The FBI investigated the Orlando mass shooter for 10 months — and found nothing. Here’s why
The veteran FBI agent and a local sheriff’s deputy took no chances when they got a credible tip about a potential terrorist.
In a joint operation, they ran his name through a maze of federal criminal and terrorism databases and scrutinized his telephone records for suspicious contacts.
Without a warrant, they couldn’t read his emails or listen to his calls. But they watched him from unmarked vehicles to track his daily routine and to see whom he met.
They deployed two confidential informants more than a dozen times to secretly record his conversations. They interviewed him twice and convinced him to provide a written statement — in which he admitted he previously had lied to agents.
In the end, after a counter-terrorism investigation that stretched from May 2013 to March 2014, the agent and his supervisor concluded that Omar Mateen was not a threat and closed the case.
Just over two years later, on June 12, the 29-year-old security guard strode into a packed gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and massacred 49 people and wounded dozens more in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. He pledged allegiance to Islamic State before he was killed by police.
Since then, senior FBI officials have scoured the 3-inch case file from the 2013-2014 investigation to see whether agents had missed clues to his murderous intentions or apparent radicalization.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, unfortunately,” said a senior FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the case remains under investigation. “We went right up to the edge of what we could do legally, and there was just nothing there.”
In interviews with The Times, senior FBI officials provided new details of their early focus on Mateen and some of the lessons they have drawn as the FBI assesses and tracks more than 1,000 suspected extremists across the country.
The 10-month probe remains one of the enduring and frustrating mysteries of Mateen’s deadly rampage at the Pulse nightclub.
The day after the attack, FBI Director James B. Comey broadly outlined the 2013-2014 investigation to reporters. He staunchly defended the bureau, saying he didn’t “see anything in reviewing our work that our agents should have done differently.”
Still, the post-massacre review uncovered a surprising gap.