The Federal Bureau of Intelligence has admitted that it was fully aware that Wade Michael Page -- who killed six Sikh worshippers at a gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5 -- was a racist and neo-Nazi. But, the agency said, its hands were tied as he had not committed any criminal act preceding his killing spree.
Michael A Clancy, deputy assistant director of the Counterterrorism Division of the FBI, was among the witnesses who appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by Senator Richard Durbin. When he was asked if there was "a breakdown in intelligence here," he said "I will tread lightly here as it is an ongoing investigation."
"But I can tell you this, we did know of this individual," he said.
Clancy explained, "We did not have a case open on him. He was not what we would characterise as a predicated subject. His activities had not arisen to the level that we would be able to, under our Attorney General guidelines, open an investigation on him."
"But like many thousands of people, he was an attendee at what could be described as white supremacist conferences throughout the country and was heavily involved in the white supremacist music scene. So, we were aware of him as a peripheral figure. But he never emerged as more than that," he said.
Clancy said, "We never had any information on him pertaining to violent acts against anybody. He was certainly covered in tattoos, which indicated his affiliation with different white supremacist groups. He dressed like that. (But) None of these things, are of course, against the law. He engaged in a lot of hate speech. Again, it's not against the law."
"So, while we were aware of him," the FBI official reiterated, "We did not have an open investigation on him, nor did we ever have any information that he posed a threat to any group, particularly Sikhs."
But Daryl Johnson, an erstwhile Department of Homeland Security senior official, when asked the same question, said, "The FBI is really good at investigating after the fact -- after an incident has happened."
Johnson, during his stint at the DHS, led a team of analysts that tracked domestic extremists and right-wing militias.
"We have this delicate balance between people's constitutional right to assemble and express their speech, however vile. But we also have to be a little forward-leaning in looking at those ideologies that have long histories of spawning violence," he said.
Johnson noted that "I am not talking about a government doing covert operations on people that have extremist beliefs. But it is prudent that we have an overt posture -- of overt monitoring of belief systems that are basically causing people to act out violently."
He said he did not believe it was an intelligence failure, "but one thing that I believe the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI could have done, was, where was the warning that mosques were being burnt, where was the warning that Sikhs and Muslims had been victims of shooting attacks."
Johnson told the Committee that "there could have been a threat assessment prepared on that very subject. It could have been sent out to the faith-based communities affected, and I believe that may have provided a first line of defence by identifying the problem and also providing some counter-measures to encourage people to be increasingly vigilant towards the threat."
He said that if the FBI had done this and provided these communities with some kind of a threat assessment, "that may have played a possible role in maybe preventing some type of attack."