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Why did a Florida shooter FBI tip fall through the cracks?

The FBI says it got a tip about the man accused of murdering 17 people in Parkland, Florida, but never investigated. Director Christopher Wray said on Friday that a caller warned the bureau of Nikolas Cruz's desire to kill people. Judy Woodruff talks with The Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky and former assistant attorney general John Carlin.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The day's other major story involves a failure by the FBI before the Florida school shooting, and the tragic consequences.

    Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz is accused of murdering 17 people on Wednesday. Now the bureau says it got a tip about Cruz in January, but it never investigated.

    In a statement, the FBI said a caller to a tip line warned of — quote — "Cruz's gun ownership, his desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts."

    This afternoon, the head of the FBI's Miami office spoke in Parkland and voiced his regret.

  • Robert Lasky:

    The potential of the FBI to miss something is always there. We do our best. We have protocols to prevent these things. We will be looking into where and how, if something — a protocol broke down. And we will come back stronger than we ever were before.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In addition, the Broward County sheriff said that his office received about 20 calls about Nikolas Cruz in recent years.

    So, now we turn once again to John Carlin, who, for four years, served in leadership roles at the FBI, and to Matt Zapotosky. He's justice reporter for The Washington Post.

    And, Matt Zapotosky, I'm going to start with you.

    How did this information get to the FBI? We reported it was a tip line. What does that mean?

  • Matt Zapotosky:

    Well, somebody who knew Cruz called just the FBI's general tip line, 1-800-CALL-FBI, and there's a call center where they take in this information.

    What is supposed to happen is that a call taker takes down the information. If it's significant to warrant a further look, they pass it to agents in the field.

    And that's where it broke down here. We understand it that a call taker passed it to some supervisor in what amounted to a call center, but it never got to agents in the field. So it was never really investigated at all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do we know why it didn't get passed on to the right people?

  • Matt Zapotosky:

    We don't know specifically. We know it wasn't any sort of mechanical failure. Like, there wasn't an e-mail that got lost in translation.

    And we're also being told tonight that it wasn't a sort of product of overwork. You know, it wasn't because like they get thousands of calls, this one just fell through the cracks. That seems to indicated to me that there may have been some bad decision-making process. We know that the assessment here was bad.

    The FBI has said that publicly. But why specifically a supervisor or this person who took this call decided not to pass it on, I think the FBI still has tough some questions to answer on that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, John Carlin, as somebody who was at the FBI, how do you understand what happened here?

  • John Carlin:

    This is a tragedy.

    Parents are grieving, and I know that folks at the FBI that are looking to handle this, it's their worst nightmare to think that there may be something they could do to prevent the loss of innocent lives. And I remember a few incidents like this when I was there, and the way in which people feel it personally.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You mean tips that weren't followed up?

  • John Carlin:

    Tips that weren't successfully followed up, or the feeling that maybe, if we had done one extra step in an investigation, we could have prevented a tragedy from occurring.

    What's important now, I think — and it sounds like the director has done this today — is, as soon as he found that there were mistakes that looked like had been made, that he wanted — that he delivered a statement on it.

    And, secondly, these take time, that there should be a thorough look to see not only what happened here, but, most importantly, what can we learn about what happened here to make sure it never happens again?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We heard Matt say that it wasn't believed to be a case of too much work and being overwhelmed by tips. So it's not a matter of not having enough staff, not having enough budget?

  • John Carlin:

    We just don't know yet, until you do a thorough look at what happened here and why they weren't able to convert this information into being able to take action.

    There's a system for taking in tips or leads — we used to call it Guardian — and a process where, if it's a threat to life or a terrorism case, that you're required to take certain investigative steps before closing out that tip or lead.

    So I imagine what they're looking at now is, was that process followed? And the other question, Judy, you ask in some of these is, if we were able to follow up, if the FBI was able to follow up and work with others, what steps could they have taken to prevent it?

    And you may learn lessons there that there may need to be changes made so they can take effective steps when they follow up in the investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Just quickly back to you, Matt Zapotosky, is there any sense from the FBI about specific changes they are going to make as a result of this?

  • Matt Zapotosky:

    Well, I think it's a little too early to say that, but I would say that the FBI does seem very humbled here.

    You know, yesterday, there was reporting on a vague tip that came about a comment on a YouTube video. And, in that situation, their posture was somewhat defensive. They couldn't identify this comment, even though it would later turn out to be Cruz.

    In this situation, they do seem very humbled and apologetic and they're going to try to get to the bottom of it.

    As far as what steps they will take in the future to prevent this kind of thing, people at the FBI tell me it's just too early to say. They still need to sort out exactly what happened in this case.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Matt Zapotosky with The Washington Post, John Carlin, thank you both.

    No question, tragedy all the way around.

    Thank you both.

  • John Carlin:


  • Matt Zapotosky:

    Thank you.

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