Terrorism

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FBI Established Saudi Task Force Just before Joint Inquiry Release

The House Intelligence Committee just released the 28 pages detailing Saudi involvement in 9/11.

The pages are actually more damning than I expected. It lays out many damning details we already knew of: including that Bandar bin Sultan’s wife was providing money to one of the suspect Saudi intelligence people, several Saudi apparent agents provided support for the hijackers, and an apparent dry run for the attack was conducted by someone paid by the Saudis.

One really damning detail that I didn’t know, however (or had forgotten if covered in Bob Graham’s book), is that it wasn’t until the Joint Inquiry focused on the Saudis that FBI established task force to look into Saudi Arabia’s role in the attack.

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That means over a year elapsed before the FBI really started investigating this angle. It goes on to reveal FBI was not focusing any counterintelligence resources on Saudis before 9/11, because “FBI received ‘no reporting from any member of the Intelligence Community’ that there was a [redacted] presence in the United States.” A very heavily redacted passage implies that’s because they were an “ally” [scare quotes original].

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It goes on to note that CIA did have records of such ties (we knew that); it makes no mention of NSA, though they knew of Saudi ties as well.

The report even reveals that Robert Mueller learned about the Saudi role in the attack from the Joint Inquiry:

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This is fairly unbelievable, but all too believable.

The end of the report provides multiple reports of Saudi refusal to cooperate in the investigation.

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I’m particularly interested in the detail that they demanded information that would show sources and methods. I know that the Saudis had notice of Stellar Wind well before it got exposed in 2005. That means they were getting tips on what we knew even as refusing to tell what they knew.

Between that and the failure to investigate, it explains how the Saudis could get away with assisting an attack on the US.

Update: Kristin Breitweiser rightly rails on mainstream coverage of the report that dismiss the seriousness of the allegations in the report.

When CIA Director John Brennan states that he believes the 29 pages prove that the government of Saudi Arabia had no involvement in the 9/11 attacks, recognize that John Brennan is not a man living in reality — he is delusional by design, feeding and protecting his Saudi vice.

When Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Anne W. Patterson, testifies — under oath — that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an ally that does everything they can to help us fight against Islamic terrorism, recognize that her deep, steep Saudi pandering serves and protects only her Saudi vice.

Read the 29 pages and know the facts.

Do not let any person in our government deny the damning reality of the 29 pages.

And as you read the 29 pages remember that they were written during 2002 and 2003.

Wednesday: Mend

Repair Day here, can’t spend much time reading or writing as I’ll be tied up mending things. Enjoy a little mellow Foo Fighters’ tune — can’t handle metal rock today or I’ll end up HULK SMASHing things I’m supposed to fix.

Here’s a range of topics which deserve more attention:

UK’s Chilcot report released today (Guardian-UK) — [Insert lengthy string of epithets here, circa 2003] I’m sure one of the other team members here at emptywheel will elaborate more effectively on the ugliness in the report and on former Prime Minister Tony Blair‘s continued lies rationalizations for military intervention in Iraq over alleged 9/11 terrorists and non-existent nuclear weapons. His self-flagellation and tepid mea culpa are pathetic, like watching a wee gnat flailing on an elephant’s ass. Thirteen years later, Iraq has become a training ground for terrorists. Self-fulfilling prophecy, much?

The full Chilcot report can be found here. The Guardian is working on a collaborative evaluation of the same.

BreachedDataSweetSpot_06JUL2016Hookup site Ashley Madison under investigation by FTC (Reuters) — Not clear exactly what FTC’s focus is, whether they are looking primarily at the data breach or if they are looking into the misleading use of “fembot” AI to chat up potential customers. Though the article’s characterization of the business as a “discreet dating site” cracks me up, I’m still concerned about the potential risks involved with a breach, especially since other breached data make Ashley Madison’s data more valuable. Like in this Venn diagram; if you were a foreign agent, which breached data would you mine most carefully?

French Parliament released its inquiry into November terrorist attacks (20 Minutes) — Six months after the attack at the Bataclan and in the streets of Paris, representatives of the Parliamentary inquiry spoke yesterday about the inquiry’s findings:

  • Poor cooperation between intelligence functions — In spite of consolidation of General Intelligence and Directorate of Territorial Surveillance under the Central Directorate of Internal Intelligence in 2008 and then the Directorate General of Internal Security (ISB) in 2014, there were gaps in hand-offs between functions.
  • Ineffective collection and sharing of prison intelligence — The ISB did not have information from Justice (the prison service) about the relationships between incarcerated radical Islamists nor information about targets’ release from custody.
  • Poor cooperation between EU members and EU system gaps — Fake Syrian passports should have been caught by the EU’s Frontex at external borders to EU, and Frontex has no access to data collected by police and intelligence services internal to the EU.
  • Gaps in jurisdiction — Not all law enforcement was engaged as they should have been during the November attack, and when engaged, not where they should have been.
  • Victims and families treated inadequately — Some families were told they were “ineligible” to be notified of their relatives’ deaths. Forensic Institute was swamped by the volume of work. At least one victim tried to call the police; they hung up on the victim because she whispered on the phone.

