The Road To Fort Lauderdale

Judith Miller, City Journal

According to reports, Esteban Santiago, the 26-year-old former National Guardsman who killed five people and wounded six others in Friday’s shooting spree at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, is crazy. But so is our continued reliance on “security” systems aimed at preventing terrorists or mentally ill people from inflicting such mayhem. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, then the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Transportation Security Administration, and other agencies charged with keeping us safe from people like Santiago are at best inadequate, or at worst, crazy.

The failures begin in Anchorage, Alaska, where Santiago, who was born in New Jersey and raised in Puerto Rico, had lived and worked as a security guard since 2014. When the obviously agitated young man walked into the FBI office there in November, complaining about hearing Islamic State voices in his head telling him to commit violence and saying that he was being controlled by a U.S. intelligence agency, officials contacted local police, who gave him a 72-hour mental-health evaluation. He was deemed nonviolent, released, and then apparently escaped further law-enforcement scrutiny. In December, the police returned the gun they had confiscated in Santiago’s car during his FBI visit. He had carried the magazine clip with him to his meeting with federal agents. One official told the New York Times that the returned gun is believed to have been the one used in his deadly rampage.

It’s not yet known why the FBI concluded that Santiago wasn’t dangerous. He was clearly a delusional man. His relatives said that he had not been himself since 2010, when he returned from a nine-month deployment in Iraq. He’d been discharged last August by the Alaska National Guard for unspecific “unsatisfactory performance.” Whatever the FBI’s reasoning, Santiago’s name was never added to any law-enforcement watch or to the federal “no fly” list. Nor were local police able to charge him with a crime, despite having been called to his apartment on at least four occasions on complaints relating to domestic abuses of his older girlfriend, believed to have been the mother of his child.

“It’s hard to argue that the FBI did not drop the ball on this case,” said Michael Sheehan, the NYPD’s former deputy commissioner for counter-terrorism. “The FBI too often fails to notify local police when a deranged, possibly violent person is heading their way.” 

Santiago’s case resembles that of two other mass shootings whose perpetrators were also investigated and dropped by federal and local law-enforcement agencies prior to deadly attacks. Based partly on a tip from Russian intelligence, FBI officials interviewed, investigated, and then ended surveillance of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the elder of the two brothers who eventually carried out the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. Federal agents had also investigated Omar Mateen for possible links to terror twice before he killed 49 and wounded 53 others at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, last June.

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