What Did FBI Do with Evidence that Mateen Was a Closeted Gay Man?

By my count there are at least five data points that indicate Omar Mateen, the guy who killed 49 mostly gay (and mostly Latino) men on Sunday morning, was himself gay:

  • He used to hang out with a friend from high school, who is a drag queen, and the friend’s lesbian co-worker friends
  • He asked out a fellow (male) student in cop school
  • His ex-wife’s new partner claimed (in Portuguese to a Brazilian outlet) that she had said Mateen had gay tendencies, Mateen’s father had called him gay in front of her, but the FBI asked her not to say that to the American press
  • He used a profile on the gay dating site Jack’d (and, according to one report, Grindr)
  • He had been going to Pulse for at least 3 years

That likely makes the story of why he shot up the Pulse far more complex than the one FBI gave to the media early on Sunday, that Mateen had called 911 and claimed he had committed the attack for ISIS. At least some in the gay community think this attack was more about Mateen struggling with his own sexuality than ISIS.

“He was trying to pick up people. Men,” Van Horn told The Associated Press late Monday outside the Parliament House, another gay club.

Van Horn, a retired pharmacist, said he met Mateen once, and the younger man talked about his ex-wife. But Van Horn said his friends soon “told me they didn’t want me talking to him, because they thought he was a strange person.”

Van Horn acknowledged that he didn’t know Mateen well, but said he suspects that the massacre was less about Islamic extremism and more about a man conflicted about his sexuality.

“I think it’s possible that he was trying to deal with his inner demons, of trying to get rid of his anger of homosexuality,” said Van Horn, who lost three friends in the shooting. “It’s really confusing to me. Because you can’t change who you are. But if you pretend that you’re different, then you may shoot up a gay bar.”

We may or may not get that story going forward. For now, terror “experts” are working very hard to turn Mateen’s claims of affiliations for numerous violently antagonistic Islamic groups (Hizballah, al-Nusra, and ISIS, as well as the Tsarnaevs) into some kind of coherent world view that could explain his actions.

I’m interested, though, in claims that FBI is only now investigating Mateen’s known gay activities, and that primarily in terms of whether he staked out the club or Disney World (which had a series of gay events last week). After all, given the description (here, from Jim Comey’s press conference) of the FBI’s prior investigation into Mateen, it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t have learned that Mateen was carrying out a closeted gay life.

Now, let me tell you what I can about the FBI’s prior contact with the killer. We first became aware of him in May of 2013. He was working as a contract security guard at a local court house. He made some statements that were inflammatory and contradictory that concerned his coworkers about terrorism. First, he claimed family connections to al Qaeda. He also said that he was a member of Hezbollah, which is a Shia terrorist organization that is bitter enemy of the so called Islamic State, ISIL. He said he hoped that law enforcement would raid his apartment and assault his wife and child so that he could martyr himself.

When this was reported to us, the FBI’s Miami office opened a preliminary investigation, and over the next 10 months we attempted to determine whether he was possibly a terrorist. Something we do in hundreds and hundreds of cases all across the country.

Our investigation involved introducing confidential sources to him, recording conversations with him, following him, reviewing transactional records from his communications, and searching all government holdings for any possible connections, any possible derogatory information. We then interviewed him twice. He admitted making the statements that his co-workers reported, but explained that he did it in anger because he thought his co-workers were discriminating against him and teasing him because he was Muslim.

After 10 months of investigation, we closed the preliminary investigation. Two months later, in July of 2014, the killer’s name surfaced again in an indirect way. Our Miami office was investigating the Florida man who had blown himself up for the Nusra Front in Syria. Again, the Nusra Front being a group in conflict with ISIL. We learned from the investigation that the killer knew him casually from attending the same mosque in that area of Florida. Our investigation turned up no ties of any consequence between the two of them.

In the course of that investigation, one witness told us, when asked, “Do you know anybody else who might be radicalizing,” that he had once been concerned about the killer because the killer had mentioned al-Awlaki videos. The witness had concluded that he later got married, and had a child, and got a job as a security guard, and so he was no longer concerned about him.