It’s not clear what steps the French will take next to fix these problems identified after looking at 2015’s January and November terrorist attacks, though it is reassuring to see a relatively detailed evaluation. Some of the suspects involved in both the November attacks in Paris and in Brussels are still being rounded up and bound over for prosecution; two were handed over by Belgium to France just this week. The full Parliamentary inquiry report will be released next week.

NHTSA informed by Tesla of self-driving car accident 9 days later (Reuters) — The delay in reporting may have misled investors in advance of Tesla’s offer for SolarCity suggest reports, including one by Fortune magazine. To be fair, I don’t think all the details about the accident were fully known immediately. Look at the condition of the vehicle in the Reuters’ report and the Florida Highway Patrol report; the FHP’s sketch of the accident site doesn’t automatically lead one to think the accident was induced by distracted driving or by auto-pilot. Can’t find the report now, but a DVD player was found much later; it was this device which revealed the driver’s last activities. How did the FHP’s report make its way to Tesla? And as Tesla responded, with one million auto accidents a year, not every accident is reported to the NHTSA. Begs the question: should all self-driving car accidents be automatically reported to the NHTSA and their automakers, and why?

‘Zero Days’ documentary on Stuxnet out this Friday (Flavorwire) — If director Alex Gibney can make this subject exciting to the average non-technical schmoe, hats off. It’s a challenge to make the tedium of coding exciting to non-coders, let alone fluff process control equipment. This is a really important story with a very long tail; hope Gibney was able to do it justice.

EIGHT DAYS in session left in U.S. House of Representatives’ July calendar. Hearing about EPA scheduled this morning, but I don’t think it had anything to do whatsoever with Flint Water Crisis.

Okay, that’s enough to get you over the hump, just don’t break anything on the way down. I’m off to go fix stuff.

The Jordanian Arms Theft Story

The NYT has a blockbuster story reporting that Jordanian officers have been stealing weapons “shipped into Jordan” by CIA, and selling them on the black market. Some of these weapons were used to kill two American contractors at a training facility in November.

Weapons shipped into Jordan by the Central Intelligence Agency and Saudi Arabia intended for Syrian rebels have been systematically stolen by Jordanian intelligence operatives and sold to arms merchants on the black market, according to American and Jordanian officials.

Some of the stolen weapons were used in a shooting in November that killed two Americans and three others at a police training facility in Amman, F.B.I. officials believe after months of investigating the attack, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The existence of the weapons theft, which ended only months ago after complaints by the American and Saudi governments, is being reported for the first time after a joint investigation by The New York Times and Al Jazeera.

I’m still trying to figure out what to make of this story, so for the moment, I just want to unpack it.

First, consider the players. The story is sourced to US and Jordanian “officials,” (a term which can sometimes mean contractors or Members of Congress). The CIA and FBI both refused to comment for the story; the State Department and Jordan’s press people both gave fluff statements.

The story is a joint project — between Qatar’s media outlet, Al-Jazeera (here’s their link to the story), and the “official press” of the US, the NYT. So Americans, Jordanians, and Qataris were involved in this story.

But no Saudis, in spite of the fact that the story reports that Saudis apparently complained some months ago.

The story seems to suggest that after a Jordanian police official who had just been fired for reasons not yet made public and presumably had his official weapon confiscated went and got this one — it’s not clear whether he purchased it or got it some other way — and killed five (including two American DynCorp contractors) and injured seven others. As part of the FBI investigation, the story suggests, they traced the serial number of the Kalashnikov the killer used to a shipment directly tied to the CIA.

American and Jordanian officials said the investigators believed that the weapons that a Jordanian police captain, Anwar Abu Zaid, used to gun down two Jordanians, two American contractors and one South African had originally arrived in Jordan intended for the Syrian rebel-training programme.

The officials said this finding had come from tracing the serial numbers of the weapons.

Apparently parallel to that investigation, Jordanians have had rumors of the theft for some time.

Word that the weapons intended for the rebels were being bought and sold on the black market leaked into Jordan government circles last year, when arms dealers began bragging to their customers that they had large stocks of US- and Saudi-provided weapons.

Jordanian intelligence operatives monitoring the arms market – operatives not involved in the weapons-diversion scheme – began sending reports to headquarters about a proliferation of weapons in the market and of the boasts of the arms dealers.

Here’s the thing. The article says the theft and sale of the arms has led to a flood of new weapons on the black market.

The theft and resale of the arms – including Kalashnikov assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades – have led to a flood of new weapons available on the black arms market.

Investigators do not know what became of most of them, but a disparate collection of groups, including criminal networks and rural Jordanian tribes, use the arms bazaars to build their arsenals.

