A senior Department of Homeland Security official told Congress on Wednesday that the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6 has prompted changes in how the government analyzes threat information, particularly online public statements, and that intelligence and law enforcement agencies must be more visibly proactive when they detect looming danger.

John Cohen, who oversees intelligence analysis at the Department of Homeland Security, made the comments at a House Intelligence subcommittee hearing about domestic terrorism. “We need to think differently about intelligence. This threat requires we think differently about how we look at information,” he said of homegrown extremism, noting that pre-attack indicators may be observable through individuals’ public communications. “Covert collection may often not be necessary to capture valuable intelligence, but analysts need to be able to distinguish . . . between constitutionally protected speech and threat-related activity.”

The Washington Post reported this week that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies received repeated, stark warnings of online, public discussions about committing violence in Congress on Jan. 6. But the government often decided such statements were protected by the First Amendment and declined to pursue the tips further, The Post investigation found.

Two weeks before the unprecedented attack on the Capitol, one caller told the FBI that individuals on social media were discussing storming Congress and dragging lawmakers outside to put them “on trial,” specifically mentioning Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

The FBI closed the case less than 48 hours after receiving the tip, even while noting an increase in threats to Congress and government officials as lawmakers prepared to certify Joe Biden’s electoral college victory over President Donald Trump.

In response to The Post’s reporting, senior FBI officials have defended their intelligence work and preparations leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection, saying they shared the information with Capitol Police, who are responsible for protecting lawmakers. FBI officials also said much of the information they received was about “aspirational” talk of violence, not specific planning that warranted further investigation.

At Wednesday’s hearing, FBI Assistant Director Timothy Langan reiterated that the bureau “does not open investigations based solely on First Amendment-protected speech or association, peaceful protests, or political activity.”

But Cohen said the Jan. 6 riot has already spurred changes at DHS.

“I think there are a lot of lessons that we in law enforcement and the intelligence analytic world learned from Jan. 6, both the events of that day and the weeks leading up,” he said. In particular, he told lawmakers that evidence of pending danger “may be available through public information.”

DHS has become “much more forward-leaning as it relates to the analyzing of online activity and evaluating activity from the perspective of the potential risk of violence,” and incorporating that information into the analysis it provides to other agencies, Cohen said.

He also testified that officials are trying to take public steps to deter those who try to gin up violence ahead of public events such as a government ceremony or a public protest.

Before President Biden’s inauguration Jan. 20, he noted, there were people online agitating for more violence either in Washington or in state capitals around the country. “The law enforcement response was very different” that day than Jan. 6, Cohen said. Officials made very visible displays of security measures in place leading up to the inauguration, and that seemed to deter any significant violence.

“Our analysis has focused much more on understanding when there may be a potential act of violence and then taking steps — sometimes very visible steps and public steps — to create physical security measures that serve as a deterrent,” Cohen said.