A top FBI counterterrorism official in Boston said the bureau is “spread very thin” as most agents are working night and day to investigate leads in thousands of terror cases nationwide.
“Most of us here are working 18-hour days just to get the job done because our job is to protect the American people,” Peter Kowenhoven, assistant special agent in charge of the counterterrorism program in the FBI’s Boston Division, told Herald Radio’s “Boston Herald Drive” show yesterday.
“We’re spread very thin. There isn’t a lot of us to cover not just this threat,” he said of the Orlando homegrown killer. “We cover a lot of the criminal threats, the white-collar, the cyber, counterintelligence threats as well.”
Kowenhoven said more money for agents and investigations would help the bureau dig into about 1,000 cases of homegrown violent extremism and 7,000 terrorism cases nationwide. He said tracking suspects in terrorism cases is a “daunting task.”
“There is a lot of information that we do pull in and we try to assess, but we have an outstanding cadre of intelligence analysts, an intelligence branch, that vets through a lot of that to bring the most pertinent information to us to initiate those investigations,” he said. “It’s a funding issue. So if we could get the funding, yes, we would take all the help that we can.”
FBI agents twice investigated Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen — once in 2013 after claiming to be connected to overseas terrorists and again in 2014 when his name was linked to the first American suicide bomber in Syria who battled with the al-Nusra Front.
Both times federal agents question Mateen, and he was released.
Former FBI counterterrorism agent David Gomez told the Herald cases of homegrown extremism are much harder to investigate because federal guidelines limit what agents can do with a domestic suspect, including hard-to-get wiretaps.
“The standard is probable cause,” he said. “You have to be able to articulate the belief that they are about to commit a crime and if you can’t do that you are back at the beginning of the investigation.”
Gomez, senior fellow at the George Washington Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, added that “in a world where violent domestic terrorism is taking place with multiple victims of mass murder, it’s time to have a very serious conversation around the strategy we’re using to investigate our own people.”
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