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FBI Allowed Watch-Listed Orlando Shooter to Buy Semi-Automatic Rifle

Ralph Lopez majored in economics and political science at Yale University. He is an advocate of "impact journalism."

Did the FBI allow a watch-listed individual to purchase a semi-automatic rifle?

Did the FBI allow a watch-listed individual to purchase a semi-automatic rifle?

Did the FBI Allow the Orlando Nightclub Shooting to Happen?

The Orlando nightclub shooter, who had been closely watched by the FBI and interviewed at least three times, was able to legally buy a semi-automatic weapon even after being on terror watch lists in recent years. The suspect passed a background check of the national databases run by the FBI and was either not flagged as a former suspect, or the flag was not acted upon.

ABC reported:

"Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen legally purchased the guns he had on him today within the past week, even though he had been known to law enforcement for years, federal officials confirmed."

In order to buy a gun, prospective owners, including terrorists, must pass a background check through databases maintained by the FBI. These are the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the Interstate Identification Index (III), and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) Index.

Former acting director of Homeland Security, John Cohen, told ABC News that what disqualifies a terror list suspect from buying an assault rifle "might be classified."

Omar Mateen had been interviewed by the FBI three times in recent years, ABC said. The FBI's prior knowledge of Omar's activities, views, and sympathies are reminiscent of the Boston bombing, when it was revealed, after official denials, that the Boston FBI had interviewed the suspects, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in the years before the attacks. Congressional hearings were called and FBI officials were criticized for having "dropped the ball" on the suspects, one of whom was killed during a shootout with police and the other convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Ironically, although having been investigated by the FBI and being on a terror watch list had reportedly disqualified the elder Tsarnaev brother, Tamerlan, from obtaining US citizenship, similar circumstances did not disqualify Omar in Orlando from legally buying semi-automatic weapons. Former acting Homeland Security undersecretary John Cohen told ABC News:

"Being on the watch list is not in itself disqualifying, under law."

The New York Times reported:

"The F.B.I. director said on Monday that the gunman in the mass killing in Orlando was on a terrorist watchlist from 2013 to 2014, but that months of intense investigation into his foreign travels, his inflammatory language with co-workers and his possible motivations did not produce enough evidence to arrest him."

The FBI did not say why a former terror suspect attempting to buy a weapon would not send a flag to agents, even if the purchase was allowed. Or if a flag had been sent, why agents did not act upon it.

In the Boston Marathon bombing, the prior knowledge of the FBI's Boston office of the Tsarnaev brothers as potential terrorists spurred questions over why the FBI had called for the public's assistance in identifying the suspects from surveillance photos when the Boston FBI already knew who they were. A blogger at wrote:

"[The FBI] told the public they singled out these men based only on the video images. The public was led to believe that the FBI had no knowledge at this time of who the men were, not even what their names were. We were led to believe that there was no prior connection between the FBI and these completely unknown (to the FBI) individuals.

But it turns out (based on this CBS News story days after the FBI press conference) that the FBI knew these individuals very well. The FBI had actually interviewed** the elder brother suspect, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, two years ago."

The FBI's prior knowledge of and direct personal contacts with young Muslim men before the commitment of terrorist acts has triggered a spate of journalism in recent years on the FBI's practice of luring the young men into acts they might not otherwise be predisposed to do, or "entrapment." Rolling Stone, the New York Times, the UK Guardian, and Democracy Now have all examined cases in which the FBI acted as the facilitator of terrorist plots.

Former Fox News anchor Ben Swann, of Reality Check, has pointed out that in at least one instance, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the FBI's enlistment of malcontents to carry out an attack resulted in a live attack on American citizens. In 1993 the New York Times published tapes taken surreptitiously of conversations, between an FBI informant and his handlers, which implicated the FBI in carrying out the 1993 bombing. In the tapes, the FBI's plan was to substitute a harmless black powder for gunpowder in the WTC bomb, but somehow, in the informant's words, the plan got "messed up."

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2016 Ralph Lopez