Perhaps that’s true within Jordan. But the weapons came from the black market in the first place — from the Balkans and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the story claims. If these weapons did come from Eastern Europe, what has really happened is that the US and Saudis have transported weapons to Jordan, only to have them appear back on the black market there, with some cash in the pockets of some Jordanian officers.

And after the Americans and Saudis complained, there was a crack down with no real consequences for those involved.

Jordanian officials who described the operation said it had been run by a group of GID logistics officers with direct access to the weapons once they reached Jordan. The officers regularly siphoned truckloads of the weapons from the stocks, before delivering the rest of the weapons to designated drop-off points.

Then the officers sold the weapons at several large arms markets in Jordan.

[snip]

It is unclear whether the current head of the GID, General Faisal al-Shoubaki, had knowledge of the theft of the CIA and Saudi weapons. But several Jordanian intelligence officials said senior officers inside the service had knowledge of the weapons scheme and provided cover for the lower-ranking officers.

[snip]

After the Americans and Saudis complained about the theft, investigators at the GID arrested several dozen officers involved in the scheme, among them a lieutenant colonel running the operation. They were ultimately released from detention and fired from the service, but were allowed to keep their pensions and money they gained from the scheme, according to Jordanian officials.

One more point: the story notes that Obama authorized this program, which the story reveals is called Timber Sycamore, in 2013. It says it is run by the US and several Arab intelligence programs, but neglects to mention Qatar is a key player.

Now, it is true, as far as we know, that official covert CIA involvement started in 2013. But the program dates back earlier, to 2011, with the CIA watching the Saudis and Qataris funnel weapons from Libya to Syria in conjunction with the Benghazi attack. The US got more involved in 2013, in part, to try to put some order to the program. You know: to ensure that weapons got to the people we wanted them to get to?

And here were learn — because a Jordanian officer gone back shot up the training program one day — that at least some of those weapons weren’t actually going where they were supposed to?

Update: Moon of Alabama offers his take.

Discrepancies between Past Versions of Mateen’s Calls and the “Transcript”

As promised, DOJ has censored the transcript of Omar Mateen’s calls with authorities the night of his attack. There is a discrepancy between Jim Comey’s earlier version of the calls and what appears in today’s “transcript.” Here’s what Comey said a week ago.

It is also not entirely clear at this point just what terrorist group he aspired to support; although, he made clear his affinity, at the time of the attack, for ISIL, and generally, leading up to the attack, for radical Islamist groups. He made 911 calls from the club, during the attack, at about 2:30 in the morning, Sunday morning. There were three different calls. He called and he hung up. He called again and spoke briefly with the dispatcher, and then he hung up, and then the dispatcher called him back again and they spoke briefly. There were three total calls.

During the calls he said he was doing this for the leader of ISIL, who he named and pledged loyalty to, but he also appeared to claim solidarity with the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing, and solidarity with a Florida man who died as a suicide bomber in Syria for al Nusra Front, a group in conflict with Islamic State. The bombers at the Boston Marathon and the suicide bomber from Florida were not inspired by ISIL, which adds a little bit to the confusion about his motives.

And here’s what FBI says the censored “transcript” says.

The following is based on Orlando Police Department (OPD) radio communication (times are approximate):

  • 2:02 a.m.: OPD call transmitted multiple shots fired at Pulse nightclub.
  • 2:04 a.m.: Additional OPD officers arrived on scene.
  • 2:08 a.m.: Officers from various law enforcement agencies made entrance to Pulse and engaged the shooter.
  • 2:18 a.m.: OPD S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons & Tactics) initiated a full call-out.
  • 2:35 a.m.: Shooter contacted a 911 operator from inside Pulse. The call lasted approximately 50 seconds, the details of which are set out below:

Orlando Police Dispatcher (OD)
Shooter (OM)

OD: Emergency 911, this is being recorded.
OM: In the name of God the Merciful, the beneficial [in Arabic]
OD: What?
OM: Praise be to God, and prayers as well as peace be upon the prophet of God [in Arabic]. I let you know, I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings.
OD: What’s your name?
OM: My name is I pledge of allegiance to [omitted].
OD: Ok, What’s your name?
OM: I pledge allegiance to [omitted] may God protect him [in Arabic], on behalf of [omitted].
OD: Alright, where are you at?
OM: In Orlando.
OD: Where in Orlando?
[End of call.]

(Shortly thereafter, the shooter engaged in three conversations with OPD’s Crisis Negotiation Team.)

  • 2:48 a.m.: First crisis negotiation call occurred lasting approximately nine minutes.
  • 3:03 a.m.: Second crisis negotiation call occurred lasting approximately 16 minutes.
  • 3:24 a.m.: Third crisis negotiation call occurred lasting approximately three minutes.

