A Newsweek article published 3 Jan 2022 recounts an FBI effort launched exactly one year earlier in preparation for the 6 January congressional certification of the 2020 presidential election’s Electoral College vote. According to Newsweek, this effort involved a “half-dozen elite government special operations teams” whose chiefs met in Quantico, Virginia. “The meeting,” says Newsweek, “and the subsequent deployment of these shadowy commandos on January 6, has never before been revealed.”
Those last five words are mind-blowing, and constitute one of two gaping holes in this story.
Interestingly, at the outset, it appears from the record of his testimony in May 2021 that Jeffrey Rosen, the acting Attorney General on 3 and 6 January 2021, made no mention in it of the 3 January meeting described by Newsweek. There is no conceivable legitimate reason why he would not have done so. Whether or not members of Congress, such as the Gang of Eight, knew already about those special preparations with “shadowy commandos,” the information was more than relevant to Rosen’s topic (DOJ readiness and preparations for the 6 January events). It was essential to it.
Rosen indeed listed the participants in the shadowy commando task force during his testimony, stating that “the FBI’s Hostage Rescue team and Render Safe teams were activated; an additional FBI SWAT team from Baltimore was repositioned to Washington, D.C.; ATF Special Response Teams were pre-positioned in Virginia for activation if needed; and USMS Special Operations Group personnel were also pre-positioned in Virginia for deployment if needed.” He said nothing about expecting terrorist or WMD attacks, however, and nothing that would connect the use of those forces to anything other than crowd control or possible rioting.
If such weighty concerns had been behind his actions, there can be no credible reason for failing to mention that to Congress. By the date of Rosen’s House testimony (12 May 2021), there were already scores of rioters incarcerated in the federal system awaiting charges or court dates. Civil libertarians were questioning their being held without bail and not being accorded the right to a speedy trial. If nothing else, Rosen could have made an impression about the gravity of the prior intelligence on 6 January by outlining the preparations with shadowy commandos, and bringing up WMD and terrorism.
Indeed, if Congress already knew about that 3 January meeting in Quantico, it is inconceivable that no members of the House Oversight Committee questioned him with the intention of getting it before the public. There would be nothing so secret about the basic information that the issue couldn’t be raised in a public hearing.
It would certainly make a convincing theme as regards the seriousness of the alleged threat. Under no circumstances would congressional Democrats neglect to deploy such information if they were aware of it. And if they weren’t aware of it, there’s something gravely out of whack at the Justice Department.
What requires explanation is the silence about this event up to now.
Readers can peruse the Newsweek treatment at their leisure. I would call out from it a couple of points, starting with how light it is on information about 3 and 6 January. There’s quite a bit of history on the shadowy commando task force involved, which serves to leave an impression in the reader’s mind of nuclear devices, terrorism, high-level hostage-taking, and – let’s face it – the juicy echoes of political-thriller authors from James Patterson to Ken Follett to Robert Ludlum.
But there’s no evidence of these fell terrors being real. All the Newsweek article actually tells us is that the heads of the shadowy commando units met on 3 January, prior to the fateful day, and Rosen approved a deployment of at least some of those forces, operating under existing contingency plans, on 6 January.
That’s the second thing to call out: the account of Rosen’s decision. He authorized the 3 January meeting in advance, as was his job. Newsweek author William Arkin provides this summary of the ensuing drama:
Right after the New Year, Jeffrey A. Rosen, the acting Attorney General on January 6, approved implementation of long-standing contingency plans dealing with the most extreme possibilities: an attack on President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence, a terrorist attack involving a weapon of mass destruction, and a declaration of measures to implement continuity of government, requiring protection and movement of presidential successors.
Rosen made a unilateral decision to take the preparatory steps to deploy Justice Department and so-called “national” forces. There was no formal request from the U.S. Capitol Police, the Secret Service, or the Metropolitan Police Department—in fact, no external request from any agency. The leadership in Justice and the FBI anticipated the worst and decided to act independently, the special operations forces lurking behind the scenes.
“Rosen made a unilateral decision.” That’s the thing you want to key on. Arkin concludes (emphasis added): “The activation of the catastrophic response units, operating under plans already approved by President Trump, entailed an automatic green light allowing federal responders to take the initiative and spare no resources, including shoot-to-kill authority, to deal with this most extraordinary condition.”
Arkin’s treatment appears to indicate that Rosen executed the entire sequence of events “unilaterally.” The wording is ambiguous, typically a neon-flashing clue we’re being sold a narrative. We can read the entire article and not be sure who actually gave a deployment order for the shadowy commandos; in the case of such an event, there would be a deployment order, and a formal record ready for inspection of who gave it.