Our investigation again turned and interviewed the killer to find out whether he had any significant contacts with the suicide bomber from Nusra, determined that he did not, and then the inquiry continued focusing on the suicide bomber with no further focus on the Orlando killer.

The FBI says they had a tail on him, which should have identified 2-hour long round trips to Orlando to hang out at Pulse, which according to witnesses were already taking place. They say they analyzed his online transaction records which — if the FBI correlated his online identities in the way we know they do — should have identified the Jack’d profile (if it existed in 2014; they surely checked his transaction records again in conjunction with the investigation into his ties with al-Nusra suicide bomber Moner Mohammed Abu Salha).

Either the FBI knew about these things, or their investigation was insufficient to identify other, more traditional terrorist ties (because if you’re not correlating online identities well enough to find the dating profile of a closeted gay guy, you’re not correlating them well enough to identify an account protected with any kind of operational security).

None of this is to say that an attraction to Islamic extremism isn’t part of why Mateen killed 49 people. A particularly interesting story, in my opinion, is how, on 9/11 Mateen reportedly applauded the attack (side note: what the fuck were teachers doing showing the live video at school of people jumping out of the World Trade Center in any case?).

In an interview, Robert Zirkle, then a freshman at Martin County High School, said he saw Mateen excited and making fun of how America was being attacked on 9/11. “He was making plane noises on the bus, acting like he was running into a building,” Zirkle recalled. “I don’t really know if he was doing it because he was being taught some of that stuff at home or just doing it for attention because he didn’t have a lot of friends.”

“Before 9/11 happened, we were pretty straight. We all rode the same bus. We weren’t really close friends, but friends at least a little,” he added, noting that Mateen attended the Spectrum Alternative School, a separate campus in Stuart for students with poor grades or behavioral issues.

“After 9/11 happened, he started changing and acting different,” Zirkle said.

[snip]

“He got bullied a lot,” said the former student who sat in the dean’s office with Mateen. “It may have been because he was Muslim. But high school can be rough; people can pick on you just because of your name.”

The story gets told as a key part of how high school kids’ relationship changed with a student at the alternative school. Mateen, who it appears was already being bullied (the students suggest it may be because of his name, but given the other things high school kids bully their peers for I wonder), changed after 9/11, and from that point forward none of the kids pretended to like him anymore.

But it seems that when a Muslim guy invents a terrorist tie explicitly saying he wants the FBI to come after him in response so he can martyr himself protecting a particular image of his life — “He said he hoped that law enforcement would raid his apartment and assault his wife and child so that he could martyr himself” — the Bureau might think a little more critically about what is going on.

Instead, it appears, the FBI assessed Mateen for one and only one thing: whether his bogus claims of ties to terrorist organizations were real. There have been a slew of articles, such as this one or this one, wondering why the FBI didn’t “identify” Mateen as a “real” terrorist in its two investigations of him. But it appears the FBI was assessing only whether he was likely to commit violence because of–and with the support of–an Islamic terrorist group. It appears they weren’t assessing whether he was, like the overwhelming majority of men who commit mass shootings in this country, really screwed up, expressing it in violent ways, and seeking attention with such actions.

It is true that Islamic extremists want to attack this country. It is also true that far, far more Americans die when men carry out mass killings because they’re fucked up and begging for attention. If you’re Muslim, the easiest way to get attention right now is to say that word, “ISIS,” because it’s a guarantee law enforcement and politicians will give that killing more due then they might give the next disturbed mass shooter.

And that, of course, only feeds the Islamic terrorists while doing nothing about the far larger, and far more lethal, problem of disturbed men with guns.

