From local police to the FBI, law enforcement agencies nationwide — especially those responsible for protecting Congress — are knocking on doors, interrogating suspects, and poring through prior intelligence reports in the wake of the tragic Tucson shooting rampage in an effort to head off any copycat killers or other acts of violence.
Several arrests, investigations, and interrogations have already been reported, with more expected in the days to come as the accelerated effort to head off other deranged shooters like the one that left six dead and 14 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Congressional staffers tell Newsmax the Capitol Police have reminded all members of Congress to notify them anytime a threat is received. Other sources say authorities are canvassing members of Congress for the names of any suspicious individuals in their districts.
As one indication of the concern, members of Congress have been advised to install “panic buttons” in their district offices, to immediately alert authorities if an incident transpires.
“Right now they have intelligence gaps,” says Fred Burton, vice president for intelligence and security for STRATFOR, the global intelligence company located in Austin, Texas. “They have 535 elected officials. A lot of new ones came in from the midterms unfamiliar with how Washington works, how the Capitol Police work, how the protection business works.”
Burton, who formerly worked for the State Department protecting U.S. diplomats, says the security apparatus is looking both for copy-cat threats and for existing suspects who might have slipped through the threat-detection networks before the attack in Tucson.
“What you had occur here is a protective intelligence failure,” Burton tells Newsmax. “How you fix a protective intelligence failure is you have to look at this tragedy, put together lessons learned, and step back and put processes in place so this doesn’t happen again.”
Law enforcement officers always worry that one high-profile violent rampage could lead to other incidents. Asked to comment on reports that Capitol Police and federal agents are asking members of Congress to provide the names of any potential threats they’re aware of in their districts, FBI spokesman William Carter commented to Newsmax via e-mail: “Over the last week, law enforcement at all levels has been actively engaging members and staff in Washington, D.C., to ensure all appropriate security precautions are taken in this current threat environment.”
In May 2010, federal authorities reported a surge of threats against members of Congress. But some security professionals consider the Tucson shooting, which also claimed the life of a federal judge who previously had been under the protection of the Federal Marshals Service because of threats, a blatant security breakdown on a variety of levels.
Among those incidents: A caller to North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler’s office declaring: “I voted for you. If you vote for that stimulus package, I’m gonna kill you. Simple as that.”
Some security professionals consider the Tucson shooting, which also claimed the life of a federal judge who previously had been under the protection of the Federal Marshals Service because of threats, a security breakdown on a variety of levels.
Sadly, the violence in Tucson and the subsequent debate over who ultimately is responsible appears only to have escalated the threats.
On Tuesday, a four-minute montage of “hate tweets” directed at former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was posted on the Internet. “Why couldn’t Sarah Palin get shot instead?” stated one. “I hope Sarah Palin dies an ugly death and takes her moronic hate with her,” stated another.
The FBI has declined to comment on its response to the threats against Palin.
Burton tells Newsmax that officials are worried about both copycats and existing threats.
“You’re seeing both,” he says. “You’re seeing the knee-jerk copycat concerns, coupled with the re-evaluation of those current protective intelligence threats that perhaps need to be revisited in light of the carnage in Tucson.”
It has become obvious in recent days that the FBI and other federal authorities are reacting swiftly to any perceived threats in order to protect members of Congress.
Just ask Clay Bowler, a grass-roots conservative who lives near Springfield, Mo. On Tuesday, somebody knocked on his door. It turned out to be the FBI.
As first reported on a Springfield television station, Bowler was questioned about his exercise of his First Amendment rights and pointed questions he had asked about Rep. Billy Long, who was elected in November to represent Missouri’s 7th Congressional District.
The agent who visited Bowler this week was accompanied by the sheriff from a neighboring county, Sheriff Jim Arnott of Green County, Mo.
Bowler, who questioned Long’s conservative bona fides during the campaign, tells Newsmax that both the agent and the sheriff told him they had received a complaint from the congressman’s office that he had confronted the congressman in a threatening manner.
“I’d never made any threats to the congressman,” Bowler tells Newsmax. “I’d never even been disrespectful to the congressman.”
According to Bowler, who says he videotaped his encounter with the agent and the sheriff Tuesday, both officers told him they were investigating a report of a threat that had come from Rep. Long’s office.
Bowler, who created an anti-Long blog that he took down after the election, tells Newsmax that the FBI visit was intimidating. He says he believes it was politically motivated as payback for his conservative activities.
Contacted by Newsmax, Arnott replied via e-mail that he, not Long’s office, had initiated the FBI inquiry.
“You were misinformed,” Arnott stated in an e-mail. “I contacted the FBI for assistance.”
Fortunately for Bowler, he was able to show a videotape made when he questioned Long directly. He says the agent reviewed the tape and told him he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Other indications of stepped-up activity to protect officials in the wake of the Tucson shootings:
A mixed martial artist fighter, Jacob Volkmann, was suspended from his job as a high school wrestling coach at White Bear Lake High School in Minnesota after a statement he made about President Obama resulted in a visit from the Secret Service. Volkmann last week was videotaped saying the president is “not too bright,” adding “Somebody’s got to knock some sense into that idiot.” He has since expressed regret for his remarks. A Dix Hills, N.Y., man was arrested Thursday at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey after allegedly threatening to kill Securities and Exchange Commission and other financial-regulatory officials.
A Palm Springs, Calif. man was arrested Wednesday for making two expletive-laced, threatening phone calls to the district office of U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington state. He allegedly threatened to kill the congressman, his friends, and family members.
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