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Security Experts Continue To Try To 'Make Soft Targets Less Soft'


We are focused on Las Vegas this morning where more than 50 people are dead, according to authorities, after a mass shooting at a concert on the Vegas Strip. The Clark County Sheriff's Office says the suspected gunman, 64-year-old Nevada resident Stephen Paddock, fired from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. They believe he acted alone and that he may have died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after firing on the crowd. One of the people at this country music concert was Mackenzie Jakel (ph).

MACKENZIE JAKEL: And I kind of remember my friend's mom got hit with something on her hand, as she was like, ow, like, what was that? And I remember feeling kind of like splatter on my face, and I was like, what is that? And we hear more gunfire. And I look down, and someone's on the ground next to us who's been shot. And that's when we realized that it was not fireworks, and it was, you know, an active shooter. And then it was just complete chaos.

GREENE: Mackenzie Jakel there describing being at that country music concert on the Las Vegas Strip last night. The authorities say more than 50 people dead - of course, these numbers could change - more than 400 taken to hospitals. The death toll here already makes this the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. We have heard from President Trump this morning at the White House. And I just want to bring in NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

Scott, what did the president say? And what do you make of the message?

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, he talked about the nation being joined together in sadness, shock and grief at this brutal attack. But it was a - you know, it was a solemn and somber president who was speaking today. It was in many ways a sort of uncharacteristic president - characteristic in that he praised the first responders for saving lives and preventing an even greater toll in this tragedy.

But this is a president who really prefers to be on offense, and who was there for him to go on offense against? The suspected gunman has taken his own life here. The president talked about how we are angry, but he said it's our love that defines us. He also said he's going to go to Las Vegas later this week to comfort the - that city.

GREENE: Yeah, on Wednesday, right?

HORSLEY: And this is going to be an interesting week for the president - an early part of the week. Tomorrow, he's going to be in Puerto Rico. So he's going to have a day of dealing with a natural disaster and then a day of dealing with a man-made disaster. And, you know, as I say, this is a president who kind of prefers to be on offense. Sometimes, when he counterpunches, he winds up hitting himself. The president's drawn some criticism for his attacks, for example, on the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, who has been critical of the federal response to that tragedy. Here, there - the - he was very guarded and careful not to go on offense in that way.

GREENE: All right, well, stay with us, NPR's Scott Horsley. I want to bring another voice here. It's Juliette Kayyem. She was assistant secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama. She's a national security analyst.

Welcome to the program.

JULIETTE KAYYEM: Thank you very much for having me.

GREENE: Can you do as best as you can to take us into these - the briefing rooms right now where officials that we're not seeing or hearing from, you know, are talking about how to respond to this? What's happening in the Department of Homeland Security this morning?

KAYYEM: Well, I'd actually begin with what's happening locally in Las Vegas and then, of course, the state because even if this has terrorism ties, it's always going to be, what do the local police know? Because chances are, they're going to know a little bit more about this assailant than anyone else. You know, what is happening with the victims? And the investigation begins there.

This will probably start off as a federal investigation with, you know, the FBI taking lead, but it's even going to be the FBI in Las Vegas, you know, interviewing everyone who knows him, interviewing anyone who was seen with him. And then there is some news reports that there might've been a woman who knows something more that they are looking for.

Then sort of opening up the lens, the bigger picture on the federal side is of course the terrorism-or-not-terrorism question. We tend to get very focused on this and, you know, whether any group claims responsibility, whether that's a valid claim are questions that will be asked, beginning and ending right now, really, at the Department of Justice more so than the Department of Homeland Security simply because there's an active investigation going on. That will include, of course, the Department of Homeland Security to make sure there's no copycats and to get other localities, you know, ready for the potential - we always worry about the next concert.


KAYYEM: But also making sure that evidence is protected should there be a criminal case coming up - so there's lots of pieces moving.

GREENE: How worried are you? I mean, it's obviously, you mentioned - is not the first time a concert has been targeted. I mean, you know, we had the bombings in Manchester in late May. What is it about this kind of target? And should people be worried, going to concerts?

KAYYEM: Well, you know, it - who am I to say, don't be worried? You know, obviously, in the scale of things, these are still relatively, you know, attacks that are not killing, you know, lots of people overall. But obviously, after a tear - after an attack like this, we do look at it. So just a couple things to think about - one is, the goal now is to make soft targets less soft. You are never going to make a target like an open concert hall completely hard.

And so one of the lessons learned that you need to look at, you know, is, OK, well, we seem to have gotten the metal detection issue figured out. Maybe we're doing better with cars and vehicles coming through big events. And now the thing is to look at elevated positioning. And so that is something that will have to be looked at.

I should say that the issue related to guns and - is an issue that we have to talk about, even as counterterrorism person, whether this is terrorism or not. There were probably lots of guns in Las Vegas. Nevada is a very sort of gun-friendly state. But you cannot bring, you know, every person down with guns, and so I think we need to also look at the capacity or the opportunity for the assailant and the amount of weaponry we had.

GREENE: Yeah, but I...

KAYYEM: ...Which, I mean, as terrorism expert, is mind-boggling.

GREENE: It's stunning to you. And I just wonder, though, are we getting to a point - you talk about looking at elevated places. Like, what do you? You have an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, and every single hotel and casino that is elevated, you have to check people who are checking into the hotel?

KAYYEM: Well, I think - I mean, one thing I wonder about - it - I mean, yes and no. I mean, obviously, and this is just something that we have to get into our system, and it's very hard to do - is that the goal in a democracy is to minimize the risk - you're never going to get it to zero - and maximize the defenses.

And so one way we might better maximize defenses is to educate hotels. Who is checking in? I mean, that's a lot of weaponry to get into a room. How long was he there? You know, I mean, these are things that we need to educate people who are in positions of power or positions of sort of leadership, like at a hotel, to do. But we also can't forget about minimizing risk and not forget that this is ultimately an access-to-weapons-of-mass-casualty issue going on right now.

GREENE: Juliette Kayyem was the assistant secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama. We really appreciate your time this morning.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF NINE INCH NAILS' "9 GHOSTS I") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.