Update: Let me put it this way, to make it clear I don’t mean this to endorse profiling gays. Mateen had many similarities to what we know so far about Adam Lanza (the Sandy Hook killer) and Christopher Harper-Mercer  (the Umpqua Community College killer). Neither of the either two were gay (as far as we know). If the FBI had interviewed either of them three times and failed to notice they were dangerously disturbed and prone to  violence, how would we respond?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

40 replies
  1. scribe says:

    I suspect that within FBI there’s a checklist of things to look for when investigating someone making claims of the “I luv ISIS” or “I’m with Al Qaeda” sort. That list probably does not contain a checkbox for “closeted gay male having difficulties with his sexuality” or anything even close. Whether that’s by accident – they never thought of it – or design – can’t pick on gays anymore – is likely to remain unknown and is just as likely to be irrelevant. The box isn’t there to check, so they don’t look, don’t correlate, and don’t follow up. Case closed.
    .
    Moreover, just like Sibel Edmonds’ boss burying trails and clues in the untranslated transcripts because there’s an opportunity to grow his (and the Bureau’s) budget because 9/11 happened, a quick look at all the pols and pundits calling for “more security” and “improved policing” (or whatever catchphrase these dunderheads are using today) tells Cynical Me that the FBI and police welcome each of these incidents because it means more money for them.

    • Bob says:

      So now the checkbox for “closeted gay male having difficulties with his sexuality” will be added to the checklist, for likely terrorist suspects… does THAT make everyone feel safer? What’s the matter with everyone… doesn’t that describe most gays? So now all gays are going to be considered terrorists, and everyone else will just accept that, because it’s different from them… You know, there’s a poem for this… it starts out with “First they came for…” and several lines later ends with “Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

      • emptywheel says:

        1) Not a checklist for likely terrorist suspects, but for possible shooters. Different thing. The latter, by the way, kills far more people in this country.

        2) Mateen’s checklist included far more than the fact that he was closeted. It included stalking and other violent acts, and very bizarre claims for help.

        Do I think FBI should have taken heed ONLY that he was closeted? Not at all. Do I think FBI should not have (as they appear to have) dismissed a lot of troubling indicators because they weren’t Islamic? Yes.

        If the only violence we try to prevent WHEN WE FIND TROUBLED PEOPLE WHO GET REPORTED FOR THAT TROUBLING BEHAVIOR is the far less common Islamic type, we will continue to have increasingly serious mass killings.

        • jerryy says:

          .

          If the only violence we try to prevent WHEN WE FIND TROUBLED PEOPLE WHO GET REPORTED FOR THAT TROUBLING BEHAVIOR is the far less common Islamic type, we will continue to have increasingly serious mass killings.

          .
          Yeah, the related incident in California illustrates that pretty well.
          .
          http://www.wave3.com/story/32204127/man-accused-of-taking-chemicals-cache-of-weapons-to-la-went-to-louisville-high-school
          .
          Multiple arrests for violent behaviors, obtaining firearms when he was explicitly forbidden to do so (how did that not get caught?), etc.
          .
          Perhaps there is a perfectly fine explanation for this which puts the guy in the clear, but I would think there were plenty of those warning flags that should have been noticed instead of being caught by a local resident that essentially heard too much noise to sleep and called the cops. After all, is that not what those legislating away our privacy are claiming we are supposedly being made safe from? (Sorry about that rhetorical question construction.)

        • Bob says:

          >If the only violence we try to prevent WHEN WE FIND TROUBLED PEOPLE WHO GET REPORTED FOR THAT TROUBLING BEHAVIOR is the far less common Islamic type, we will continue to have increasingly serious mass killings.

          Surely by “troubling behavior” you mean, actual crimes? We need to investigate and put away people for actual crimes they commit, not just “woo, they read anti-government blogs (like emptywheel), very suspicious behavior…”

          i.e. law enforcement SHOULD remain reactive, not proactive, when it comes to investigation and incarceration. They should not be in the business of mass spying/investigating and predicting future crimes among everyone in the population and preventing them from happening… The only proactive thing should be education, economic stimulus, and making mental health programs available, and things like that.

          • emptywheel says:

            Sure.

            Do you agree that beating your wife is a crime? Threatening people with a knife? Stalking co-workers?

            • wayoutwest says:

              I don’t think anyone ever brought formal charges against Mateen for these accusations of crimes so they are just believable rumors and even in todays US you have to be convicted of a crime before most rights are revoked.

              • emptywheel says:

                Yes. But some of them are very closely related to the tips that got FBI investigating in the first place and solidly fit within permissible activities for a preliminary investigation.

                My point is that FBI was only looking for one kind of evidence, and ignoring a great deal of (chargeable) evidence that would indicate this guy was a loose canon.