In these calls, the shooter, who identified himself as an Islamic soldier, told the crisis negotiator that he was the person who pledged his allegiance to [omitted], and told the negotiator to tell America to stop bombing Syria and Iraq and that is why he was “out here right now.” When the crisis negotiator asked the shooter what he had done, the shooter stated, “No, you already know what I did.” The shooter continued, stating, “There is some vehicle outside that has some bombs, just to let you know. You people are gonna get it, and I’m gonna ignite it if they try to do anything stupid.” Later in the call with the crisis negotiator, the shooter stated that he had a vest, and further described it as the kind they “used in France.” The shooter later stated, “In the next few days, you’re going to see more of this type of action going on.” The shooter hung up and multiple attempts to get in touch with him were unsuccessful.

In Comey’s original version, there were just 3 calls, and only with the dispatcher, two of which included actual conversation. Now, there are 4 total calls, only one with the dispatcher (and no mention of the hang-up). I’d say the difference stemmed from confusion and a conflation, last week,  of all calls with authorities, but there seems to be a counting discrepancy I’d like resolved.

Predictably, the FBI censored details that should have led them to raise questions about Mateen’s invocation of ISIS. It made no mention of what Comey did: that Mateen also invoked al-Nusra and the Tsarnaev brothers (presumably in the calls to the crisis negotiation team), which doesn’t make sense. So rather than elucidating, this “transcript” actually covers over one of the problems with FBI’s reaction.

As noted, there’s also a (more explicable) discrepancy between this “transcript” and what survivor Patience Carter has said (7:16 and following). She said that Mateen said he wanted the US to stop bombing “his country,” which reports on this have interpreted to mean Afghanistan. Given the unbelievable amount of stress she must have been under, I would expect discrepancies in any case. But since she doesn’t specify precisely what he said that she interpreted to mean, “his country,” I don’t think this is a significant discrepancy.

Update: FBI and DOJ have now released the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (calling it the “complete” transcript), but not the other things that would make them look bad.

DOJ Thinks Releasing Omar Mateen’s ISIS Allegiance Claims It Released Last Week Will Revictimize the Victims

Yesterday, NPR reported that people investigating the Orlando mass shootings increasingly believe his attack may have had nothing to do with ISIS.

In fact, intelligence officials and investigators say they’re “becoming increasingly convinced that the motive for this attack had very little — or maybe nothing — to do with ISIS.”

Speaking on Weekend Edition Saturday, Dina says that al-Qaida and ISIS-inspired attacks tend to follow a different pattern. She explains:

“We know that during the attack the gunman posted messages on Facebook saying he was doing this on behalf of ISIS. But officials have yet to find any of the precursors usually associated with radicalization. They’ve interviewed dozens of people who either knew him or had contact with Mateen.

“And they say that they’ve yet to find any indication that he became noticeably more religious, which is one of the indicators of radicalization. He still was going to the same mosque. The way he dressed didn’t change. His relationship with his family didn’t change in any way. And these are all typically warning signs that parents and friends and educators are told to look for if they’re worried that someone they’re close to is radicalizing.”

She adds “this isn’t science,” but so far the signs of radicalization aren’t there, which has led investigators to wonder whether the 29-year-old invoked the name of ISIS to garner more publicity for his deadly attack.

I’ve been suggesting not only that Mateen was likely motivated for other reasons — but that FBI likely missed those cues because they were evaluating him for one and only one kind of threat, an Islamic terrorist rather than an angry violent man threat.

[I]t 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.

Of course, the apparent fact that investigators have now come to agree with me means that those who started screaming ISIS right away — and, importantly, leaking and officially revealing news that Mateen claimed affiliation with ISIS (and other conflicting terrorist groups) on his 911 call — means the people who rushed out the ISIS explanation in fact did ISIS’ propaganda work for them, giving them credit for a mass killing that was really your garden variety mass killing conducted by an angry man.

Which is why this is so batshit. After blowing off Florida’s open record laws for a week, DOJ will finally release his 911 transcripts. But, according to Loretta Lynch, they’re going to edit out the references to ISIS so as to avoid “revictimizing” the victims.

A week after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said a portion of Orlando shooter Omar Mateen‘s calls with hostage negotiators will be released Monday.

“We’ll be releasing a partial transcript of the calls between the killer and the hostage negotiators so people can, in fact, see the type of interaction that was had there,” Lynch told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl on “This Week” Sunday.

The Attorney General says she’ll travel to Orlando on Tuesday to get an on-the-ground perspective on the investigation.

“I say partial because we’re not going to be, for example, broadcasting his pledges of allegiance. We are trying not to re-victimize those who went through that horror,” she added. “We’re trying to get as much information about this investigation out as possible, and we want people to provide information that they have to us.”

If releasing these claims of affiliation would “revictimize” the victims, then releasing them in the first place served to victimize them. So the much better approach would be to release the full transcripts and admit the Department fucked up, both in its assessment of a potential mass killer, and in rushing to blame ISIS in the first place. Not to mention that this will just feed conspiracy theories.

