Questions Surround FBI's Closing Of Prior Orlando Shooter Investigations The FBI interviewed Orlando gunman Omar Mateen before he shot dead 49 people. John Pistole, former deputy director of the FBI, talks with NPR's Rachel Martin about how the bureau investigates leads.
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Questions Surround FBI's Closing Of Prior Orlando Shooter Investigations

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Questions Surround FBI's Closing Of Prior Orlando Shooter Investigations

Questions Surround FBI's Closing Of Prior Orlando Shooter Investigations

Questions Surround FBI's Closing Of Prior Orlando Shooter Investigations

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The FBI interviewed Orlando gunman Omar Mateen before he shot dead 49 people. John Pistole, former deputy director of the FBI, talks with NPR's Rachel Martin about how the bureau investigates leads.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's been one week since Omar Mateen opened fire in an Orlando nightclub, killing 49 people. The motivation for the massacre is unclear. But three years ago, the FBI was investigating Mateen for possible ties to terrorism. After 10 months, the FBI closed the case. Many believe authorities should've done more to stop Mateen. John Pistole joins us now. He's the former deputy director of the FBI and is now president of Anderson University in Anderson, Ind. He joins us now on the line. Mr. Pistole, thanks for being with us.

JOHN PISTOLE: Good morning, Rachel. Thank you.

MARTIN: What do you understand about why the FBI closed the case and stopped watching Omar Mateen?

PISTOLE: Well, in very basic terms, there's two parameters that the FBI have to deal with, one legal and then one simply resources. For every counterterrorism investigation - there are thousands ongoing at any time in the U.S. The FBI is bound by what's known as the attorney general guidelines, which there's been some talk about this week, which are really more than guidelines. They're directives that say here's what you can and cannot do, FBI, in terms of investigating a U.S. citizen. And then - and we can go into some detail about that. And then simply, the other issue is simply the resources. That - the FBI has, you know, X number of agents and analysts to work with on the joint terrorism taskforces. There's over a hundred of those around the country. And as they look at each individual, they say OK. How does this prioritize against others that we're looking at? And so it really comes down to those two issues of legal authorities and resources.

MARTIN: So even if the FBI lacked the evidence needed to establish clearly Mateen's connections to any terrorist groups, when they closed the case, did the FBI still understand him to be someone who was unstable and, thus, potentially dangerous? And in those cases, is there anything you can do? Do you hand the case over to local law enforcement and say, listen, we don't have the resources to pursue this, but this guy is someone you should look out for?

PISTOLE: Yeah. And that's - it really comes down to each individual person. And the FBI is as much in the business of, obviously, preventing terrorist attacks as it is in trying to protect individual U.S. citizens' privacy and civil liberties. And so the whole issue of mental instability that you mentioned is really a challenge for the FBI because that's not its job, obviously. But working with health professionals - mental health professionals and community leaders and things - the goal is to identify those individuals who are either currently a threat and may do something or in the immediate future. But trying to discern somebody's future state and whether they are simply an aspirational terrorist or an operational terrorist is a real challenge for the FBI and all law enforcement and security intelligence services around the world.

MARTIN: So how does this affect your profiling tactics? I mean, if Omar Mateen ends up being someone who had no connection to Islamic radicalization, except perhaps in the final days when he claimed it and was just a mentally unstable person, what do you learn from that? What - how does that affect how you understand profiling to prevent threats?

PISTOLE: Well - and that's one of the main challenges. You know, with 330 million Americans and all the degrees of mental health or instability, it really becomes that question of - what can the FBI do legally? And so if somebody makes a complaint about Rachel Martin and says, OK, she's somebody you should look at, FBI, the FBI will assess and perhaps local police, initially, assess the complainant if it's not anonymous and then make a judgment as to whether we should - whether the FBI should even assess that person.

And there are legal limitations on what types of investigative techniques can be done in addition to the resource limitations. And then, if it turns out that there is derogatory information about you or whomever the person is, then they can take additional steps. And so it's really the building blocks. The challenge becomes if there is nothing that indicates a person is going to become operational, as Mateen did, then what can they do in terms of stopping that? Some countries allow for preventive detention of terrorists and organized crime members. And that's not where we are in the U.S. And so the notion of profiling is such - there's not a perfect profile, if you will.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PISTOLE: There - so it's a whole range and continuum...

MARTIN: Yeah.

PISTOLE: ...Of (unintelligible) activity.

MARTIN: John Pistole, former deputy director of the FBI. Thanks so much for talking with us about this.

PISTOLE: You're welcome.

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