Last Wednesday 19 year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and started shooting students and faculty at random. Seventeen persons including a teacher and an assistant football coach were killed.
Six months prior to the shooting, Cruz posted a comment on a YouTube video which read, “I’m gonna be a professional school shooter.” The individual who posted the original video was so alarmed he took a screenshot of the post and contacted the FBI, which subsequently interviewed him and took a copy of the screenshot.
And, then, apparently nothing at all was done to investigate the threat.
In acknowledging the warning received by the FBI the Miami Field Office’s Special Agent in charge Rob Lasky said, “No other information was included with that comment which would indicate time, location, and true identity of the person who made that comment,” Lasky said. “The FBI conducted database reviews, checks, and were unable to identify the person who made that comment.”
This is what we call in the intelligence business – a lie – made all the more egregious, because it was intended to cover up for obvious bureaucratic bungling and to dodge responsibility for the deaths of seventeen innocent people.
In order to make a comment on a YouTube video, you have to have an account through YouTube and/or Google. In order to get an account you have to provide personal information including a name, an email account and a telephone number. Cruz was clearly not engaging in some sophisticated attempt to evade detection. He was posting after all in his true name.
In order to comment on YouTube you also have to access the Internet via a computer. That means you have to associate yourself with an IP address, which the FBI can readily identify. Given the frequency with which Cruz was apparently posting online, it appears this computer, readily identifiable, was likely sitting in the house where he was living.
An individual posting a comment online regarding a desire to engage in mass murder might reasonably be expected to have posted elsewhere or to continue to post. Any reasonable investigation, therefore, would presumably have included a scan of social media for the name Nikolas Cruz. Such a scan would have determined rapidly that, in fact, Cruz was posting with frequency on a variety of other social media platforms and that the content of his posts was consistent with the threat already reported. Both Cruz’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, for example, included numerous references to wanting to hurt people and pictures of him with rifles and knives and wearing masks.
Even a cursory search of social media postings would likely have also determined that an individual using the same name, Nikolas Cruz, had commented on another YouTube post regarding the 1966 University of Texas shootings, saying “I am going to do what he did.” “I’m going watch them sheep fall f**k antifa I wish to kill as many as I can.” “Iam (sic) going to kill them in the future.”
In short, any amount of effort at all would have shown that the school shooting threat was part of a disturbing pattern and would have identified the source as a young man named Nikolas Cruz in South Florida. After that it probably would not have taken much more than a phone call to the local cops to determine that Cruz was a time bomb waiting to go off.
Local police in Florida were called to Cruz’s home over 35 times prior to his mother’s death. He was expelled from school. He was regarded as so threatening while still in school that he was banned from carrying a backpack, presumably for fear of what he might have inside. In fact, even though Cruz was no longer a student, he was so well known to security at the school that on the day he arrived to carry out the shooting he was immediately recognized, and a radio transmission was made noting he was on school grounds.
Here is the terrible reality, which one can only assume the FBI will ultimately be forced to admit. They took a statement from the video blogger who called them. They filed some paperwork. They dropped the entire matter and moved on.
That much is certain. Here is what we don’t know. Will anything happen as a result? Will anyone will be held accountable? Will anything change?
Maybe more than we want to even admit, this is the question not only in this case but in regard to intelligence and law enforcement in this country in general. We all know that the overwhelming majority of people in these institutions are loyal, hard working Americans who want to do the right thing. That does not change the fact that with alarming frequency these days it appears these institutions are failing us. Time and again we see bureaucracy, process, sloth and incompetence take precedence over mission accomplishment, public safety and results.
Will it be different this time? We can only hope so. The sad truth, though, is seventeen people, most of them at the beginning of their lives, are dead, because somebody didn’t do his job.