Posts

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.

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.

John Cornyn Wants to Pass Law Letting FBI Collect Information on Omar Mateen It Already Collected

The bodies from Sunday’s Orlando massacre are not yet buried, but that hasn’t stopped John Cornyn from trying to use their deaths to expand surveillance that would not have stopped the attack.

Cornyn told reporters yesterday he will use the attack to push to include Electronic Communications Transaction Records in the things FBI can obtain with a National Security Letter.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, pointed to a longstanding request by the FBI to expand the scope of electronic records — such as web browsing history — agents could sweep up from companies in terrorism investigations without obtaining a court order.

“They could go and get additional information, like metadata, who he’s e-mailing, the websites he’s accessing. Not content,” Cornyn told reporters Monday.

[snip]

Legislation dealing with the FBI’s surveillance powers — something that has been requested by FBI Director James Comey — could come to the Senate floor as soon as this week as part of a debate on the spending bill that funds law enforcement.

“This was the No. 1 legislative priority of the FBI according to James Comey, and those sort of additional surveillance tools could have provided the FBI more information, which would have allowed them to identify this guy as the threat that he obviously was,” Cornyn said.

In his push for new authorities, Cornyn actually claimed that if the FBI had obtained Omar Mateen’s ECTRs, it “could have provided the FBI more information” which would have “allowed” the FBI to “identify this guy as the threat that he obviously was.”

But even the article quotes (but does not unpack) Jim Comey explaining why Cornyn’s claim that ECTRs would have helped the FBI identify Mateen as a threat is complete bullshit: because FBI obtained his ECTRs.

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.

John Cornyn wants to give FBI the authority to obtain what they obtained (presumably via a subpoena), promising that obtaining the same records via a parallel authority somehow would have tipped the FBI that he was a threat when the very same ECTRs didn’t do so obtained via subpoena.

The claim is so stupid I can only assume former judge, TX Attorney General, and longtime Senate Judiciary Committee member has no fucking clue what he’s talking about.

And based on that position of authority, Cornyn wants us to believe we need to pass this law?

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?

As FBI Was Rolling Up Ibragim Todashev and Friends in Orlando, Omar Mateen Claimed a Tie

Spencer Ackerman has new details on what it was that got the Orlando killer, Omar Mateen, on the FBI radar in 2013: He claimed to have a tie to the Tsarnaev brothers.

Omar Mateen, whose rampage early Sunday at the LGBT nightclub Pulse left 50 dead, including himself, and 53 wounded, told co-workers at the private-security firm employing him that he knew Tamerlan and Dhzokhar Tsarnaev, according to a source close to the investigation who requested anonymity.

The FBI interviewed Mateen on two occasions in 2013 related to his purported connection to the Tsarnaev brothers, the first known time Mateen drew the attention of federal law enforcement. Ultimately, bureau investigators determined that Mateen had invented the connection and did not pose a security threat.

Described as a tie to the brothers behind the Marathon killing, the claim is just wacky. But perhaps not as much when you consider the close FBI focus on Orlando’s Muslim community. The FBI killed Todashev in May of 2013, and started rounding up and deporting his friends shortly thereafter.

That’s not to say Mateen did have a tie. It’s just to say that, even though the Tsarnaevs struck far away in Boston, there was a local focus in Florida at the time Mateen was making this claim.