Does the FBI really have anyone investigating tipoffs about school shooters?
As if it couldn't soil itself more in the wake of its flawed Russian investigation scandal targeting Donald Trump, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is in hot water again, this time over its failure to act on at least two very specific tipoffs about the Parkland, Florida school spray shooter, who murdered 17 people in cold blood. Here is the FBI's press release:
On January 5, 2018, a person close to Nikolas Cruz contacted the FBI’s Public Access Line (PAL) tipline to report concerns about him. The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.
Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life. The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami Field Office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken.
We have determined that these protocols were not followed for the information received by the PAL on January 5. The information was not provided to the Miami Field Office, and no further investigation was conducted at that time.
This tipoff failure follows an earlier one, from an Alabama bail bondsman, who sent email to the FBI about the gunman's plans, posted on YouYube, of becoming "a professional school shooter," which bounced back. After that, the bail bondsman called the FBI local field office, whose agents promised him they'd "look into it." They didn't. Their subsequent claims that they couldn't "identify" Nikolas Cruz from among the fourteen people who hold the name is ridiculous. Reporters have no problem finding the right person among such a small pool of names. And if the FBI, with all its far superior investigative resources just can't do that job, well, it isn't exactly an elite organization of lawmen that the taxpayers get their money's worth on.
It makes one wonder if anyone over there really is on the case in identifying school shooters who telegraph their intentions, again and again.
To its credit, the FBI has admitted blame and promises to try harder, which is a lot more than you would expect of the highly politicized organization as it operated under the Obama administration. But it was an inexcusable error, suggesting a bunch of disgusting incompetents unfit for work at the bureau over at its Public Access Tipline.
That group, which touts itself as "more than customer service," portrays its tipline operators as super-agents, and the voice of the FBI to the public. In its public relations presentation, one of its operators says:
We are analysts, we are intelligence, we are…we have to gather the information, we have to know the questions to ask, we have to know what a federal crime is and what is not. And we are assisting the agents in the field.
Oh, hurl. The behavior of the telephone operator who took the very specific tip about Nikolas Cruz, his guns, his angry statements and his apparent signals sent about shooting up a school was to yawn and go on to the next call. If the bureau is serious about the integrity of its tipline, it needs to fire whoever it was who s-canned that call.
But it needs to do more than just that.
It actually needs people who are tasked with identifying potential spray shooters and finding the means of taking them out of circulation, or else getting them the mental health or coping mechanism resources they may need if they can't be removed from society as threats to the public.
Much has been made of the fact that the FBI has expended considerable resources on targeting President Trump to paint him as a Russian agent, so it's natural to wonder if the resources spent there had anything to do with the absence of resources placed on targeting school shooters instead. It is a reality that counterintelligence and criminal matters are different. But money comes in one lump from the top for the 35,000-person agency, so intelligent people might ask if cash was misallocated.
But it's fair to say not enough did go into identifying school shooters or hiring quality personnel at the tipline where such people might have been identified. So who hunts potential spray shooters posting their plans on the Internet?
Based on a look at the FBI's organizational chart on its website, it doesn't really seem obvious.
Based on the kinds of public comments left on the FBI's Community Outreach Facebook page, the problem of ignored tips seems to be a widespread problem.
Just look at the organization: Which among the subdirectorates - National Security, Criminal, Cyber, Response & Services, Intelligence, Science & Technology, Infomation & Technology or Human Resources is most likely to be charged with dealing with tips about spray shooters. I would go with Criminal, Cyber, Responses & Services. Under that heading, there's a Critical Incident Response subdirectorate, there's a National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, which includes crimes against children in its behavioral analysis unit. Presumably there would be action on identifying potential school shooters. There is a pretty good report further on down by the unit here about how bad guys always send signals. Too bad no one at the bureau read it. But it's just analysis.
What I am looking for is a particular kind of sleuth who goes after nuts on the Internet who telegraph those violent intentions. I don't see it. And if it's not on the chart, there's a possiblity it's nobody's job. It might not be, given that it isn't easy to bust someone for threats. But if there is something missing, something needs to be fixed. The bureau is being flooded with tips and apparently it's not working.
The FBI does have an Active Shooter Resources page, which comes closer to the matter at hand:
The FBI notes that it is tasked to help clean up after spray shootings, in the wake of the Sandy Hook killings, and:
Second, working with other cabinet agencies, the FBI is finding ways to help prevent and respond to active shooters. A White House working group—consisting of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Homeland Security, Department of Education, and Department of Health and Human Services—is part of a broader initiative, Now is the Time, undertaken after the Sandy Hook shootings. DOJ, led by the FBI, was specifically tasked with training law enforcement and other first responders to ensure that protocols for responding to active shooter situations are consistent across the country.
Based on a Google search, the Obama-initiated 'Now is the Time' doesn't seem to have done anything worth noting. It did spend $115 million for the initiative, according to the partner-agency linked, and another $25 million for a Mental Health Block Grant as it was called "to help states and territories develop programs to address early signs of serious mental illness, including early signs of psychosis" which might fall under the parameters of catching Cruz.
If you look up how the Now is the Time program is going, which the FBI touts as its means of preventing school shootings, you get this. The FBI's own link to 'The Time is Now' goes here, which is a White House archived site, featuring President Obama stating in 2013:
“This is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now.”
None of this inspires much confidence. While the governor of Florida's call on new FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign is extreme and unwarranted, it does point to an agency in need of a good scrubbing out, to get rid of non-productive time-servers and deadwood, and revitalize the agency with a renewed sense of mission. Coming on the back of a scandal involving the wasting of resources on targeting a political opponent, it can't come soon enough. Some fresh ideas are needed at the bureau now to make the agency work.