If the Orlando shooting were assisted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in any way, it would be nothing new. The FBI has conducted many terrorist sting operations involving their own informants who pose as Al Qaeda or ISIS handlers.
In Omar Mateen’s case, it was revealed that he was under FBI investigation on two separate occasions and was interviewed by them twice. According to the New York Daily News, the FBI “introduced him to confidential informants, spied on his communications and followed him.”
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The Intercept reported on very similar cases in Miami – around the same time that they were investigating Mateen – where the FBI used informants to encourage people of questionable mental capacity to agree to commit terrorist attacks and who were eventually arrested on terrorism charges:
For more than a year ending in April — a time during which investigators will now be looking for any clues from Mateen that might have been missed — the FBI in Miami focused on a counterterrorism sting that targeted James Medina, a homeless man with mental problems.
An FBI informant recorded conversations with Medina in which he expressed interest in attacking a Jewish community center. Medina did not have weapons or connections to international terrorists. In fact, he was known in homeless circles, not terrorism ones.
“C’mon, man, no terrorist is homeless,” Rick Wallace, who volunteered to serve lunch to homeless people in South Florida, told Local 10 ABC investigative reporter Bob Norman. “Who did he not threaten? He was insane.”
According to the FBI’s affidavit, the informant, not Medina, came up with the idea of crediting the planned attack to the Islamic State.
“You can do all that,” Medina told the informant. “Yeah, we can print up or something and make it look like it’s ISIS here in America. Just like that.”
Nearly a year before Medina’s arrest, the FBI’s Miami office arrested another supposed terrorist, 23-year-old Cuban-American Harlem Suarez, also known as Almlak Benitez, whom former co-workers described as “a little slow.” The government alleged that Suarez conspired with an FBI informant to bomb a beach in Key West in support of the Islamic State. The FBI provided a fake backpack bomb.
This is generally how the FBI conducts counter-terrorism operations. They troll terrorist internet forums, infiltrate “potential” terrorist groups, and gain the confidence of those who might be inclined to commit terrorist attacks.
It doesn’t stop there though. FBI informants pose as handlers representing some terrorist organization. If their target is a Muslim, the informant will claim to be working for ISIS or Al-Qaeda. The FBI will even provide the money, resources, even the weaponry and/or explosives – and not to mention the know-how – needed in order for the target to be able to carry out whatever attack he says he’ll agree to carry out. Often, the informant has to encourage the target to go through with the attack and convince him not to back out.
Usually, what happens is the target attempts to detonate what he thought were explosives – but were inert in reality – and then is promptly arrested on terrorism charges. The next day, the news headlines congratulate the FBI for “thwarting another terrorist attack.”
Four years ago, I wrote about the FBI “thwarting” an FBI-assisted terrorist attack in New York. I concluded:
This sting operation tactic that law enforcement use doesn’t really make us any safer. It looks like they’re only trying to justify their existence. Do they have to carry these sting operations out because there are just not enough real ones to worry about? In the future, if we are hit with a terrorist attack, how will we know if it’s a real attack or simply a sting operation gone awry?
In this case, I’d say we don’t really know. We can’t really tell them apart. The FBI was definitely involved with Mateen. Mateen was probably led to believe that the informants he was introduced to worked with Al-Qaeda or ISIS. Whether or not the FBI actually had a hand in the Orlando shooting, we’ll probably never know.