Transcript: Frank Figliuzzi on “Face the Nation”

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The following is a transcript of an interview with Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counterintelligence FBI, that aired Sunday, December 27, 2020, on “Face the Nation.”


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to Frank Figliuzzi. He is the former assistant director for counterintelligence at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the author of the upcoming book, “The FBI Way.” He joins us from Houston. Good morning.

FRANK FIGLIUZZI: Good morning, MARGARET.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was a significant explosive device detonated in a major US metropolitan area, and yet there was no threat detected beforehand. How confident are you that there is no broader threat in the country?

FIGLIUZZI: So my confidence comes out of the language that law enforcement has been using as recently as the press conference yesterday afternoon. When you hear law enforcement leaders say things like they’re confident that the city is safe, that there is no additional threat, that there’s no additional explosives attached to this incident, and that they’re confident they will find out who did this, that’s code for we know who did it and we’ve got our man. And I say man because the statistics tell us that bombings are largely committed by men.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the person of interest that CBS News is reporting is Anthony Quinn Warner. Federal investigators are not calling him a suspect. Do you believe that he is? Do you know anything about him?

FIGLIUZZI: MARGARET, I do from observations, experience and from talking to sources- I do believe that we’ll fairly quickly see Warner turned from person of interest to the subject of the investigation. And I think right now we’re all waiting for DNA results of that tissue that we all heard has been found in and around the scene.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you believe that may be him?

FIGLIUZZI: I think it’s quite likely that this was a suicide mission for this individual. If there’s any comfort to be taken here, it’s that this may likely end up being not connected to a larger group or organization, international or domestic, but rather a personal, real or perceived, beef, acting out on something that may or may not relate to that AT&T building. It’s going to be personal to him. The choice of Christmas morning, deserted street was not about hurting people or sending a political or ideological message, but rather some personal connection to that building, to Christmas Day or some other thing that caused him to act out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, the governor of Tennessee described this as an attack and he said it was a “vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.” It blew up not just that RV, but it decimated at least 41 buildings in the surrounding area. How easy is it to make a bomb of that scale and do it underneath the radar without law enforcement knowing this threat was there?

FIGLIUZZI: Yeah, I think this is a wake up call and a warning for all of us about how vulnerable our infrastructure is, how relatively easy it is for a single individual to do this. Now, we’ve concentrated, post 9/11 on- on getting our hands around all the chemical companies, mass orders of precursors for known explosives. And look what an individual can do on his or her own when they simply unmask quantities of things that are under the radar screen. So here’s the takeaway with this. The public has to be extremely vigilant about those around them that are talking about acting out where that might be able to do this. Shop owners and companies who are seeing smaller orders of precursors, that’s where our vulnerability- our vulnerability is. And, MARGARET, the- the notion of a copycat seeing what’s happened in Nashville and trying to do this themselves is very real. And we should be concerned about that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But in your professional opinion, an operation of this size, could it have been completely undertaken by a single actor?

FIGLIUZZI: We saw this in the- in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. You’ll remember Timothy McVeigh largely, perhaps with one or two cohorts, did this entirely by himself, getting huge amounts of fertilizer. So the short answer is, yes, it can be done. It’s not the last time we’ll see this, but we’re- we should be thankful that this happened with- with very few deaths.

MARGARET BRENNAN: CBS is reporting this morning that witnesses told investigators, the individual here we’re talking about, Mr. Warner, may have had an issue with 5G technology and online conspiracy theories stemming from it. To you is that discernible intent here, and when you were talking about trying to figure out what motivates him and copycats, what are you most concerned about going forward? This is a pretty tense time in the country.

FIGLIUZZI: Yep. I don’t have to tell you, we’re living in an incredibly politically charged environment. There’s tremendous dangerous polarization and it’s being fueled by social media, conspiracy theorists out there. And, yes, I’m aware that there are groups and individuals who seem to think that 5G technology might be the cause of COVID, that technology generally is targeting us. You’ll find almost anything imaginable and unimaginable online, and it may be that this is how- partially what drove this individual. And that’s why we need to speak the truth about what 5G is, where COVID came from and all of this. But all of that increases the possibility of a copycat operator. And we’ve got to be extremely vigilant as we move into the next couple of weeks–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

FIGLIUZZI: –where we’re going to see the nation increasingly polarized about election results and upcoming inauguration.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Frank Figliuzzi, thank you for your analysis. We will be right back with former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. Stay with us.

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