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Should FBI Director Wray Resign Over Missed Warnings In Florida Shooting?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There was anger, there was disbelief last week when the FBI admitted that it failed to follow up on two different tips about the man charged with fatally shooting 17 people at a Florida high school. Over the weekend, President Trump tweeted that the FBI was spending so much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign that it missed the warning signs. I want to bring in Clint Watts here. He's a former FBI agent, now a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Clint Watts, welcome back to the program.

CLINT WATTS: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So what kind of tip does the FBI need to take some kind of action against someone who people are worried about but hasn't actually committed a crime?

WATTS: For the most part, if it's a threat of violence, in this case, at a minimum, what they would do if they had did it right - you know, the FBI does admit they did not follow protocols in this case. But it would be to contact local law enforcement, who has a better assessment system for dealing with this situation because they're in the local community and know this person, and because, for the most part, the FBI has few methods by which if someone is mentally disturbed or having thoughts of committing a crime to deal with that on a mental health basis. And so there was a - definitely a mistake made in the handoff there.

GREENE: But, I mean, there was talk of shooting up a school. How frequent does the FBI get reports of someone talking about things like that?

WATTS: I would estimate thousands of times in each field office each year. Just in terms of the terrorism leads, if you can remember back with the Islamic State just a couple years ago, they were talking about some field offices getting anywhere from 250 to several thousand reports in from Internet leads, which this one was, in any given month.

GREENE: You're talking about a thousand people who are talking about shooting up schools. The FBI is dealing with that many reports of that specific...

WATTS: No, it's not the - no, that's not what I said. I'm saying threats of violence or related to terrorism. So this could be anything from this one was very overt, and they clearly missed it. But I think Americans would be surprised the number of call-ins and reports they get based on terrorism leads and even leads like this, which could be connotative as having the threat of violence against another human being.

GREENE: So the president tweeted that the bureau failed to prevent this mass shooting because they're spending too much time on the Russia investigation. Take me inside the agency. I mean, is that possible that the people who would be getting these kinds of reports and dealing with them about this young man might have been dealing with something like a Russia investigation?

WATTS: No. The Russian investigation's primarily going to be handled by folks who are in the Counterintelligence Division or maybe a little bit in the Cyber Division, and that's going to operate out of headquarters. That's pretty much what we see with the Mueller investigation now, I would assume, in terms that scene. This is a field office in Florida and - field office in Florida. And, you know, Internet crimes both have their own separate divisions within the FBI that handle these sorts of leads. And it really comes down to just triaging mostly in the criminal space, which is a totally separate division.

GREENE: So you do say that the FBI did not get this one right. And you know Florida Governor Rick Scott's saying that FBI director Chris Wray should resign over this. Do you agree with that? Do you see that as possibly happening?

WATTS: No. They definitely need to re-look look into their protocols, but I do find it somewhat strange in that they did miss this tip. But this was an individual, from so many accounts I've read, has been called out on at least 20 times by law enforcement in recent years in their local community. And it really comes down to, what are we going to do moving forward? And that really is reforming how we handle these tips and leads off the Internet, and present them to locals. For the most part, the FBI has either no jurisdiction or very limited jurisdiction. And so it's really about the FBI using their network to really bring it to the locals' attention.

GREENE: Clint Watts, a former special agent with the FBI and now a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Thanks a lot.

WATTS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.