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Supporters of President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP) Supporters of President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP)

Supporters of President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP)

Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek August 30, 2022

Jan. 6 Capitol attack investigation nowhere near as lengthy as the one for 9/11

If Your Time is short

  • The FBI’s 9/11 investigation began Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the attacks. 

  • The investigative team grew smaller over the years, but documents show the attacks were still under investigation nearly 15 years later.

  • The FBI’s Jan. 6 investigation began the day of the attack and continues nearly two years later.

Federal authorities have charged nearly 900 people with crimes related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. But one popular Facebook post suggests the breadth of that ongoing federal investigation is disproportionate — especially when compared to another dark day in modern American history.

"You spent more time investigating 1/6 than 9/11," read the words in the Aug. 24 post, a version of a meme that stars SpongeBob SquarePants in a black "FBI" baseball cap.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

(Screenshot from Facebook.)

Has the FBI already spent more time investigating the Jan. 6 attack than it spent investigating 9/11?

No. Although the events of Jan. 6  resulted in an investigation that has lasted 19 months so far, there’s no comparison. Records show that the FBI investigated 9/11 for at least about 15 years, and experts say it is likely the FBI is still investigating.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said on the Capitol attack’s anniversary that, "every day since, we have worked to identify, investigate, and apprehend defendants from across the country."

More than 3,100 people were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to the Justice Department. Terrorists hijacked four planes that day. They flew two into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and one into the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia. The fourth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania before it could reach the terrorists’ target in Washington D.C.

As seen from the New Jersey Turnpike near Kearny, N.J., smoke billows from the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York after airplanes crashed into both towers on Sept.11, 2001. (AP)

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Within three days, more than 7,000 FBI special agents and support personnel were assigned to work on the investigation. Six days after the attacks, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller said that more than 500 people were working 24 hours a day at FBI Headquarters. 

The FBI "immediately initiated a massive investigation, called ‘PENTTBOM,’" into the attack, the Justice Department reported in 2003. That investigation "focused on identifying the terrorists who hijacked the airplanes and anyone who aided their efforts." 

One extensive, public report on 9/11 was released on July 22, 2004 — about two years and 10 months after the attack. It was compiled by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission) and relied on information uncovered during the FBI investigation.

In June 2004, Mueller said the 9/11 investigation would continue as long as there were leads to pursue. 

Since then, at least one small investigation named "Operation Encore" examined the Saudi Arabian connections involved in the 9/11 attack.

Although parts of the investigations remain classified for national security reasons, President Joe Biden ordered that the Justice Department review and potentially declassify some 9/11 investigation documents in 2021. 

The documents later released show that the FBI was still investigating 9/11 as recently as April 2016 — more than 14 and a half years after the attack. 

"If you really want to count time, the 9/11 investigative effort still continues today after 20 years," said Amy Zegart, a security and intelligence expert and Stanford University political science professor. "The FBI’s role now is likely to be small, but I highly doubt it’s zero, since the FBI is often involved in investigating terrorist attacks, including those abroad."

Our ruling

A meme shared on Facebook claimed that the FBI "spent more time investigating" the Jan. 6 Capitol attack than 9/11.

The FBI’s Jan. 6 investigation began the day of the attack and remains ongoing nearly two years later. The bureau’s 9/11 investigation began Sept. 11, 2001. The attacks were still under investigation nearly 15 years later and, to some extent, still are. 

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

RELATED: The 2021 Lie of the Year: Lies about the Jan. 6 Capitol attack and its significance

Our Sources

Facebook post, Aug. 24, 2022

Email interview with Amy Zegart, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a professor of political science at Stanford University, Aug. 30, 2022, "History - timeline," accessed Aug. 29, 2022

The Wall Street Journal, "FBI makes public long-secret memo on 9/11 investigation," Sept. 11, 2021

ProPublica, "Declassifying the 9/11 Investigation," Sept. 9, 2021

White House, "Executive order on declassification review of certain documents concerning the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001," Sept. 3, 2021

The New York Times, "The Saudi connection: Inside the 9/11 case that divided the FBI," Jan. 23, 2020

The Washington Post, "FBI’s 9/11 team still hard at work," June 14, 2004

ABC News, "By the numbers: How the Jan. 6 investigation is shaping up 1 year later," Jan. 4, 2022, "Most Wanted - U.S. capitol violence," accessed Aug. 30, 2022

CNN, "Everything you need to know about the federal investigation into January 6," July 1, 2022

United States Department of Justice, "Attorney General Merrick B. Garland delivers remarks on the first anniversary of the attack on the Capitol," Jan. 5, 2022

The New York Times, "The first Capitol riot arrests were easy. The next ones will be tougher," Jan. 21, 2021 

United States Department of Justice, "One Year since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol," Dec.30, 2021, "FBI seeking information related to violent activity at the U.S. Capitol building," Jan. 6, 2021

Insider, "The FBI is asking for the public's help to identify the Capitol insurrectionists in one of the most well-documented crimes in US history, and the internet thinks it's laughable," Jan. 7, 2021

Statement from the FBI, Aug. 29, 2022

Insider, "At least 896 people have been charged in the Capitol insurrection so far. This searchable table shows them all," accessed Aug. 30, 2022

CBS News, "FBI's investigation into 9/11: First document released following Biden's promise to declassify materials," Sept. 12, 2021

CBS News, "Former FBI agent who worked on still-secret FBI 9/11 case says hijackers had U.S.-based support network," Sept. 3, 2021, "The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States," July 22, 2004

Office of Inspector General, "The September 11 Detainees: A review of the treatment of aliens held on immigration charges in connection with the investigation of the September 11 attacks," published June 2003

ProPublica, "Operation Encore and the Saudi Connection: A secret history of the 9/11 investigation," Jan. 23, 2020

FBI Records: The Vault, "9/11 material released in response to Executive Order 14040," accessed Aug. 30, 2022

CNN, "US kills al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in drone strike in Afghanistan," Aug. 2, 2022

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Jan. 6 Capitol attack investigation nowhere near as lengthy as the one for 9/11

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