If DOJ fucked up — and the claim this could revictimize people is tacit admission it seriously fucked up — then admit that and make it right. Pay the political consequences of admitting that our obsessive focus on terrorism has distracted us from the more general, and therefore more lethal, problem with mass killings. Don’t try to pretend there’s a good reason for suppressing the very same claims you made a big deal of a week ago.

If DOJ now believes the claims served to do nothing more than give Mateen’s rampage more attention — and it was a key part of generating that attention — then it needs to come clean.

Update: One more point on this. Releasing the full transcript would reveal how non-credible the ISIS claim was, appearing as it did with a claim of affiliation with al-Nusra, which would make it even clearer that FBI shouldn’t have started telling everyone about the ISIS claim.

Update: Here’s the transcript from Meet the Press.

LORETTA LYNCH:

Yes, I’ll be going to Orlando on Tuesday to continue my briefings in the case. Actually though what we are announcing tomorrow is that the F.B.I. is releasing a partial transcript of the killer’s calls with law enforcement from inside the club. These are the calls with the Orlando P.D. negotiating team who were trying to ascertain who he was, where he was, and why he was doing this, all the while the rescue operations were continuing. That’ll be coming out tomorrow and I’ll be headed to Orlando on Tuesday.

CHUCK TODD:

Including the hostage negotiation part of this?

LORETTA LYNCH:

Yes. It will be primarily a partial transcript of his calls with the hostage negotiators.

CHUCK TODD:

You say partial. What’s being left out?

LORETTA LYNCH:

Well, what we’re not going to do is further proclaim this individual’s pledges of allegiance to terrorist groups and further his propaganda.

CHUCK TODD:

So we’re not going to hear him talk about those things?

LORETTA LYNCH:

We will hear him talk about some of those things, but we’re not going to hear him make his ascertains of allegiance and that. This will not be audio. This will be a printed transcript. But it will begin to capture the back and forth between him and the negotiators. We’re trying to get as much information about this investigation out as possible. As you know, because the killer is dead, we have a bit more leeway there. And so we will be producing that information tomorrow.

 

Since Tuesday the Medical Examiner Has Known How Many Orlando Victims Were Killed by Cops

As I noted in another post, on Monday, Orlando’s police chief said that it was possible that some law enforcement officers — that might include the four who initially responded to Omar Mateen or the nine SWAT team members who later did — had (accidentally) shot Pulse patrons.

Monday, Orlando Police Chief John Mina and other law enforcement officers offered new details about the shooting, including the possibility that some victims may have been killed by officers trying to save them.

“I will say this, that’s all part of the investigation,” Mina said. “But I will say when our SWAT officers, about eight or nine officers, opened fire, the backdrop was a concrete wall, and they were being fired upon.”

A law enforcement source close to the investigation who asked not to be named said a crowd of up to 300 people and the complex layout of the dance club may have resulted in some patrons being struck by gunfire from officers.

Mina said his decision to enter the club with such violence was tough. “It was a hard decision to make, but it was the right decision,” he said. “Our No. 1 priority is on saving lives, and it was the right decision to make.”

[snip]

An off-duty police officer working at the club Sunday night was investigating an underage drinker outside when he heard gunshots inside, according to the law enforcement source. The off-duty officer ran inside the club and traded gunfire with Mateen, backed up soon by three other police officers, the source said.

The officers fired at Mateen, who retreated into a bathroom toward the rear of the club.

“Those additional officers made entry while the suspect was shooting,” Mina said. “They forced him to stop shooting and retreat to the bathroom where we believe he had several hostages.”

I just want to clarify the timing of this statement. The medical examiner’s office released a statement Thursday confirming that it had, as planned, completed all the autopsies by Tuesday afternoon. But because of the ongoing investigation, autopsy reports (like Mateen’s 911 calls and all other public records) will not be released at this time.

  • Autopsies are required to be conducted in all cases of homicide. The Medical Examiner (ME) completed all autopsies on Tuesday afternoon, June 14.
  • This is an active criminal investigation, therefore, the autopsy results and any reports generated will not be released at this time. This includes funeral home information.
  • As of June 16 afternoon, all of the 49 victims have been released to a funeral home.

According to the NYT, the office conducted 18 of the autopsies on Tuesday, which happened to be the day the city council confirmed the appointment medical examiner Dr. Joshua Stephany had held in interim form for a year.

Although he had been filling in for about a year, Dr. Stephany was officially made Orange County’s chief medical examiner two days after the slaughter at Pulse. On his first real day on the job, his office completed 18 autopsies. He said he performed at least seven of the 49 autopsies. The exact number he is not certain of.

That would say the remainder — 31 victims — would have been done on Sunday and Monday. Perhaps they weren’t all done by the time Mina made his statement, but a significant portion had to have been.

So when he said that some of the victims might have been killed by the cops, he presumably knew specific numbers to that point. The medical examiner has had a final count of how many victims were killed in the cross-fire since Tuesday.

