- - Monday, February 19, 2018


In the emotional aftermath of every school shooting, experts criticize and offer solutions. “Arm teachers, more cops, fewer guns, psychiatric commitments and barbed wire perimeters.” We can also have lengthy discussions on the disintegration of the family, but any real change is generations away. So, what now?

We already know what happened. Seventeen children are dead, and all the talking points will not prevent the next Parkland, Florida. Will our politicians finally act? I doubt it.

Because any remedy must include the acceptance that “increased” security equals “less” freedom. It’s a sum zero game. Unless Americans are willing to make that concession, then body bags will continue to fill up schoolyards, shopping malls and concerts.

The Broward County Sheriff received 30 calls regarding Nikolas Cruz over the past few years. And, an FBI tip line caller provided information about Mr. Cruz’s gun ownership and desire to kill. Many in the public believe that this information provides law enforcement the authority to snatch him up. Our Constitution says otherwise.

Law enforcement is extremely limited when confronting irrational behavior.

We can conduct a background check to determine arrests, gun purchases, ties to gangs, etc. and follow up with an interview, but only if they consent. Good cops may take “other” actions that could threaten their job or pension. But unless someone comes forward with firsthand information of criminal activity, law enforcement will move on to the next wacko making threats.

Here are some actions we should consider:

• Enact laws making individuals responsible for their words involving physical threats to individuals or our country.

• People behaving violently or erratically should be involuntarily committed for 96 hours of observation.

• Eliminate many of the soft targets in America, and this includes gun free zones.

• Prohibit gun sales to individuals on the watch list, and those with multiple misdemeanor convictions of domestic abuse, DUI, aggravated assaults, etc.

We demand action to prevent a future Sandy Hook or Columbine, but our attention span has already expired on the Ft. Lauderdale killings. We have become immune to images of children laying in pools of blood.

The individual who called the FBI tip line specifically warned that Mr. Cruz had the potential to shoot up a school. The tip line staff located at FBI Headquarters failed to pass the info to the Miami office and now the FBI once again seems vulnerable. The governor of Florida called on FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign. This won’t solve the problem, but FBI Headquarters desperately requires a face-lift on so many fronts.

I know this incident is not isolated because I also attempted to alert the Bureau of possible terrorist activity.

About a year ago I received a call from a retired Marine Corps intelligence officer who informed me that an asset he operated in the sand box had identified possible al Qaeda operatives in the U.S. Pretty serious stuff. The Marine explained that his Iraqi asset provided him reliable information over several deployments. The source and Marine officer both contacted the FBI tip line on numerous occasions but were met with the same indifference and lack of any call-back.

The retired Marine asked, “Can you help?”

My immediate answer was, “No Problem.” When I was a brand-new agent, we viewed retired agents as rock stars, but times had evidently changed.

I contacted the field division with jurisdiction and identified myself as a retired FBI agent. “Can you patch me through to the JTTF?”

“No, but I’ll take a message and they’ll call you back today.” Five days later I called again, identified myself as a retired agent, and asked to speak to the JTTF. The response was, “How do I know that you’re a retired agent?”

I remained calm and requested to speak to the Special Agent in Charge. “That’s not an option. What does this concern?”

“I have information of possible terrorist activities in your division.”

“I have to patch you through to individuals who take complaints.”

“Click,” and I was transferred to the same PAL tip line which failed to notify the Miami FBI office that Mr. Cruz was a ticking time bomb. I tried the “retired agent” thing again but that was met with, “What’s the nature of your complaint?” I requested to speak with any FBI agent present.”

“That’s not an option.”

I never did receive a return call and never would have had I not contacted a retired FBI assistant director. I falsely believed that a former FBI assistant director could shake the bureaucratic tree. He was willing to help but confessed that he had his own difficulties contacting our alma mater. He eventually called a “recently” retired assistant director and things happened.

A few days later the agent in charge of the office in question called and was apologetic. He confirmed that the information provided was critical to their counterterrorism efforts.

I am asking that Director Wray form a working group of retired field agents. Your headquarters staff seems unable to provide you wise counsel and we need to regain public trust. I volunteer, and you have my number.

John Ligato is a retired FBI agent. His latest book is “The Near Enemy.”

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