidney Powell. Trump picked it up and he now again repeated the claim. But Krebs' agency was responsible for protecting the election systems from external attack, and they had particularly worked on the integrity and safety of voting machines.

Krebs decided he "couldn't let it stand." He organized a response and his Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), together with the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee, a combination of state-level and civil organizations, issued a statement: "The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history," they said. "Right now, across the country, election officials are reviewing and double checking the entire election process prior to finalizing the result." The statement said that it was common to review any closely contested election. "There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised," the statement concluded, directly contradicting the president.

trump 2020 election protests inauguration biden
Out of 1.1 million Homeland Security threat reports, just 1,200 used the word "Trump" and only 30 mentioned "Make America Great Again." President Donald Trump at a Make America Great Again rally at Richard B. Russell Airport in Rome, Georgia on November 1, 2020. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

All during the election cycle, behind the scenes, Kreb's agency had been working with the FBI and the intelligence community, monitoring potential threatening cyber activity and working with state and local authorities to offer technical assistance. And still, the narrative had been created from the muddled story of Russian hacking in 2016 that votes could be altered. It was, in fact, partly to thwart interference in future elections that the systems associated with voter rolls, voting, and counting the vote had been declared "critical infrastructure" in the last year of the Obama administration. And from that, Krebs' agency was born.

Critical infrastructure or not, with the election system now something to be protected, voting turned into a quasi-national security matter—and a point of contention. It seemed like the beginning of some federal mandate for standardization amongst thousands of separate state systems: which might itself, by eliminating the diversity of rules and methods of voting and counting, make voting systems more vulnerable. And others, including many state Attorneys General, believed it was federal encroachment into a state-level function as specified in the Constitution.

DHS, created in the wake of 9/11, has always been an odd man out, an amalgam of disparate agencies: a larger federal law enforcement agency than the FBI, a uniformed military with its own reconnaissance planes and drones but no responsibility for the national defense (other than in the Coast Guard), an organization created to be the counter-terrorism hub when it was neither the National Counterterrorism Center nor the FBI. Homeland security wandered far from its original intent since 2003, a not-quite civil agency and not-quite national security, a finger in everything from flood maps in America to civilian cyber security, but not really in charge anywhere. They were bureaucratic interlopers.

To make matters even more complicated for DHS, terrorism itself had also been redefined in the span of two decades, from the people who attacked America to everyone and anyone threatening the United States and its allies. Domestically, from a narrowly defined group of revolutionaries, hijackers and bombers, terrorism expanded to encompass Unabomber-like deranged individuals and "lone wolves" attracted to whatever cause (including racist and anti-Semitic ones). And then with a definitional softening—the term terrorist shifted to "violent extremist" in Washington lingo—the number of possible terrorists expanded into a gigantic potential threat base, the word extremist applying to potentially destructive and violent individuals on the left (ecoterrorists, Antifa activists, hackers) as well as those on the right. But it was not just those who were driven to violence. Many activists and protestors, now labeled extremists, became potential enemies of the state.

Still, beyond al Qaeda, ISIS and their ilk, the department hardly ever found itself out in front of whatever was the public mania of the moment. Whether actually securing the border or figuring out the domestic security mission, DHS was always almost there, in search of a unique mission. The department and its agencies—ICE, TSA, border patrol—came to be hated, seen as the control freak of air travel, the abuser of migrants and asylum seekers, a federal enforcer and private-sector bully in a country that otherwise eschewed a domestic intelligence agency and reserved the majority of powers to the states.

"The mission of the Department kept expanding," says a homeland security executive. "But I'm not sure I could say that homeland security ever fully mastered any of the responsibilities it was given." The official requested anonymity because he feared retaliation.

Perhaps that too—the ambiguity of what homeland security actually was, plus what they should do that was unique—is what made them so susceptible to being a changeling in different administrations. Under Trump, DHS became a partisan government outlier, largely an outsider to the national security community. Over four years of the Trump administration, the traditional national security agencies—the military, FBI and CIA—fiercely protected their turf and created a force field to repel homeland security overreach and presidential whim. DHS was happy to take on Trump's border wall and feed the growing anti-immigrant constituency in America. This also explained the department's interference of local law enforcement during the protests of 2020 after the death of George Floyd.

Homeland security targeted extremist threats on the right and left. Contrary to popular opinion, of 1.1 million threat reports stored on the "for official use only" Homeland Security Information Network for the years preceding the 2020 election, the ratio of right-wing to left-wing reports is almost five-to-one. Ten times more reports cover hate crimes and white supremacists than any left wing causes. Of course the number of reports should reflect the prevalence of threats and incidents—that is, that there was a greater threat of violence emerging from the right-wing. So the numbers do seem to suggest that the right was indeed the subject of more intelligence attention than the left. The largest single group subject to reporting was the anti-government Sovereign Citizens, resulting in six times more reports than Antifa.

Newsweek's exclusive review of the evidence also suggests, though, that homeland security didn't overly bother itself with pro-Trumpers. Mention of the word Trump appears in just 1,200 of the 1.1 million reports; "Make America Great Again," in any context, appears in just 30 reports. There is no evidence in the reports of much interest in the groups—Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters—that would be involved in the January 6 assault, and contrary to conventional wisdom, the reporting between election day and the attack on the Capitol regarding any threats to Washington was sparse compared to every other threat from Russian meddling to COVID fraud.

What the numbers suggest is that the entire apparatus of domestic security, from DHS to the state-level fusion centers, failed to understand what was going on in the country—the threat to the nation—despite abundant dots existing out in the open. That was in contrast with 9/11, where the dots lurked within the intelligence community.

And then there's homeland security's many missions. Perhaps in a desire to avoid politics, the bureaucrats targeted transnational organized crime, child porn and human traffickers. There are 10 times as many reports related to child exploitation than any kind of domestic terror, five times as many dealing with critical infrastructure—everything from the electrical power grid to amusement parks. And most of the reports about individual groups focus on groups like Sovereign Citizens which are considered threats to law enforcement itself, a major preoccupation of the domestic intelligence apparatus.

Insufficient resources and attention were allocated to the growing domestic threat, but the answer was never more resources or people for DHS. The real issue: what was the department's mission and why did America even have a domestic enforcer when it had an FBI, an ATF, a DEA and U.S. Marshals, all of whom had primary responsibility for everything people imagined that homeland security was there to do.