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FBI under siege: Top brass, agents slammed as bureau fights to overcome scandals and blunders

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From the storied hallways of the J. Edgar Hoover building to field offices around the country, the Federal Bureau of Investigation faces a crisis of confidence as rank-and-file agents are blamed for not preventing recent attacks and top brass finds itself in the middle of an unfolding political fight.

The blitz of bad news is taking a toll on the intensely proud bureau’s members, both past and present.

“In my experience, I can’t say I know of any parallel to what is going on now,” former FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko told Fox News.

The two-pronged attack on the bureau’s credibility reached a crescendo last week, when the bureau admitted it had not acted on a tip that might have stopped Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz. President Trump, in turn, seized on the grave error to effectively accuse the bureau of making mistakes because agents have been consumed with the Russia probe.

FBI Director Christopher Wray speaks during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Washington. Wray said the agency provided the White House with information twice last year about Rob Porter, the top Trump aide who resigned as staff secretary last week after domestic violence allegations from two ex-wives became public. Wray said the bureau closed its background investigation on Porter in January, weeks before the allegations were published. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Feb. 13, 2018: FBI Director Christopher Wray, in Washington, D.C., speaks during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on worldwide threats. Wray is facing a call to resign in the wake of the Florida high school shooting.

 (AP)

While the DOJ triumphantly announced Friday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation had indicted 13 Russian nationals, Trump stressed that the case did not show collusion with his campaign.

The ignored warning about Cruz was especially painful, because it was the second such admission in the case. Cruz gunned down 17 students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. It quickly emerged that a YouTuber had warned the FBI someone sharing the same name had said he wanted to be a “professional school shooter” back in September.

Then came word on Friday that another tipster had given the bureau an even more specific warning Jan. 5, and that had also been ignored.

“This kid was flashing red and the system failed,” Hosko said. “The FBI has had its piece in that and it’s a significant piece.”

Trump was quick to tie the two issues together, tweeting that the bureau missed signals because it was “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign,” then urging it to “Get back to the basics and make us all proud!’

FBI Director Christopher Wray, selected by Trump to bring stability to the bureau after he fired James Comey, has vowed to get “to the bottom of what happened in this particular matter.”

But Florida Gov. Rick Scott has had enough. In his view, Wray – who was just installed as the bureau’s new leader on Sept. 28 — already has to go.

“An apology will never bring these 17 Floridians back to life or comfort the families who are in pain,” Scott said last week. “The families will spend a lifetime wondering how this could happen, and an apology will never give them the answers they desperately need.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, accompanied by President Donald Trump, left, speaks as they meet with law enforcement officers at Broward County Sheriff's Office in Pompano Beach, Fla., Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, following Wednesday's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Feb. 16, 2018: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, accompanied by President Donald Trump, left, speaks as they meet with law enforcement officers at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Pompano Beach, Fla. Both Trump and Scott have blasted the FBI in the wake of the Florida high school shooting.

 (AP)

And the Florida shooting isn’t the only case currently generating questions about what the FBI knew, and when.

The father of Ahmad Khan Rahimi, a convicted terrorist sentenced to multiple life terms in prison Tuesday for planting pressure-cooker bombs in New York and New Jersey in 2016, says he raised concerns about his son to the FBI two years before the detonations, which injured 30, but nothing ever came of it.

“After two months, they call me [and say] “Oh, your son is not doing any act like a terrorist,'” Mohammad Rahami told WNBC on Thursday. “I said, ‘You sure he not doing anything?’ He say, ‘Yeah, that’s good news.'”

“It allows the president – gives him the ammunition – to say what the hell is going on with the FBI?”

– Former FBI Assistant Director Ron Hosko

Back in Washington, a shakeup of bureau leadership in recent weeks has led to the departure of Andrew McCabe — following months of conflict-of-interest complaints from Trump and Republicans — and James Rybicki, Wray’s chief of staff.

Fox News was told McCabe — who has been questioned for his ties to the Democratic Party — was “removed” from his post and will no longer be reporting to work at the FBI. His wife, as a Democrat, ran for a Virginia Senate seat in 2015 and had her campaign financially boosted by a group linked to Clinton family pal Terry McAuliffe.

“How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” Trump tweeted in December, about a month before news of McCabe’s ouster broke.

Hosko says Trump’s weekend criticism of the FBI is an obvious response to the pressure he’s facing from the Robert Mueller-led probe and his comments “are made to delegitimize the FBI’s effort and support for the Russia investigation.

“He has the Twitter box in his hand,” Hosko told Fox News, noting that the president gets his thoughts out faster and more often than any of his predecessors. “I think that amplifies his commentary about the FBI.”

But Hosko says as long as the FBI keeps making mistakes — such as the “catastrophic” Florida one or the “embarrassing” text message exchanges between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two former members of Mueller’s team who blasted the president – the hits against the agency will keep coming.

“It’s a part of this conversation,” Hosko told Fox News. “It allows the president – gives him the ammunition – to say what the hell is going on with the FBI?”

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CIA reviewing how it handled initial reports of Havana Syndrome symptoms from officers

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WASHINGTON — The CIA’s internal watchdog is conducting a review of how the agency first handled reports that some of its officers suffered the neurological symptoms now known as Havana Syndrome, amid concerns the matter was not taken sufficiently seriously at the highest levels, three sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The CIA’s Office of Inspector General is interviewing people who have experienced symptoms and officials involved in the handling of the issue, the sources say.