But we aren’t told that. Instead we’re handed an implication, which we can reasonably read to mean that Rosen deployed armed, federal, lethal force into the National Capital Region, a federal reserve, without being under the orders of the president.
That should impress us – but not in a good way. If Newsweek didn’t want to leave such an impression about Rosen, why did it let the ambiguous language and the implication get through the editorial filter?
This aspect of the story leads to one of the two gaping holes in it. What in the world was Rosen about, to make a unilateral decision of this kind? Supposing for argument’s sake that he didn’t feel consultation with the president would be useful, why did he not consult with Congress, the Capitol Police, and/or the District of Columbia Metro Police? If the threat was so grave, the classification level of his “intelligence” was immaterial. He not only could have explained the threat to other relevant authorities and forces; he should have.
Meanwhile, pondering the seeming fact that Rosen also didn’t consult with the appropriate leaders on the National Security Council, we quickly arrive at the second gaping hole in the story. It brings us full circle to the observation at the beginning. How in the world has this gone un-leaked and unreported for the last year? There was supposedly a threat so significant that Rosen had to deploy shadowy commandos under deadly-force orders into the U.S. capital, and yet the story of such an extraordinary development went untold, to anyone who might have seen its obvious relevance to the “danger” theme about 6 January, until Newsweek got a tip a year later?
I’m having to throw the BS flag on this one. I’m not suggesting the 3 January 2021 meeting didn’t happen. But I am asserting confidently that Arkin is asking the wrong question about this reported side drama. He ends the article on this note: “The lingering question is: What was it that the Justice Department saw that provoked it to see January 6 as an extraordinary event, something that the other agencies evidently missed.”
No, that can’t be the question. For one thing, there’s nothing to suggest other agencies “missed” anything. They were certainly in the loop when Trump’s Defense Department shopped the offer of the National Guard to them. There seems to have been nothing as inclusive as the interagency loop in which pre-1/6 security discussions took place. Rosen’s DOJ was involved in those discussions; it beggars belief that his department might have participated in the process without mentioning the little matters of terrorism and WMD alerts.
(Aside from anything else, I’ve seen nothing about Jeffrey Rosen that would lead me to expect rogue actions from him – and this would have been the most roguish of actions. You don’t have to assume Rosen is an especially noble character to recognize that he’d work such concerns, if he had them, on a consultative basis, rather than up and putting armed force in the U.S. capital on his own say-so.)
No, the question is why this has been kept a secret for the last year. It’s wrong to keep it a secret, if 6 January was an actual insurrection mounted by truly dangerous insurgents. It’s inappropriate, it’s unnecessary, and there’s no motive for keeping it a secret. There’s strong motive, in fact, for telling the American public about it.
Moreover, we have good reason to think that if the FBI had actual intelligence suggesting a terrorist or WMD threat in the national capital on 6 January, the FBI would know where the intelligence came from, and we’d have indictments by now. Such indictments could only reinforce the urgency of the other 1/6 indictments and prosecutions, the ones dragging on for no apparent reason given that almost every charged crime is a misdemeanor.
Jurisdiction is not an issue: plotting terrorism and WMD attacks is exactly in the federal government’s prosecution lane. And the FBI can’t know someone is plotting such events without gaining plenty of clues as to who the plotters are.
This is part of the gaping “nil heard further” hole in the story. It’s just not credible that there was a real threat, and nothing came of it other than a 500-shadowy-commando deployment on 6 January. If Newsweek wants us to snap at being more convinced about the epic peril of 6 January, this is the wrong bait.
(The Newsweek article affords a reinforcing point on this theme, although probably inadvertently. Arkin mentions that the shadowy commandos were sicced on the wannabe pipe-bomber(s) at the DNC and RNC headquarters in D.C. – apparently without remembering that for some reason no one can figure out, the FBI, even with its task force of shadowy, shoot-to-kill commandos, has utterly failed for a year to identify and locate the perps, in spite of having time-registered video of one of them. The Des Moines police department could probably get that done inside 72 hours. The mismatch of intelligence options and results in this case is emblematic of the entire scenario’s implausibility.)
It doesn’t add up. We are left to deduce that there seems to be something else going on here. Curious thing that it involves the FBI – although I’m not convinced it involves Jeffrey Rosen, who has come under relentless, one-note attack by the media as a “protector of Trump” because of his reluctance to answer questions that would fall under executive privilege.
Feature image: Fox 5 D.C. video