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FBI Turns To Public In Identifying Boston Bombing Suspects


We turn now to Robert McFadden, who is the senior vice president of The Soufan Group. He's a 30-year veteran of U.S. federal law enforcement, with a special focus on counterterrorism. Thanks for joining us in the program today. Walk us through what happens now. Let's say that the FBI is deluged with thousands of phone calls from people who think, rightly or wrongly, that they have seen one or both of these men before. What does the FBI do?

ROBERT MCFADDEN: Yeah. That - and Mr. Gjelten's report, I thought, was very good. And really, just to add to that, you know, with having the technology now in the information age to so quickly put together what the FBI - and this would be a major senior leadership decision to come out publicly and identify the two men as suspects. With - the FBI wants and needs that information, that input from the public, but with that positive of - in the information age and all the technology we have to so quickly identify suspects, you have the great challenge now of an absolute deluge of information to come in. But still, from an investigator's standpoint, you would much rather be in that sort of situation.

SIEGEL: What do you think happens now? Is the emphasis on quality or quantity? - because if 40 people call in, all describing someone who lives in the same - on the same block, is that important or is it more important to get the brother of one of those people, as has been the case in some notorious arrests?

MCFADDEN: Well, the short answer is the latter in that case. And from having worked in major terrorism cases before, I was very excited to see those photographs at this press conference because - what happens, though, and even though the public may say, wow, they're awful grainy and hard to make out physical features, you know, if you know the individual, if you're a family member, if you're a neighbor, if you're a friend, I can guarantee with certainty that someone very soon is going to say, hey, that's so-and-so and so-and-so. So those are the kind of things that the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the investigative leadership will be looking for the most positive leads, but nonetheless, though, every lead will have to be followed.

SIEGEL: But those leads would be more important than, say, the more technologically complex investigation of all the footage, of all the train stations and airports and places where these people might have gone to to leave Boston, I'd say.

MCFADDEN: Absolutely.

SIEGEL: How many people are involved in something like this? Now we've heard about 1,000 FBI agents, but are they - how many people will be taking this information in?

MCFADDEN: Well, you know, in a case like this, which quickly goes from local to national and even international, with the volume of leads and just gauging it, my frame of reference from the 9/11 investigation and the USS Cole and the al-Qaida maritime, there would be thousands of personnel worldwide involved in some way or another. And that's - with the hundreds at the JTTF, the Boston PD that are working it, I'm certain right now there are a number, a large number, of officers and agents who have had little sleep since Monday.

SIEGEL: Yeah. There's a new dimension to all this since the cases you've described which is social media. I mean, if there are two men in their 20s who are associated with each other, nowadays, we assume there's some Facebook page where they're friends with each other. Is it a productive area of investigation or just too many images to look at you think?

MCFADDEN: Yes. I mean, the short answer is yes. Again, another tool in the age we live in where, as you mentioned, a demographic, there should be a good chance except for the, I think, remote possibility where if they could be from a very, say, remote location overseas, although I don't think so. But again, I think that's more helpful, but at the same time demonstrates the challenge of the vast volume of information out there.

SIEGEL: You've seen the pictures the FBI has put out. Are pictures that good or, perhaps if slightly higher resolution, are they good enough to be able to run it through just a visual database of images and match it up with a face?

MCFADDEN: It could very well be, absolutely. With the advances and biometrics and facial recognition technology, I think a little bit more remote at this point. But there, yeah, certainly is a possibility. And I'd be surprised if that's not already been well underway.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. McFadden, thanks a lot for talking with us.

MCFADDEN: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: OK. That's Robert McFadden of The Soufan Group, formerly a veteran of U.S. federal law enforcement, talking about the FBI investigation. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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