Skip to main content

If the San Bernardino shooting were not being treated as an episode of Homeland Security Theater, why would the FBI – the lead investigative agency in what has been described as an ISIS-linked act of mass terrorism – allow an MSNBC News crew to contaminate a crime scene? Why would a reporter be allowed to handle evidence with un-gloved hands – picking up licenses, identification cards, and other credentials, credit cards, and riffling through copies of the Koran?

NBC Anchor Andrea Mitchell explained that the landlord of the apartment rented by Sayed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, had allowed “the media to enter … en masse” and examine what was still an active crime scene. If, as several media reports have suggested, the couple had received repeated, mysterious visits to their home by yet-unidentified co-conspirators, the mere presence of multiple news crews might be sufficient to destroy forensic evidence. Any investigator with even a modicum of knowledge and experience will recognize that allowing reporters to handle evidence with bare hands will adulterate fingerprints and DNA traces that could be useful in identifying additional suspects.

Although the couple’s landlord had reportedly been told on December 3 that the police had finished examining the apartment, and FBI Director James B. Comey made a similar statement this afternoon (December 4), the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office still considered the site an active crime scene.

“That is not a cleared crime scene,” a spokesman for the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office shortly after the landlord used a crowbar to break the plywood seal to let the media – and, apparently, several bystanders, including a woman with a dog and another carrying a newborn child -- into the apartment.

“The most important aspect of evidence collection and preservation is protecting the crime scene,” explains George Schiro, a forensic scientist with the Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory. “This is to keep the pertinent evidence uncontaminated until it can be recorded and collected. The successful prosecution of a case can hinge on the state of the physical evidence at the time it is collected. The protection of the scene begins with the arrival of the first police officer at the scene and ends when the scene is released from police custody.”

The personal effects that were pawed by dozens of curious reporters were not the only potential source of valuable clues as to potential accomplices in the deadly shooting.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

“Particular attention should be paid to the floor since this is the most common repository of evidence and it poses the greatest potential for contamination,” Schiro advises. This is why “the arrival of additional personnel can cause problems in protecting the scene”; non-essential people “should never be allowed into a secured crime scene unless they can add something (other than contamination) to the crime scene investigation.”
In addition to the apartment’s floors, the curtilage – “driveways, surrounding yards, pathways, etc.” – could likewise provide valuable evidence, assuming that it isn’t trampled out of existence by an eager herd of media personnel and curiosity seekers.

Aaron Elswick, a neighbor of Farook and his wife, claims that he had noticed “suspicious activity” at their apartment, and had been told by another neighbor that the couple had received “quite a few packages within a short amount of time, and they were actually doing a lot of work out in the garage.”

According to the SBSO, once again, the apartment had not been “released” from police custody at the time of the “media tour.” The reported cache of pipe bombs and ammunition had been removed. Instead, the visitors saw “what would have looked like a relatively normal cluttered household, notwithstanding a shredded front door that had been ripped from its hinges and cast aside as law enforcement officers broke in,” summarized the New York Times. “There were signs throughout the home of the residents’ Muslim faith: The sticker pasted on a chest of drawers (`Praise be to Allah Who relieved me from suffering and gave me relief’). And there were the books: `The Characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad’ in a linen closet and `Common Mistakes Regarding Prayer’ on the bedside table.”

To that segment of the media propagating the narrative that America’s Muslim population teems with latent suicide terrorists, those items – which are similar to those found in the home of at least one of the people killed in Tuesday’s mass shooting – are more incriminating than firearms.

Rather than seeking to learn the truth and tell it without fear or favor, the Legacy Media’s role in this affair is to promote public suspicion that will result in the expansion of government power at the expense of individual liberty – whether in the form of expanded surveillance of Muslim houses of worship, or new restrictions on the right to armed self-defense.

Interestingly, a dialectical synthesis of those views can be found in a bill sponsored by California Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) shortly before the shooting that would have prevented people listed on the federal “no-fly” list from buying firearms. In an interview shortly after the shooting, Barack Obama lamented the failure of that bill to pass the Senate. Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush has expressed qualified support for that measure – if it were narrowed down to apply only to people subject to “an active investigation” on the part of the FBI.

It isn’t difficult to imagine a “bipartisan” push to promote such a “compromise” approach: Republican national security hawks might approve of expanded scrutiny of, and limitations on the personal liberties of, people who display symptoms of “incipient radicalization,” such as regular mosque attendance; anti-gun Democrats would favor new “common-sense” restrictions on gun ownership, while seeking to expand the “radicalization” profile to include other indicators, such as participation in anti-abortion protests. The corporate media, for its part, would frame the discussion in terms that would eventually lead to less freedom for everybody, rather than subjecting such proposals to intellectually rigorous scrutiny. That’s why the state-centered media cannot be considered trustworthy.