None of that minimizes Mateen’s guilt for setting off the melee. It just is a data point that the cops know, but aren’t yet revealing, how many people the cross-fire killed.

Why Doesn’t Dianne Feinstein Want to Prevent Murders Like those Robert Dear Committed?

In response to Chris Murphy’s 15 hour filibuster, Democrats will get a vote on several gun amendments to an appropriations bill, one mandating background checks for all gun purchases, another doing some kind of check to ensure the purchaser is not a known or suspected terrorist.

The latter amendment is Dianne Feinstein’s (see Greg Sargent’s piece on it here). It started as a straight check against the No Fly list (which would not have stopped Omar Mateen from obtaining a gun), but now has evolved. It now says the Attorney General,

may deny the transfer of a firearm if [she] determines, based on the totality of the circumstances, that the transferee represents a threat to public safety based on a reasonable suspicion that the transferee is engaged, or has been engaged, in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism, or providing material support or resources therefor.

[snip]

The Attorney General shall establish, within the amounts appropriated, procedures to ensure that, if an individual who is, or within the previous 5 years has been, under investigation for conduct related to a Federal crime of terrorism, as defined in section 2332b(g)(5) of title 18, United States Code, attempts to purchase a firearm, the Attorney General or a designee of the Attorney General shall be promptly notified of the attempted purchase.

The way it would work is a background check would trigger a review of FBI files; if those files showed any “investigation” into terrorism, the muckety mucks would be notified, and they could discretionarily refuse to approve the gun purchase, which they would almost always do for fear of being responsible if something happened.

The purchaser could appeal through the normal appeals process (which goes first to the AG and then to a District Court), but,

such remedial procedures and judicial review shall be subject to procedures that may be developed by the Attorney General to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of information that reasonably could be expected to result in damage to national security or ongoing law enforcement operations, including but not limited to procedures for submission of information to the court ex parte as appropriate, consistent of due process.

Given that an AG recently deemed secret review of Anwar al-Awlaki’s operational activities to constitute enough due process to execute him, the amendment really should be far more specific about this (including requiring the government to use CIPA). When you give the Executive prerogative to withhold information, they tend to do so, well beyond what is adequate to due process.

But there are two other problems with this amendment, one fairly minor, one very significant.

First, minor, but embarrassing, given that Feinstein is on the Senate Judiciary Committee and Ranking Member Pat Leahy is a cosponsor. This amendment doesn’t define what “investigate” means, which is a term of art for the FBI (which triggers each investigative method to which level of investigation you’re at). Given that it is intended to reach someone like Omar Mateen, it must intend to extend to “Preliminary Investigations,” which “may be opened on the basis of any ‘allegation or information’ indicative of possible criminal activity or threats to national security.” Obviously, the Mateen killing shows that someone can exhibit a whole bunch of troubling behaviors and violence yet not proceed beyond the preliminary stage (though I suspect we’ll find the FBI missed a lot of what they should have found, had they not had a preconceived notion of what terrorism looks like and an over-reliance on informants rather than traditional investigation). But in reality, a preliminary investigation is a very very low level of evidence. Yet it would take a very brave AG to approve a gun purchase for someone who had hit a preliminary stage, because if that person were to go onto kill, she would be held responsible.

Also note, though, that I don’t think Syed Rizwan Farook had been preliminarily investigated before his attack last year, though he had been shown to have communicated with someone of interest (which might trigger an assessment). So probably, someone would try to extend it to “assessment” or “lead” stages, which would be an even crazier level of evidence. By not carefully defining what “investigate” means, then, the amendment invites a slippery slope in the future to include those who communicate with people of interest (which is partly what the Terrorist Watch — not No-Fly — list consists of now).

Here’s the bigger problem. As I’ve noted repeatedly, our definition of terrorism (which is the one used in this amendment) includes a whole bunch of biases, which not only disproportionately affect Muslims, but also leave out some of our most lethal kinds of violence. For example, the law treats bombings as terrorist activities, but not mass shootings (so effectively, this law would seem to force actual terrorists into pursuing bombings, because they’d still be able to get those precursors). It is written such that animal rights activists and some environmentalists get treated as terrorists, but not most right wing hate groups. So for those reasons, the law would not reach a lot of scary people with guns who might pose as big a threat as Mateen or Farook.

Worse, the amendment reaches to material support for terrorism, which in practice (because it is almost always applied only for Muslim terrorist groups) has a significantly disproportionate affect on Muslims. In Holder v Humanitarian Law Project, SCOTUS extended material support to include speech, and Muslims have been prosecuted for translating violent videos and even RTing an ISIS tweet. Speech (and travel) related “material support” don’t even have to extend to formal terrorist organizations, meaning certain kinds of anti-American speech or Middle East travel may get you deemed a terrorist.

In other words, this amendment would deprive Muslims simply investigated (possibly even just off a hostile allegation) for possibly engaging in too much anti-American speech of guns, but would not keep guns away from anti-government or anti-choice activists advocating violence.

