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What Lesson from Orlando?

by Berry Friesen (June 16, 2016)

It’s telling to note the lessons people draw from the June 12th atrocity at the Orlando nightclub.

Presidential candidates Trump and Clinton talk about ISIS and the need for a more militarily aggressive stance in Iraq and Syria.  Yet shooter Omar Mateen's pledge of allegiance to ISIS appears to have been contrived and inauthentic, and the police investigation of Mateen’s communications and travels has not uncovered evidence of a solid connection.

Moreover, Trump’s and Clinton’s aggressive talk about ISIS is as phony as a three-dollar bill. Anyone paying attention knows by now that ISIS would quickly collapse without the support of NATO member Turkey and the financial support flowing from the Gulf States. These nations are all close US allies; they support ISIS because the US wants them to.

Others see the Orlando atrocity as the bitter fruit of religious traditions that value heterosexuality more than homosexuality.  This argument builds on the many early reports of Mateen’s intense animosity toward gays, but has been undermined by subsequent reports that Mateen frequented the nightclub he targeted and was regarded by his father (and his ex-wife) as gay.

Then there is the claim that Islam is to blame for Mateen’s killing spree.  This is a malicious slander as absolutely nothing in the Koran gives any support to the murder of innocents.  Moreover, at most, Mateen was a nominal adherent of Islam.  Nevertheless, Donald Trump will make this lie part of his campaign for the White House.

Lots of people point to the lax gun laws that enabled Mateen to purchase a military style weapon.  This strikes me as a fair point.  Sure, the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t prohibit reasonable limits on what kind of firearms are purchased, just as there are such limits on other constitutionally-protected activities.

But lax gun laws do not explain Omar Mateen or his behavior.  For that we must look more closely at this man and what shaped him.

Theoretically, Mateen could have been radicalized by what he read on the Internet.  Yet one doesn’t get the impression he was the kind of person easily captivated by religious or political idealism.  His family’s roots are in Afghanistan, a place as cynical as the USA. His father works for the CIA and promotes an expanded US military role in Afghanistan. Mateen fantasized about joining the New York Police Department; he showed little interest in ideology.

Mental illness is a real possibility.  The problem is that Mateen was employed for many years by one of the largest and highest-paying private security firms in the world—a firm that coincidentally has close ties to the CIA and the US military.  He was evaluated, trained, armed and assigned to security gigs at county courthouses, posh residential neighborhoods and the British Petroleum oil spill site in the Gulf.  If Mateen was an unstable and unreliable employee, none of that would have happened.

What about his numerous contacts with the FBI?  How did those shape him?

These may seem odd questions, but we cannot ignore the fact that the FBI has been involved in nearly all major instances of terrorism in the US.  Of course, this can easily be “explained” by that fact that the FBI is constantly working to stop terrorism.  Yet the record shows the FBI often has used undercover informants to recruit potential terrorists and to plant the ideas that became the “terrorist plot.”  The FBI has even equipped the “terrorists” to carry out the plot.

The FBI thoroughly investigated Mateen on two separate occasions and interviewed him several times.  Reportedly, he was surveilled and his communications were monitored. Most importantly, the FBI reportedly deployed paid undercover informants to engage him.  What about?  And how did Mateen respond to the informants’ suggestions? (See Marcy Wheeler's discussion of this aspect here.)

As noted, the FBI often plays a leading role in creating the terroristic threats which it then thwarts.  According to, “Out of the 508 terrorism-related cases since September 11, 2001, more often than not, the FBI has had a hand in creating the very terrorist threat they have claimed to be protecting us from. Two-hundred and forty-three of these cases involved an FBI informant. In many instances, the targets of these operations, who are later accused of plotting attacks, are not only almost always Muslim, but they are also often suffering from a mental illness, such as schizophrenia. Moreover, the targets are also vulnerable and easily susceptible to bribery as they are desperate for money – so desperate, it seems, they will help put their own friends behind bars.”

Though deeply involved with the alleged perpetrators prior to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and now the Orlando shootings, the FBI failed to prevent those events from occurring (see here and here).  This is deeply troubling.

From the behavior of Trump and Clinton, we can see their eagerness to parley the horrible events in Orlando into an expansion of the US militarism abroad, even when the case for such a connection is flimsy at best.  Obviously, domestic terrorism is an important part of the story Trump and Clinton want to tell. It is what fuels key aspects of their common agenda:  more spending on “national security,” more military engagements abroad, a timid and compliant population ever more dependent on the federal government to protect us.

And through the years, the FBI has been very accommodating, serving up vivid accounts of dangerous threats.  Its involvement with Mateen fits the pattern.

This does not explain why Omar Mateen opened fire on a club packed with patrons. But it opens another line of inquiry: did the FBI lead Mateen down the path toward the horrific events of June 12?  Exactly how far down that pathway did it take him?

(June 24 update:  after recounting a portion of the history of FBI informants attempting to engage Omar Mateen in the planning of terrorism, Tony Cartalucci offers this observation: "If Omar Mateen was a 'homegrown terrorist,' the FBI served as the gardeners.")