From Techdirt, by Tim Cushing
from the FBI-takes-a-pass dept
Given the FBI’s skill at cultivating terrorists to arrest and indict, you’d think it would have done a better job handling the planned terrorist attack in Garland, Texas. The two shooters were killed by local police before they could kill any attendees at a “Draw Mohammed” event thrown by anti-Muslim activist (and bumbling litigant) Pam Geller.
The FBI appears to prefer “hunting” terrorists who are about 90% talk and 10% insolvent. The list of FBI terrorism busts includes senior citizens, people with cognitive disabilities, and wannabe ISIS militants so terrifying they can’t even talk their mom into giving them their passport backso they can go fight for ISIS.
When faced with suspects with coherent plans and firepower, the FBI simply motors away from ground zero. Literally. A 60 Minutes investigation into the Garland shooting reveals the FBI was on top of the suspects for several years, but failed to prevent the attack from being carried out. Elton Simpson, one of the shooters, was in constant contact with an FBI informant, and had been tracked on and off by the feds since 2006.
Dabla Deng spent three years pretending to be Simpson’s friend, and was paid $132,000 by the FBI. He taped more than 1,500 hours of their conversations and finally recorded him talking about traveling overseas to wage jihad. Simpson lied to the FBI about it and got three years probation.
The time and money spent were ultimately useless. The FBI closed its file on Simpson in 2014, but reopened it after Simpson began talking up terrorism in social media posts. Less than three weeks before the 2015 Garland attack, the FBI was back undercover, in contact with Simpson. These details were uncovered by a lawyer for Abdul Malik Abdul Kareem. Kareem was a friend of Simpson’s and was convicted on material support and conspiracy charges. Multiple pages of declassified text messages not only showed the FBI was in contact with Simpson in the weeks leading up to the attack, but was actually present at the event that drew the attack.
[T]his past November, [attorney Dan] Maynard was given another batch of documents by the government, revealing the biggest surprise of all. The undercover FBI agent was in a car directly behind Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi when they started shooting.
Faced with an actual terrorist attack, the FBI agent took off, leaving local police to fend off the well-armed attackers. The undercover agent was arrested at gunpoint by cops a short distance away.
Now, there may be legitimate reasons for an undercover not to get involved in a shootout. He may not have had the proper training or the weapons on hand to make a difference. But it’s definitely not a good look to arrive on scene of an attack featuring suspects you’re intimately familiar with and drive away when the bullets start flying. Especially not when the agent has stopped long enough to see the suspects exit their vehicle with weapons and, for some reason, to take a cell phone photo of the two people who would be shot at first: a school security guard and a local police officer.
The FBI won’t explain what happened or why it happened. It refuses to discuss the closed investigation and claims no one at the agency had any advance knowledge of the planned attack — which presumably includes the special agent working undercover and present at the scene.
This would be the same agent whose text messages have been turned over to attorney Dan Maynard. Those appear to show the FBI had some advance knowledge of the planned shooting. The only obvious explanation for the FBI’s claim that there was no foreknowledge (other than the agency is just lying) is that it saw the communications but wasn’t convinced they were serious enough to act on.
There’s a lot of gray area between talking big and being willing to carry out a terrorist attack. The FBI is never going to be able to make the correct judgment call in every situation. The problem is the FBI definitely appears to prefer pushing trash talkers into making terrorist attack supply runs at the local Wal-Mart or plane tickets to Turkey and busting them as soon as it ticks enough boxes for a successful prosecution. In doing so, its anti-terrorism skills aren’t improving. Real threats will slip through while people who would find it difficult to hold down a job, much less plan and carry out a terrorist attack, are being indicted, convicted, and served up as testaments to the FBI’s anti-terrorism skills.
But in Garland, Texas — where real terrorists with a sizable supply of weapons and a coherent attack plan opened fire — the FBI was not only on the scene, but left as soon as it became obvious there was an attack taking place. No matter the reason, this isn’t a good look for an agency whose counterterrorism reputation is built on dozens of super-safe busts.