      • emptywheel says:

        Adding, one other premise of this post is that the FBI, which should have known that this killing was far more complex than just an ISIS inspired mass shooting, should not have led to that impression, which effectively gave ISIS a big PR victory for no good reason.

        • Trevanion says:

          A former-former at a certain agency liked to say that Bureau guys could always be spotted in public places by looking for the high gloss on their shoes and the toilet paper trailing behind when they came back from the restroom.

        • scribe says:

          There’s a perfectly good reason for the FBI to have given ISIS a big, free-of-charge propaganda victory – it makes ISIS a bigger bogeyman (at just a time when they’re getting their asses kicked on the ground in Iraq-Syria and policewise in Europe) and therefore justifies bigger FBI budgets. Bigger, badder villain => bigger budgets (and powers) to fight said villain.
          .
          You’re missing that because you’re still not thinking like a bureaucrat.
          .
          Moreover, where are you going to stop when you give the feds the mission to suss out potential criminals (we start today with violently inclined people who might become shooters one day) in advance of their criminality? I mean, if these cops were so good at predicting the future, why are they not all stock market (and lotto) millionaires?
          .
          But I would like to hear a limiting principle articulated.

          • emptywheel says:

            Oh, I definitely get that part of it. Making this an ISIS story increases their budget.

  2. Trevanion says:

    Spot on.

    Curious why this is not a “real” news story, if not perhaps the main news story of the Orlando tragedy — as a massive fuckup by the FBI, largely because of the continuing moronic single-mindedness of their methods.

    But presumably that would get in the way of the preferred storyline.

    • Trevanion says:

      OK, the NYT has this very moment one of the stupidest subheads ever seen:

      “His actions reveal the difficulty in trying to address a new style of terrorism: violence partly inspired by the Islamic State but not directed by its leaders.”

      “His actions reveal the difficulty in trying to address a new style of terrorism: violence partly inspired by [the movie Taxi Driver] [the secret tribe living on the moon] [the coming invasion of talking vegetables] but not directed by its leaders.

      How about: “His actions reveal the difficulty in trying to address American gun violence while law enforcement is inspired by a received narrative, but not directed by its realities.”

      • emptywheel says:

        Spot on. If the FBI is only going to stop mass killing if it involves known ties to ISIS thousands more will die.

  3. Lurch pop says:

    I find it hard to believe they didn’t push harder to build a sting around him. They’ve pushed harder on facebook ranters. Especially after him hitting up the al nusra guy. Is it possible the club event was already part of a sting that went horribly tragically wrong?

    Also, they may have held onto the gay revelation to wait for ISIS to declare victory so they could deflate it by saying, “your hero is gay” so their heads explode like in that chapelle show sketch.

    • EH says:

      I find it hard to believe they didn’t push harder to build a sting around him. They’ve pushed harder on facebook ranters.

      History tells us that the Feds push stings on mentally challenged people, so maybe they simply found Mateen dumb enough to trick.

  4. Jim White says:

    .
    Not that there is any evidence that it took place, but I can’t help wondering if Omar’s apparent conflicted sexuality was a product of the Afghan practice of bacha bazi. It appears the family has Pashtun ties and this article (http://foreignpolicy.com/2013/10/28/bacha-bazi-an-afghan-tragedy/) links the practice to their culture. Even though Omar was born in New York, I can’t help wondering if his highly unstable father (I’m working on post for later today on the father) somehow found reason to put Omar through this horrible abuse.
    .
    It’s a bit of a stretch to suggest this, since the practice typically abuses very poor street boys and the father has delusions of grandeur. In the Mateen family history, I could only see it having taken place if the father was seeking favor with another Afghan with whom he sought favor and advancement.
    .
    If Omar was scarred by bacha bazi, the Orlando victims would join several US victims in Afghanistan who were killed by a former tea boy: https://www.emptywheel.net/2015/09/20/so-there-was-one-cultural-difference-the-military-recognized-in-afghanistan/

  5. Wapiti says:

    I’ve said elsewhere that his last minute declaration of fealty to IS suggests he might have been trying for “suicide by cop”.

