FBI owes better answers on Fort Lauderdale airport - Rome News-Tribune: Editorials

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FBI owes better answers on Fort Lauderdale airport

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Posted: Monday, January 9, 2017 6:15 am

Given that he reportedly suffered mental health problems, that he told FBI agents he was hearing voices about ISIS and that he was held for psychiatric evaluation in Alaska just two months ago, how is it even possible that Esteban Santiago was allowed to fly with a gun?

Following the bloodbath he is believed to have caused at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday — killing five and wounding eight in a shooting spree at baggage claim — the FBI said Saturday that Santiago wasn’t even on the federal no-fly list.

Why in heaven’s name not?

How many warning signs, red flags and alarm bells does the agency need to recognize that someone poses a danger, deserves ongoing scrutiny and shouldn’t be allowed to possess — let alone fly — with weapons and ammunition?

At least in the case of the Omar Mateen, the disturbed young man who pledged allegiance to ISIS as he massacred 49 and wounded 53 at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub last June, the FBI had raised its antenna and tracked his routine for 10 months before mistakenly closing the case.

But from what little the FBI is saying in Fort Lauderdale, it appears the agency demonstrated insufficient attention after Santiago walked into its Anchorage office in November in a “very agitated state.”

According to various reports, Santiago said he wanted to talk about the government having taken over his mind, about being forced to watch propaganda videos on ISIS and about feeling forced to fight for the Islamic State terror group.

You’d think words like ISIS and Islamic State would hit agents in the face. They should have been especially concerned — if they knew — that the Iraqi combat veteran had reportedly been discharged from the Alaska Guard in August “for unsatisfactory performance.”

But it appears the FBI handed off the problem and failed to follow up.

Instead, they called local police, who facilitated a psychiatric review.

Sources told the Sun Sentinel that Santiago was committed to a hospital because he was seen as a danger to himself or others.

But no one is saying how long he was committed, whether he was adjudicated mentally unfit or why nothing in this timeline triggered his entry on the no-fly list, which was created after 9/11 to keep people who present “a known or suspected threat” from boarding commercial aircraft.

“You have this huge problem with people not referring people adjudicated mentally ill to the federal government to go on that list,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose district includes the airport, told us. She plans to address uniform reporting requirements, as well as other safety issues sure to surface as more is revealed.

We have to believe that had the FBI done a little more digging on the front end, it might have prevented this enormous tragedy on the back end.

Had agents stayed on the case, they might have discovered Santiago also faced charges for domestic violence and criminal mischief.

His aunt, Maria Ruiz, told reporters in Union City, N.J., that “it was like a month ago, he lost his mind.”

Instead, in the aftermath, they’ve launched what’s sure to be a lengthy investigation, as families plan funerals to mourn indescribable loss.

More will be said in coming days about airport safety. Already, there’s debate about whether new security barriers are needed at ticketing and baggage claim areas, or whether alternative screening methods could work equally well without clogging the system.

Already there’s more sheriff’s deputies on patrol, and talk of more federal officers and drug-sniffing dogs, too. And as we mentioned Saturday, the Florida Legislature is considering a misguided proposal to let people carry concealed weapons into airport public areas, like baggage claim.

For the moment, let’s remember that Santiago reportedly followed the law in coming to Fort Lauderdale to commit mass murder. He locked his unloaded gun in a hard-shell case and sent it through checked baggage. His ammo was inside, too.

After retrieving his case at baggage claim, he allegedly retreated to a nearby bathroom, loaded his gun and came out shooting.

Witnesses say the nightmare lasted about 45 seconds. Broward Sheriff Scott Israel says deputies were on the scene within 60 to 70 seconds.

Israel is right when he says no one can stop every “lone wolf” intent on doing harm, but one of the lessons of Fort Lauderdale baggage claim should be the need for a different process to reunite traveling gun owners with their ammunition.

Wasserman Schultz is interested in exploring that challenge, too.

But today, as our grief turns to anger, we want a better answer.

We want to know why this lunatic was allowed to fly with a weapon.

The FBI has some explaining to do.

 

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