BEFORE OMAR MATEEN COMMITTED MASS MURDER, THE FBI TRIED TO ‘LURE’ HIM INTO A TERROR PLOT
Before Omar Mateen gunned down 49 patrons at the LGBTQ Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, the FBI attempted to induce his participation in a terror plot. Sheriff Ken Mascara of Florida’s St. Lucie County told the Vero Beach Press Journalthat after Mateen threatened a courthouse deputy in 2013 by claiming he could order Al Qaeda operatives to kill his family, the FBI dispatched an informant to “lure Omar into some kind of act and Omar did not bite.”
While self-styled terror experts and former counter-terror officials have criticized the FBI for failing to stop Mateen before he committed a massacre, the new revelation raises the question of whether the FBI played a role in shifting his mindset toward an act of violence. All that is known at present is that an FBI informant attempted to push Mateen into agreeing to stage a terror attack in hopes that he would fall into the law enforcement dragnet.
This is the technique the FBI has used to entrap scores of young, often mentally troubled Muslim men and send them to prison for as long as 25 years. As Aviva Stahl reported for AlterNet’s Grayzone Project, the FBI recently encouraged an apparently mentally disturbed recent convert to Islam named James Medina to bomb a South Florida synagogue and pledge allegiance to ISIS, a militant group he had no prior affiliation with. Now on trial for planning to commit an act of terror with a weapon of mass destruction, Medina is insisting through his lawyer that he is mentally ill.
Trevor Aaronson, a journalist and author of “Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terror,” revealedthat nearly half of terror cases between 9/11/01 and 2010 involved informants — many of whom were themselves criminals raking in as much as $100,000 from the FBI. “Is it possible that the FBI is creating the very enemy we fear?” Aaronson wondered.
The revelations of FBI manipulation cast Mateen’s case in a uniquely troubling light. Though he refused to “bite” when an FBI asset attempted to push him into a manufactured plot, he wound up carrying out a real act of spectacular brutality, and allegedly swore loyalty to ISIS in the midst of it. Now the question is whether the FBI was right to pursue Mateen before he could kill, or whether it played an influencing role in shaping his attitude towards politically-motivated violence.
“It looks like it’s pretty much standard operating procedure for preliminary inquiries to interview the subject or pitch the person to become an informant and/or plant an undercover or informant close by to see if the person bites on the suggestion,” Coleen Rowley, a former FBI agent and division counsel whose May 2002 memo to the FBI Director exposed some of the FBI’s pre-9/11 failures, told AlterNet. “In the case of Mateen, since he already worked for a security contractor [G4S], he was either too savvy to bite on the pitch or he may have even become indignant that he was targeted in that fashion. These pitches and use of people can backfire.”
To highlight the danger of relying on informants, Rowley pointed to the case of Humam Khalil al-Balawi, a Jordanian physician whom the CIA used to gather intelligence on Al Qaeda,. The CIA ignored obvious warning signs like Balawi’s extremist online manifestos and never subjected him to a vetting process. While Balawi claimed to have penetrated Al Qaeda’s inner circle, he was actually exploiting his CIA security clearance to plan a major attack. On December 30, 2009, Balawi strode into Camp Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, and detonated an explosive vest that killed seven CIA agents and wounded six more — the deadliest attack on CIA personnel in 25 years.
For his part, Mateen displayed many of the personal vulnerabilities that typify both FBI informants and the fellow Muslims they attempt to ensnare in bogus terror plots. Raised in a troubled home by an abusive mother and an apparently deranged father, Mateen exhibited signs of erratic, violent behavior throughout his life. His ex-wife toldreporters that he physically abused her and was “unstable and mentally ill.” As he transformed from a chubby adolescent to a burly young man with the help of steroids, he yearned for a career in law enforcement.
Seven months into a job as a prison guard in 2007, Mateen was fired for threatening to bring a gun to class. He settled on a career as a low level security guard for G4S Security Solutions, a global security firm that employed him for nine years. Though Mateen’s applications to two police departments were rejected, he was able to pass a G4S background check and receive several guard assignments. (The world’s third largest private employer, G4S has accumulated a staggering record of human rights abuses, including accusations of child torture.)
While the full extent of Mateen’s contact with the FBI is unknown, it is clear that it extended into the realm of planning a bogus terror attack. The question now is whether manipulation by a FBI informant had any impact on Mateen’s deadly decision.
“The FBI should scrutinize the operating procedure where they use undercovers and informants and pitch people to become informants,” said Rowley. “They must recognize that, in this case [with Mateen], it had horrible consequences if it did, in fact, backfire.”