The House Intelligence Committee is also conducting its own “deep dive” into the issue, a committee official with direct knowledge said.

“The anomalous health incidents afflicting our personnel around the world are of grave concern,” the committee official said. “There is no higher priority than ensuring the health and safety of those individuals who serve our nation.”

“On a bipartisan basis, the House Intelligence Committee has been speaking with individuals with firsthand knowledge of how these health incidents are being handled and how they were handled in the past,” the official said. “Through that work, we have significant concerns with how some individuals were unable to access needed benefits and medical care. The committee remains focused on ensuring that the government takes all necessary actions to address these issues.”

Some former officers, including Marc Polymeropoulos — who suffered an apparent brain injury during a trip to Moscow in 2017 — have accused the CIA’s management and medical officials during the Trump administration of failing to properly address the growing number of officers who believe they were targeted by what some experts think was a directed energy device or weapon.

Polymeropoulos told NBC News that the approach taken by CIA Director William Burns “has been a complete and most welcome sea change from the previous administration. He has shown compassion for victims, revamped the CIA’s health care response and dedicated additional resources to finding out who is responsible.”

Former CIA Director Gina Haspel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The IG review was first reported by CNN.

The CIA recently appointed a new leader of its task force on Havana Syndrome, a veteran officer who was instrumental in the successful hunt for Osama bin Laden, an official familiar with the matter previously told NBC News.

NBC News reported Tuesday that as many as 200 U.S. officials or family members have reported possible symptoms. About two dozen cases were reported in Vienna alone.



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Tennessee to resume vaccine outreach efforts after ‘pause’ prompted by GOP backlash

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Tennessee’s top health official said Friday that the state is resuming its vaccination advocacy efforts after a “pause” to review marketing materials geared toward teenagers promoting inoculations against Covid-19, an initiative that provoked outrage among conservative politicians.

The scaling back of its vaccination outreach drew national attention when Tennessee’s top vaccination official, Dr. Michelle Fiscus, a pediatrician, was fired last week after she said Republican lawmakers disapproved of her promoting Covid vaccines to eligible children.

On Friday, state Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey declined to discuss Fiscus’ departure, but addressed the larger issue with reporters, saying “there was a perception that we were marketing to children, and that totally was against our view of parental authority.”

“The reason we paused is because we wanted to leave no room for interpretation about where we are shooting: We are shooting to get the message to parents,” she said, adding “we strongly believe that parents are the best decision makers when it comes to medical decisions for their children.”

In June, Republican lawmakers rebuked the health department for how it targeted online posts toward children, including a digital graphic that had a photo of a child with a Band-Aid and the words, “Tennesseans 12+ are eligible for vaccines. Give COVID-19 vaccines a shot.”

The Tennessean, citing emails and an internal report, first reported last week that the state would halt all adolescent vaccine outreach, for all diseases. The newspaper also found that the health department had deleted some pro-vaccine posts on Facebook and Twitter and instructed employees to stop all vaccine-related posts aimed at teens before halting vaccine outreach posts altogether — and not only those related to the Covid vaccine.

The series of moves drew condemnation from state Democrats, who also blamed “anti-vaccine lawmakers from the controlling party” for removing Fiscus.

“A well respected member of the public health community was sacrificed in favor of anti-vaccine ideology,” state Sen. Raumesh Akbari, who represents Memphis, said in a statement. “This disgraceful hatchet job is going to endanger the lives of unvaccinated Tennesseans at a time when we have a safe and reliable way to protect our families from this virus.”

In an email to NBC News last week, Department of Health spokesman Bill Christian did not comment specifically on the reports that the state had halted all immunization outreach to minors, but said that the department “wants to remain a trustworthy source of information to help individuals, including parents, make these decisions.”

Fiscus said in an interview on MSNBC last week that her job was to roll out the Covid vaccine “across the state and to make sure that that was done equitably and in a way that any Tennessean who wanted to access that vaccine would be able to get one.” Her husband came forward to say she had received a dog muzzle at work only days before she was ousted.

She also said tension with GOP lawmakers escalated when she publicized a document on Tennessee’s “Mature Minor Doctrine,” a state Supreme Court ruling from 1987 that states Tennesseans ages 14 to 18 may be treated “without parental consent unless the physician believes that the minor is not sufficiently mature to make his or her own health care decisions.”

As the controversy mounted, Piercey had left the state on a vacation to Greece.

She said Friday that there may be “fringe and nuanced” situations in which a Covid vaccine may need to be given to a minor without parental permission, which The Tennessean reported contradicts a claim from Republican lawmakers who said the health commissioner had previously agreed to stop such a practice.

The fight over the vaccination of children in Tennessee comes as Piercey and public health officials have painted a grim picture with the surge in Covid cases and positivity rates — coinciding with much of the rest of the country — and said there’s been a 200 percent increase in Covid cases since July 1. About 97 percent of all hospitalizations are among the unvaccinated, and the state has struggled with a lagging vaccination rate, she added.

“We’re certainly going in the wrong direction for hospitalizations,” Piercey warned.

Antonio Planas contributed.

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Brexit outrage: Boris urged to hit back after Baroness Hoey exposes EU punishment plans

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BREXITEER outrage has erupted after Baroness Kate Hoey exposed attempts by the Republic of Ireland to worsen the ongoing rift between the EU and the UK.

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