We already know that the FBI had investigated Orlando shooter Omar Mateen twice, and that although he had made very suspicious remarks to his colleagues at work, nothing raised enough red flags to cause the authorities to take him off the job or even to continue to monitor him.
Mateen first came to the FBI’s attention in 2013, when he was a security guard and co-workers heard him say he had connections to al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and that he hoped to martyr himself in a confrontation with the law, according to Comey. The FBI opened a preliminary investigation, which allows agents to conduct limited surveillance and searches, but not to use its most aggressive tools (like FISA or Title III warrants)…
Let’s just think about that for a moment. My first reaction is that this should have been more than a “preliminary investigation,” especially because this man was not employed at Burger King, he was a security guard in sensitive situations. But I suppose it might have mattered whether it was one person making the report (which could have been just a grudge thing, as far as the FBI was concerned) or many. In Mateen’s case it was obviously “many,” so the FBI doesn’t have that excuse.
This is what happened then:
Preliminary investigations of terrorist suspects can run for six months in search of evidence the person is a member of a terrorist group or is planning a specific terrorist attack. The agent on the case can get a six-month extension if he or she thinks there might be more to find…In Mateen’s case, the FBI got one extension of the preliminary investigation, then closed the case after a total of ten months.
Are they merely looking for official membership and/or a specific attack? Apparently there must be acts or plans for acts—sympathies are not enough, even for someone in a security position such as Mateen’s. It sounds rather similar to what happened with Nidal Hassan, the Ft. Hood shooter.
Now, I’m all for protecting citizens’ liberties and for innocent till proven guilty, and I don’t think thought-crime should be a charge. But somewhere along the line there must be more that can be done with people in positions of trust who have engaged in such obviously suspicious behavior. Should they lose their security clearances? Not be allowed to buy firearms? Is this a compromise of liberty that we should tolerate in the name of protection, or does it go too far and can be too easily abused?
At the very least, should they not be followed, rather than closing the investigations? Here are the current guidelines, which I think are obviously inadequate:
Murphy, the FBI’s former number two who worked with then-FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni in revising the bureau’s investigative guidelines, says they discourage agents from monitoring potential terrorists over the long-term. Those guidelines retained the requirement that any preliminary investigation that did not produce evidence of a crime must be closed after six months. “Someone should have been monitoring [Mateen’s] social media 24/7,” Murphy says. “but under the guidelines that is not allowed,” he says.
We are very sensitive to government intrusion, and I think we should be. But when someone has indeed expressed sympathies with violent terrorist groups and has demonstrated communication with members of such groups, I think ongoing monitoring (particularly of social media, which is not a private but a public thing) is absolutely warranted. If the problem is money, more funds need to be allocated. But the problem seems to not be money, but will.
I doubt that will change after Orlando.
Here’s another dot that was not connected:
The owner of a Florida gun store said Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen tried to buy body armor and bulk ammunition from his store just a few weeks before the shooting but his staff turned him away.
“We knew by the questions he was asking he was suspicious,” Robert Abell, a co-owner of Lotus Gunworks in Jensen Beach, Florida, told ABC News…
An an alert salesperson refused to sell to Mateen, and Abell said he contacted authorities about Mateen before the massacre. The local sheriff’s office said it was unaware of the incident at the gun store, and other local authorities, including the local FBI office, have not responded to ABC News’ requests for comment.
Mateen got weapons (not body armor) from another store, as we know. But here’s a huge red flag that should have been connected to the previous red flags of the FBI investigations. Why not? Is it mere disorganization? Or is there another prohibition on putting two and two together and acting on it? Either way, this is a systemic problem that needs correction but probably won’t get it.
I feel a sense of outrage and frustration. It’s one thing to say that hindsight is always 20/20 and you can’t predict in advance. It’s true. And I want to protect our liberties. But this was the proverbial smoking gun, several times over. And it ended up with actual smoking guns and a lot of dead bodies of innocent people.
[ADDENDUM: See also this.]