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The FBI Searches For Sender Of Potential Explosive Devices


A massive search is underway for the person or people who mailed homemade pipe bombs to critics of President Trump. At least 10 packages have been sent to prominent figures, including President Obama, his former attorney general and his former CIA director. NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following this story. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So what is the focus of this investigation now?

JOHNSON: The investigation seems to be focused on two places. One is the FBI lab based in Quantico, Va., which is analyzing these devices. Noel, you know they look like homemade pipe bombs. And experts at the FBI are looking for clues about how the bombs were constructed, where materials may have been purchased. And they're also being - be looking for DNA or fingerprints the bomber may have left behind. Retired investigators tell me this is very promising because so many of these devices are intact. They didn't explode. But if history is a guide, this process of analyzing the devices is going to take awhile. It won't be overnight.

KING: All right. So Quantico, Va., is one place. What's the second place?

JOHNSON: The second place is north of Miami at a package sorting facility in Florida - in Opa-locka, Fla. The operating theory for now is that some or all of these 10 packages went through that facility and through the U.S. mail. Investigators are looking for more devices but also any other clues there. There's a lot of manpower deployed, not just in Florida but all over the country. The postal inspectors are on the case - the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Homeland Security investigators. And so are local police - the bomb squad and a K-9 unit at the Miami-Dade police force and of course the New York Police Department in full force, too.

KING: Carrie, it's notable that none of these packages have actually exploded. And that's led to some speculation that maybe they don't have the capacity to blow up and hurt people. What do - are investigators saying about that?

JOHNSON: Nothing on the record


JOHNSON: Police and the FBI are declining to answer questions about whether these devices actually pose a lethal threat to anyone. Former officials at the ATF are raising questions about whether they included a key component that would've set off the devices. In fact a couple of them say it looks like they were missing a key component. New York Police Commissioner Paul O'Neill (ph) said at a news conference yesterday the powder in the bomb sent to actor Robert De Niro is not a biological threat like anthrax, for instance. But O'Neill was quick to add police are still taking this very seriously. He says if you see a suspicious device, don't touch it, don't move it. Instead, call the authorities immediately.

KING: It sounds like good advice. Many of the people who were sent these devices were in politics or at least very outspoken about politics. Is that helping investigators determine a motive?

JOHNSON: There is a big underlying question about motive right now. If these devices were not meant to explode, did the bomber just want to scare or intimidate people? And was the motive a political one or somehow a personal one? Remember these bombs were addressed not just to former President Obama, former Vice President Joe Biden and some of Obama's Cabinet officers but also to Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California, Robert De Niro and the liberal philanthropist George Soros whose Open Society Foundation has supported NPR. The common denominator here is all of these people have been attacked by President Trump in speeches or in remarks or on Twitter this year and last year, too, Noel.

KING: All right. We will keep following this story. NPR's national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks, Carrie.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.