Consider the case of anti-choice Robert Dear, the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood killer. After a long delay (in part because his mass killing in the name of a political cause was not treated as terrorism), we learned that Dear had previously engaged in sabotage of abortion clinics (which might be a violation of FACE but which is not treated as terrorism), and had long admired clinic killer Paul Hill and the Army of God. Not even Army of God’s ties to Eric Rudolph, the 1996 Olympics bomber, gets them treated as a terrorist group that Dear could then have been deemed materially supporting. Indeed, it was current Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates who chose not to add any terrorism enhancement to Rudolph’s prosecution. Dear is a terrorist, but because his terrorism doesn’t get treated as such, he’d still have been able to obtain guns legally under this amendment.

For a whole lot of political reasons, Muslims engaging in anti-American rants can be treated as terrorists but clinic assassins are not, and because of that, bills like this would not even keep guns out of the hands of some of the most dangerous, organizationally networked hate groups.

Now, I actually have no doubt that Feinstein would like to keep guns out of the hands of people like Robert Dear and — especially given her personal tie to Harvey Milk’s assassination — out of the hands of violent homophobes. But this amendment doesn’t do that. Rather, it predominantly targets just one group of known or suspected “terrorists.” And while the instances of Islamic extremists using guns have increased in recent years (as more men attempt ISIS-inspired killings of soft targets), they are still just a minority of the mass killings in this country.

Why Was Omar Mateen Researching Specific Law Enforcement Offices before His Attack?

Yesterday, I pointed out that the two informants the FBI apparently used against the Orlando killer, Omar Mateen, had not succeeded in getting him to do something they could arrest him for. Later yesterday, Olivier Knox asked Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff about FBI’s attempted sting, and Schiff confirmed FBI had tried one that “did not result in additional evidence that could be used to either keep the file open or bring charges.”

Knox: The FBI in the past, when they’ve been alerted to people with potentially violent proclivities, potential terrorists, has dug into those cases and using informants has led people to take steps that led to their arrest, whether it’s setting up a sting operation in which they pretend to sell them weapons or explosives or the rest of it. Why didn’t that happen here?

Schiff: Well, it appears that it did happen here. I think the Director has acknowledged publicly that they ran a confidential source against this person to see whether he had any active intent to go beyond these expressions of radicalism, whether he was attempting to find confederates to work with him. And as a result of that nothing materialized. And that would indicate, at least it did seem to have indicated to the Bureau that the comments and the explanation that he gave for the comments may have had validity. So, in fact, sometimes when you run a source against a target, they will make their expressions of criminal intent very clear and they’ll take overt steps to carrying out a plot. Other times, it becomes clear that the person has no intent to commit harm and there’s no basis to continue an investigation. Here, apparently, the use of the confidential source did not result in additional evidence that could be used to either keep the file open or bring charges.

I wish, with this confirmation, Schiff had committed to ask more questions about this. We need to try to understand why FBI’s sting didn’t work here, because if stings don’t work for the actual terrorists FBI shouldn’t be doing them (this is a point that bizarrely did not get raised in this apology for stings from Politico).

Among several potential explanations for why the attempted sting against Mateen did not work, I suggested that, “The process of being investigated — and interviewed 3 times — actually further pissed off Mateen, leading him closer to violence.”

That possibility is one reason I’m very interested in this detail, from a story on Mateen’s Facebook searches in the months leading up to his attack (Fox took it out of the story since last night but it remains in Ron Johnson’s letter to Facebook).

My staff has also learned that Mateen apparently used Facebook to conduct frequent local law enforcement and FBI searches, including searching for specific law enforcement offices.

In addition to pledging allegiance to ISIS the morning of the attack and researching the San Bernardino couple, Mateen was closely tracking local and FBI law enforcement.

Now, maybe he was just doing that because he wanted to get a job as a cop. Maybe he did it because he wanted to know who was tracking him.

But couple it with two more data points. First, FBI and Florida law enforcement are defying Florida’s open records laws and withholding documents they normally would release quickly, including both Mateen’s several 911 calls but also any records of prior investigation of him or his family.

The Tampa Bay Times, for instance, asked the Department of Agriculture for information about Mateen’s security guard license, which he obtained almost a decade ago. A spokeswoman at the agriculture department says the FBI and Florida Department of Law Enforcement must authorize the information’s release.

The Times also reached out to the Fort Pierce Police Department asking for all cases in which Mateen, his relatives and others were named as a suspect, victim or witness. In response to this routine request, the agency refused and said the documents are part of an active criminal investigation.

Two dozen media outlets have asked the Orlando Police Department for 911 calls and radio communications. The city will not release these communications.

Add in the news (which is likely periphery to Mateen’s motivations but possibly not the refusal to share public records) that the cops responding to Mateen’s attack may have killed some of the dead.

