You See Something. You Say Something. Will They Do Something?


Janet Napolitano: Official Photo

Over ten years ago, then Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano started a public awareness campaign, “If You See Something, Say Something.” The concept is quite logical, people in the country actually see people acting strangely and suspiciously, they can notify authorities. However, the implied task is authorities, at multiple levels, must take some form of action. And there is the broken link.
A classic example was the 2011 Boston Bombing. The Russians warned the FBI of one of the two brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was present and was a likely threat. The FBI did interview him, but that was as far as it went. Both the FBI and the Boston Police work at a Joint Counterterrorism Task Force in Massachusetts, so there is contact between the two agencies daily. But the feds did not inform the Boston PD of a known radicalized Muslim on US soil, or the Bureau’s interview of Tsarnaev and his parents. Then Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis said if they had known of the presence of the brothers, his department would have monitored or interviewed them. One can only speculate if an interview by Boston PD would have stopped the bombing, but it would not have hurt.
Another more blatant example was Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan, in 2009. Hasan murdered 13 and injured 30 people at Fort Hood TX. In the days after his mass murder, it came out he had several ties to a radical cleric, and the FBI knew it: 

U.S. Knew of Suspect’s Tie to Radical Cleric-Nov. 9, 2009

WASHINGTON Intelligence agencies intercepted communications last year and this year between the military psychiatrist accused of shooting to death 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., and a radical cleric in Yemen known for his incendiary anti-American teaching.

But the federal authorities dropped an inquiry into the matter after deciding that the messages from the psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, did not suggest any threat of violence and concluding that no further action was warranted, government officials said Monday…

It’s not like army officials didn’t see something, and say something:

Indicators of Hasan’s Radicalization During Military Service

In 2003, Hasan began a psychiatric residency at Walter Reed hospital where classmates and supervisors quickly spotted Hasan’s extremist views. During his first year, officers identified Hasan “openly questioning whether he could engage in combat against other Muslims,” prompting one of his supervisors to recommend Hasan’s departure from military service. However, military process impediments combined with a general aversion to losing a medical education investment likely resulted in Hasan being retained and pushed onward in the military.

Hasan’s radicalization had accelerated by his third year at Walter Reed. His residency required a presentation commonly referred to as “Ground Rounds.” Rather than produce an academically rigorous and medically focused presentation consistent with his psychiatric residency, Hasan initiated a discussion entitled “The Koranic World View as it relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military.” This presentation overtly questioned U.S. justifications for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and advocated that the Department of Defense “allow Muslim soldiers the option of being released as conscientious objectors to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events.” Hasan’s extremist views during this presentation appalled classmates, sending off clear warning signs. However, supervisors moved Hasan through the residency certification process despite his extremist briefs and inferior performance…

This sounds like sedition, but the army failed to remove Major Hasan, or at the very least place him in a less sensitive position. Officials could have taken other actions, such as suspending his security clearance. But this was not the only failure of federal or state agencies to act:

  1. Seung-Hui Cho, 23 at the time, on April 26, 2007, murdered 32 people and wounded 17 others with two semi automatic pistols, in spite of being sent to a psychiatric center under court order in 2005. This should have stopped him from purchasing firearms under the federal Gun Control Act of 1968.
  2. Chris Harper-Mercer, 26 at the time, on October 1, 2015, murdered nine (A professor and eight students), and injured eight others Harper-Mercer “Was said to have had substantial mental illness but had never been involuntarily committed. Under federal and state law, that would have prohibited him from purchasing a gun.” In 2018, Oregon updated its law allowing police or family members to petition a court to have persons registered as “extreme risk protection.”
  3. On November 5, 2017, Devin Kelley, a former Air Force airman discharged for domestic violence in 2014, murdered 26 people in Sutherland Springs TX. His conviction and bad conduct discharge should have stopped him from passing a background check when he purchased his three guns. But the Air Force failed to update the National Criminal Information Center database, there was no “red flag” on if. Now, if he had been blocked by the background check, could he have stolen weapons or bought them off the black market? Yes, that is possible. But at least the system would have hampered him in his criminal plans.

Now, in discussions (More accurately described as rants) with people on Facebook, etc, one of the simple solutions that comes up is “fully funding mental health.” When I ask how much funding you is “fully,” or how will you force treatment on people who are not a threat to themselves or a third person, I generally get ignored. But do to multiple federal court decisions beginning in the 1960s, and the belief mental illness could be treated on an outpatient basic with modern drugs, multiple state insane asylums were closed.

How has this worked out? I was one of the first officers trained by the Houston Police Department its Crisis Intervention Team. We were officers instructed on handing people in mental crisis. When we had someone in that condition, we would admit them to a hospital under an Emergency Detention Order (EDO), the hospital would get them stable under current medication, release them with a 30-day supply, and instructions on how to get a refill. And within a week they would stop taking their medication, go back into crisis, and we would start the process again.

So, what does this all mean? That nothing being proposed by the usual rent a mob, or just pushed through the House by Nancy Pelosi, will stop, or impair any future mass shooter. If only for the fact 76% of mass shooters use pistols, not rifles. We would do better by actually updating our databases of barred purchasers, and actually taking actions against identified threats. As a reminder, the biggest school massacre was in 1927, as he result of two bombs being set under the school.

Everyone wants “something” done. But simply passing a bill with no action is worthless. Especially when its only intention is to disarms the law-abiding citizens of the country.

Michael A. Thiac is a retired Army intelligence officer, with over 23 years experience, including serving in the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the Middle East. He is also a retired police patrol sergeant, with over 22 years’ service, and over ten year’s experience in field training of newly assigned officers. He has been published at The American Thinker,, and on his personal blog, A Cop’s Watch.

Opinions expressed are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of current or former employers.

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2 thoughts on “You See Something. You Say Something. Will They Do Something?”

  1. One of the other issues here is the mental health profession has pushed the idea of not stigmatizing mental health problems as a way of convincing those with mental health problems that they won’t be adversely affected by society at large. Therefore their incentive is to keep things quiet and not report so they can be the saviors. You see it over and over with these shooters. They are protected from reporting because they know the real problem once a record exists someone can be assessed for blame due to inaction or “wrong” action.

  2. Funny that what I saw was the right was the main driver in the push to get mental health in the dialogue, and using a very broad brush to do it. Mental health has a lot to do with everything in life, so why not use “mental health” in everything? Aldous Huxley might have a good answer why not to do that. Because it is a corrupt and heavily biased profession, leaning towards ideas that can actually do you and I more harm than good. It takes a very well balance mental health professional to be in that role, and the vast majority of those are not Jordan Petersons, but quacks from the likes of Psychology Today. You can’t say his name too loud in that community of “Professionals” without getting some blowback. That should tell you everything.

    We can’t fix everything, and the world is full of risks and consequences, and increasing mental health budgets will do as close to nothing as is possible.
    When I first heard Janet utter those words, the first thing that popped into my head was “snitch!”


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