    There was a case a couple of years ago where cops, finding white powder on the street, cordoned off the area suspecting anthrax. It was a trail marker left by runners of a Hash House Harriers club (playing a version of the children’s game, hares and hounds). A member of the HHH club tried to explain it to the cops and got arrested. I don’t know what happened to the guy, but that’s when I finally realized that some fraction of LE will try to wedge any situation into their preconceived notion of what is going on.

    • emptywheel says:

      Right: Suicide by cop. But to do that “honorably,” he had to do it in a way that most denied his gay identity.

      Again, that’s not to say that Islamic propaganda didn’t play a part — I’m particularly interested in the anti-gay Imam at one of the mosques he attended.

      But still. those early claims of ties to Al Qaeda seemed like a cry for intervention.

  6. Les says:

    It sounds like he wanted out of the marriage and family bad, and he wanted the FBI to do it for him.

  7. RUKidding says:

    IMO, part of the motivations for Mateen’s actions can also be laid at the feet of today’s very virulent gay-hating rightwing “Christian” churches that gay bash loudly and often. They have contributed in no small measure to a lot of LGBT hatred/bigotry in our nation. It’s all about shame & blame and shouting how all LGBT’s are going to roast in hell fires (literally have seen signs saying this). The ugliness and loudness of this contributes, I’m sure, to a lot of self-loathing in some cohort of gays who struggle with their identity.
    **
    It drives me a little crazy to read/hear the media place this all at the feet of Islam, the Muslim regligion, and whatever radical Islamic group is the current bad guy that we’re all directed to FEAR and hate today. Sure, portions of the Muslim faith ALSO are virulently anti-gay. And that does contribute to self-loathing Muslims.
    **
    But for those Muslims raised in the USA, especially, don’t tell me that all the “Christian” hatred for gays doesn’t affect them simply because they’re Muslim. It’s the dominant culture after all. I have yet to see this fact raised anywhere… and it won’t be. But it should.
    **
    The Feebs probably didn’t make the connection about Mateen being gay while they were investigating him, and if they did, they probably wrote it off as NBD. That’s my speculation. And in a way, I can see why. It’s sort of like anyone who’s cheating on his wife. Like: whatever. Hard to see that the guy is simmering because of his own self-loathing.
    **
    Duly noted, though, that the IMMEDIATE reaction/response of most is: it’s ISIS!!11!!! Aieeeeeee!!11!!!
    **
    When I heard the father saying that his son got livid over witnessing 2 men kissing in Miami?? My first thought really was: I’ll bet anything Mateen was a closeted gay and couldn’t handle it anymore. Yeah, Tuesday morning quarterbacking… but I think many of us called it almost immediately.
    **
    Sure Mateen was possibly also influenced by groups like al Qaeda & ISIS… but from a distance. How does that matter really? Who/what is influencing all of these white men – possibly raised in “Christian” traditions, which are very incendiary and hateful these days – to murder many people in cold blood? None dare point a finger at “Christianity.” Why the rush to blame Islam??
    **
    Propaganda. Let’s go to WAR!!11!! Cha Ching!

  8. Bob says:

    A huge percentage of men in this country are “prone to violence”… it’s promoted everywhere we look. News, movies, games, music, even food, is designed to make us more “excited”… Though most don’t “go postal,” should we investigate and possibly imprison most of the population for crimes they might commit?

  9. wayoutwest says:

    I wonder how the MSM is going to re-spin this story from an attack on gays by an intolerant homophobe to the reality of a gay man committing the worst mass killing in US history.

    If the FBI was suppressing the evidence Mateen was gay it was a futile attempt to deflect attention from the real story.

  10. SpaceLifeForm says:

    @jo6pac – this is what I call the darkside. You could also call
    it the aliens are in control. Bottom line, at this point there is not
    enough tin foil in existence to block the signal. Unless you have
    been programmed by handlers, and/or not paying attention.
    Most people are not paying attention because they are distracted
    by TV and FB, etc. They are what I call the ‘easily distracted’, they
    are programmed, but it is via media, not a handler.
    Based on your link, this certainly could be a case of handler(s).
    Brainwashed years ago, codewords/voice observed/heard and
    handler pre-programming then performed.