Orlando Police Chief John Mina and other law enforcement officers offered new details about the shooting, including the possibility that some victims may have been killed by officers trying to save them.

“I will say this, that’s all part of the investigation,” Mina said. “But I will say when our SWAT officers, about eight or nine officers, opened fire, the backdrop was a concrete wall, and they were being fired upon.”

[snip]

An off-duty police officer working at the club Sunday night was investigating an underage drinker outside when he heard gunshots inside, according to the law enforcement source. The off-duty officer ran inside the club and traded gunfire with Mateen, backed up soon by three other police officers, the source said.

The officers fired at Mateen, who retreated into a bathroom toward the rear of the club.

“Those additional officers made entry while the suspect was shooting,” Mina said. “They forced him to stop shooting and retreat to the bathroom where we believe he had several hostages.”

The SWAT team, at least, was in body armor. Yet even admitting the possibility cops added to the casualties doesn’t explain how so many people got killed.

It is very important we understand what relationship FBI — and other law enforcement — had with Mateen leading up to the attack, partly to learn whether his attack was partly backlash against these serial attacks. Yet, amid a flood of self-serving leaks from the FBI, that’s one thing we’re not getting.

Now Can We Ditch the Saudis?

Mohammed bin Salman, the third ranking royal Saudi, is in the US — ostensibly to visit John Kerry, Ash Carter, and Barack Obama.

But as FP reports, the latter hasn’t happened, and may not.

It was billed by Riyadh’s state media as a trip for Saudi Arabia’s powerful deputy crown prince to meet with President Barack Obama and other senior U.S. officials. But now that Prince Mohammed bin Salman has arrived in Washington, it’s still unclear if the president or any White House officials will meet with him, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

“No confirmation at this time for any WH meetings,” White House spokesperson Dew Tiantawach told Foreign Policy.

The absence of any scheduled meetings with even National Security Adviser Susan Rice is fueling speculation among Gulf experts about a diplomatic snub. It comes amid sharp policy differences between Washington and Riyadh, and unease among U.S. officials about overplaying alliances with the 30-year-old prince, who some view as locked in a power struggle with the older Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

“Very unusual for the Saudis to come out saying he is meeting with Obama and White House not confirming it,” said David Ottaway, a Saudi expert at the Wilson Center in Washington. “They certainly knew he was coming.”

Meanwhile, Haykal Bafana, a usually reliable commentator on events in Yemen, has suggested that not just the one UAE helicopter reported more broadly, but two more, have been downed in recent days, by Saudi missiles. And the UAE tweeted out yesterday that it was withdrawing from the war in Yemen.

UAE, of course, was supporting (or headlining?) our efforts to continue targeting AQAP even as the Saudi invasion empowered the group, one the US has just added new resources to. If UAE withdraws we’ll be alone fighting AQAP.

Or, alternately, they may go back to benefitting wildly from the Saudi invasion of Yemen.

Are we getting closer to the point where we admit the Saudis are not our friends?

Why Did FBI’s Multiple Informants Fail to Catch Omar Mateen in a Sting?

One detail of the FBI’s 2013 investigation into Omar Mateen that seems to be getting inadequate attention is that they used multiple informants with him, per Jim Comey’s press conference on Monday:

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. [my emphasis]

Normally, when the FBI identifies a Muslim mouthing off about joining ISIS, they throw one or more informants at him, develop his trust, then have him press a button or buy a plane ticket to Syria, which they use to arrest the guy.

That didn’t happen here. While they did record the conversations between these informants and Mateen, they never got him to do something they could arrest him for.

And I suspect we won’t get answers why they didn’t, though it seems an absolutely critical question for assessing how the FBI investigates terrorism. If FBI’s chosen method of using informants only works with the dopes and not the real threats, all it does is juice the FBI’s prosecution numbers, without keeping us safe. Alternately, it’s possible FBI assumes certain things about a potential “Islamic” threat, which turned out to be wrong in this case.

I can think of several possible reasons why FBI’s informants might not have worked the way they normally do (these are speculative):

  • Mateen was just not serious about terrorism in 2013, but something since then (perhaps the decline in his marriage, perhaps the US launching yet another war against Muslims in the Middle East) led him to embrace it in 2016
  • Mateen, who went to cop school, recognized the informants for what they were
  • The prominent reporting on FBI’s investigations into Ibragim Todashev and their infiltration of his circle of friends (the FBI’s investigation would have lasted from July 2013 until May 2014) made Mateen vigilant enough to resist the informants’ appeals
  • The informants tried to entice Mateen via Islamic ideology and not homophobic self-hatred (that is, they used the wrong trigger)
  • The process of being investigated — and interviewed 3 times — actually further pissed off Mateen, leading him closer to violence

Again, these are all speculative. We can’t know without more detail why the FBI’s typical use of informants failed this time.

But we deserve answers to the question, because if the Muslim community is going to be riddled with informants, they had better be serving some purpose other than selective surveillance of a minority group.

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