Did the FBI Fail and Is It Failing to Admit It?

The dots appear to have been connected. Yesterday, I noted that the FBI had questioned the mass murderer (MM) in 2013, based on his claims that he knew terrorists. The FBI concluded that his claims could not be substantiated. But then in 2014 they discovered that MM actually had contact with a terrorist who engaged in a suicide bombing. The 2014 event confirmed that MM knew terrorists.

What did the FBI do? They closed the investigation. It now turns out that, had they kept the investigation open, his mass murder might have been prevented. MM was placed on a federal watch list for 10 months while he was being investigated.

But then Omar Mateen was taken off the list soon after the investigation ended in March of 2014, FBI Director James Comey said on Monday.

“He was watch-listed with the opening of the preliminary investigation and he was taken off the watch list when the investigation was closed,” Comey told reporters.

Had Mateen remained on the list, federal officials would have received a flag when he purchased two guns earlier this month, but he would not have been banned from making the purchase.

Had the FBI kept MM on the watchlist, it would have been notified of his gun purchases and might have prevented the Orlando tragedy. Yet, they inexplicably failed to keep the investigation open. And now they claim that they did nothing wrong.

There should be a law of bureaucracy that they never admit responsibility (and if for some reason they do, it is only after first denying it). Consider another example: the deception of the Santa Barbara police about their gross irresponsibility in investigating an individual who would later shoot 18 people in Isla Vista, near Santa Barbara.

Yet, many on the Right give police bureaucracies the benefit of the doubt about these matters. I heard a commentator claiming that the FBI had no choice, since they couldn’t arrest MM. True, they couldn’t arrest him, but it appears they could have kept the investigation open and kept him on the watchlist.

Update:  This article by Debka reaches similar conclusions. Consider this excerpt:

In 2014, the FBI hauled him in again over a connection with Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, a 22-year old Palestinian American. They had grown up together at the small Florida coastal town of Fort Pierce. Abu Salha went off to Syria, joined the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front and killed himself in a suicide attack by driving a massive truck bomb into a restaurant filled with Syrian government soldiers.

Yet the FBI again closed the file on Mateen after determining that the links between the two young Muslims did not warrant a full-dress inquiry.

Compiling all the known data on the Orlando killer with the results of the FBI interviews with him would have placed him high on the list of suspects and called in for further questioning.

The oversights of US law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies recur each time Islamist terrorists strike. The Ramadan 2016 attack in Orlando showed that no lessons had been learned from the lapses that led to 9/11.

The FBI erred gravely in closing the case over the Mateen connection with the Palestinian American suicide bomber. This explains why senior FBI officials are down-playing the importance of that connection.

When he was exculpated, the federal authorities also discontinued electronic surveillance of the terrorist’s movements. So they missed his mounting extremism, his frequent attendance at a mosque led by a radical imam, who regularly incited his flock to murder (“Gays must die”). He thus kept his Security Officer’s ID which gave him access to secure government sites. His name was kept on the list of licensees for carrying firearms.

It is especially hard to understand the lackadaisical handling by federal agents of this prime suspect when the FBI Director James Comey was reiterating: “The Islamic State remains the top threat America is facing.”

Mike Rappaport

Professor Rappaport is Darling Foundation Professor of Law at the University of San Diego, where he also serves as the Director of the Center for the Study of Constitutional Originalism. Professor Rappaport is the author of numerous law review articles in journals such as the Yale Law Journal, the Virginia Law Review, the Georgetown Law Review, and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. His book, Originalism and the Good Constitution, which is co-authored with John McGinnis, was published by the Harvard University Press in 2013.  Professor Rappaport is a graduate of the Yale Law School, where he received a JD and a DCL (Law and Political Theory).

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  1. gabe says


    I must comment:

    1) I do like the device of using “MM” – I would suggest this for the rest of the media. MM needs no continuing acknowledgment of his existence. after all, I am sure he is now enjoying his “72 raisins” (see Robert Spencer for the raisins).

    2) The behavior of Comey in this matter concerns me deeply. We hear from numerous commentators that Comey is a high integrity individual and thus ought to be trusted with the Hillary e-mail investigation. Yet, could it be that he allowed his Department to be influenced / swayed / silenced by the rampaging political correctness of the Obama-ites?

    Let us hope not – but i begin to worry.

    anyway, good essay(s).

  2. geoih says

    Nice hindsight bias professor. What about all of the people investigated by the FBI for potentially being a terrorist, but who haven’t committed any violent acts? Have those cases been factored into your analysis?

    Does the FBI know who in America has committed violent crimes in the past? Do these criminals often go on to commit more violent crimes, including with guns, even though there are many laws and procedures to try to prevent this recidivism?

    The real tragedy here isn’t that a person who was once investigated and cleared was, or later turned into, a terrorist and the FBI didn’t stop them first. It’s that so many people, intelligent people, somehow think some federal bureaucracy is going to keep them safe by somehow divining who the future criminals will be, while still allowing for the liberty intelligent people demand.

  3. spike 1 says

    Does Fast and Furious come to mind ? Smells like it. Got to control those guns. The end justifies the means.


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