  11. Les says:

    The media is now speculating whether ISIS will disown Omar Mateen since he was gay.

    If they disown him, will they then have to take back credit for the attack?

    In either case, they appear to be reacting very slow for a terror organization and dependent on the dissemination of news from public sources.

    • wayoutwest says:

      I don’t know how IS will spin this mess they stepped into but I wonder when the too numerous bloviators, who have attacked good Amerikan homophobes, intolerants and religious knuckleheads, will retract their false and unfair charges against these minorities. I won’t hold my breath waiting for that reckoning.

    • P J Evans says:

      Since he doesn’t seem to have had any more connection than just his own words, I’m not going to worry about that.

  12. Evangelista says:

    The 21st century FBI would not be able to investigate a dog pissing on a fire-hydrant without assigning it an “ISIS” connection: “Report: PERP exposed self in attempt to acid-etch fire-hydrant in plot to eventually trigger an urban water-geyser bomb. Intent: To lead-poison American Civilians lured by summer temperatures to frolic in the toxic spray.”

    Being the FBI, they would not even tip to the ‘perp’ being a dog…

    But, I am not being critical of the FBI. After all, what other kind of a gestapo/chekka/Federal Bureau/secret police would YOU want in YOUR Police State?

  13. ALBERT CHAMPION says:

    it’s summertime in orlando. 90+ and very humid. no trenchcoats being worn.

    almost everyone is almost naked.

    so, how do you walk down the street, walk into a nightclub with a long gun and a pistol. where do you hide them?

    even if you get past what every club has, an entry bouncer, how is it that no one in the club notices weapons before any shooting commences.

    odd, isn’t it, how no one seems to be asking those questions.

    and almost any club that i can imagine, now has surveillance cameras. not only at the entrance, but throughout the establishment.

    where are those surveillance videos?

    all i can say is that this story stinks.

    and i would you to notice that no one seems to be asking those questions.

    was everyone too drugged out to notice?

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      If he was ‘handled’ (see above), then the guns and ammo would
      likely have been planted inside the building in a fairly well-hidden
      spot (likely above suspended ceiling tiles in restroom).
      Planted earlier by a handler or someone else ‘handled’, or
      even a undercover fake cleaning company run by a TLA.
      He would have been able to enter just like anyone else, no trench
      coat needed. His handler told him where to find the guns.

  14. Les says:

    Add steroid use to the background of the shooter.

    The ex-wife of the Orlando nightclub gunman says he was “mentally unstable and mentally ill.”

    Sitora Yusifiy, speaking to reporters in Boulder, Colorado, says Omar Mateen was bipolar and also had a history with steroids.

    She says that in the four months they were together he cut her off from her family and regularly beat her. She says that her family visited her and saw she wasn’t OK and rescued her from the situation.

    Yusifiy says they literally pulled her out of his arms. She says she left all her belongings and has had no contact with him for seven or eight years.

    Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/latest-news/article83293782.html#storylink=cpy

  15. ocop says:

    re: Video on 9/11 I was a sophomore in High School at the time teachers had CNN on starting after the first plane hit, so we were liveish when or just after the second hit as well, and then of course we followed the collapse, etc. I always assumed that was more or less universally common.

    While I wouldn’t put much stock in the decade+ old memory of a classmate, my normal skepticism doesn’t hold in the face of the fact that Mateen’s father is (was?) somewhat nuts and deeply engaged in Afghan goings on and could have lacked the self-awareness to talk some trash.

    Not particularly relevant to the FBI’s role in all of this, but it’s interesting to think back to the context of that time.

  16. tal says:

    “(side note: what the fuck were teachers doing showing the live video at school of people jumping out of the World Trade Center in any case?).”

    My daughter was attending a public high school on 911. The televisions were turned on in all the classrooms and, when the period bells rang, the students simply moved to their next “class”, where the televisions were on.

    I imagine this was the scenario across America that day.

    I was so horrified when she told me, I asked her why she hadn’t called me to pick her up. It never occurred to her (or her classmates).

    I then took her to her first antiwar demonstration.

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