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Sen. Johnson Looks To Facebook For Information On Orlando Shooter


A senator says he wants answers about the Orlando shooting. In particular, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson wants to know if authorities could have found enough information to detain Omar Mateen. Mateen, you'll recall, had come to the FBI's attention years before the attack that killed 49 people Sunday morning. He had also posted information on Facebook. Senator Johnson is the Republican chair of the Homeland Security Committee. He is now politely asking the FBI and Facebook for more information.

RON JOHNSON: I don't really enjoy Monday morning quarterbacking, but it's kind of my job as the oversight committee to second-guess and to kick the tires and to investigate - so if new laws are required, that those laws are adopted properly and make sure that we first do no harm.

INSKEEP: Now, in the letter to Facebook, you say that you have information that Omar Mateen not only used Facebook but that the suspect used it during the shooting, that he was searching for terms like Pulse, Orlando and shooting during his own attack, looking for - what? - media attention about himself?

JOHNSON: You know, it's a real possibility. I mean, I can't understand a sick mind like that. So yeah, I mean - I'm truthfully far more interested in the posts before it to see if there's anything possible we could have learned to prevent this attack as opposed to, you know, what a sick person, a deranged person was actually doing while he was slaughtering our fellow citizens.

INSKEEP: Is it your understanding that any data that you might request from Facebook would be something they would ordinarily turn over under ordinary law? Or is there a possibility of a situation, as with Apple after the San Bernardino shooting, where Apple feels they're being asked to do something extraordinary?

JOHNSON: Well, generally we try and work very cooperatively with people that we're requesting information from, understanding the sensitivity of people's civil liberties and privacy. But there shouldn't be any privacy concerns with a terrorist who's no longer living.

INSKEEP: Now, the Facebook part of this is a detail, I guess. The bigger question is could this be prevented? And that would have been the job of Homeland Security officials or the FBI. What questions are on your mind about their conduct?

JOHNSON: Why did they close the investigation? You know, after they closed the investigation, it sounds like there were still additional instances that might have gotten the attention of law enforcement officials somewhere.

INSKEEP: You're pointing out that the FBI interviewed Mateen in 2013 and in 2014 but ultimately found no basis to act, right?

JOHNSON: And quite honestly, as I've heard the story, it makes an awful lot of sense. It sounds like he was just responding to, I don't know, taunts from co-workers and just made some stuff up - kind of braggadocio. FBI investigated that to see if any of those claims were true - actually sent in informants. So they didn't believe they had any further basis to continue investigation, so they closed the file and took him off the list.

INSKEEP: You're saying the FBI didn't just knock on his door, say, I'm from the FBI; I want to ask you some questions. You're saying they went to some lengths to get people around this man to talk with him and find out what they could. They must've had some pretty serious concern.

JOHNSON: Well, they did. I mean, they took those complaints from his co-workers very seriously, and I give them credit for that. You know, this is pretty widely known policing technique - is if you suspect somebody who's going to commit a crime, you try and send in informants to see if you can elicit information.

INSKEEP: Listening to you, I'm realizing it must be even more difficult with the so-called lone wolf attacker because if you have a group, if you have an organization there might be some planning for an attack. There might be a conspiracy. There are all kinds of conspiracy laws that can be brought into account. But if it's just one guy spouting off ideas, he's got freedom of speech and hasn't done anything yet.

JOHNSON: Well, it is the reason we have the lone wolf provision in terms of surveillance, you know, under what was originally the Patriot Act. We've given law enforcement the capability of dealing with a lone wolf that they suspect to give them greater authority to, you know, engage in more robust law enforcement procedures.

INSKEEP: They have freedom to engage in more robust law enforcement. What does that mean?

JOHNSON: (Laughter) You know, basically beyond what, you know, American citizens have in terms of - you know, you just have better capabilities of doing things that would be more difficult to accomplish if you're just dealing with an American citizen.

INSKEEP: Senator Ron Johnson, thanks very much.

JOHNSON: Have a great day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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