Issues Regarding Lone-Wolf Terrorism Prevention

Amy Zegert has some good questions, comparing the Orlando Pulse massacre to the Fort Hood massacre from 2009.

Posted on June 22, 2016 at 6:04 AM • 26 Comments


WillJune 22, 2016 7:34 AM

Tangential, but right after the Orlando shootings there was a lot of press coverage of patrons who said that Omar was a regular and was gay. The press and president seemed reticent to claim this was a terrorist attack, and his parents and ex-wife said he was mentally ill.

Later, the press narrative has swung more towards him being a terrorist, and have explained away his previous visits to the club as reconnaissance.

Perhaps he was a closet gay who couldn't reconcile this with the religious instruction he had received, making him think himself evil? It seems the biggest opponents to gays turn out to be closet gays themselves e.g.

So one plausible prediction is that Omar was a gay muslim driven to mental illness and extreme self-destruction by his faith. We'll see how it pans out when the facts come to light. And if he is, those who have over-sold the terrorism aspect will probably have profited short-term and suffer no bad press long-term.

zJune 22, 2016 9:42 AM

I don't see any reliable way of identifying lone-wolf terrorists in advance without resorting to measures that are utterly unacceptable in a free society.

A network of terrorists offers quite a bit of information that can help predict an attack. There's typically a hierarchy, electronic communication between members, physical meetings, rehearsals, etc. These are all opportunities for LE or intelligence agencies to gather info. The more people involved, the more difficult it is to keep their plans secret, since each additional person introduces a ton of attack vectors.

But with a lone-wolf, things are much more limited. Maybe he'll do some Google searches or visit a terrorist website. There's not much else to go on. What's the answer? Arrest anyone who Googles "bomb" or "ISIS"? How long do you hold them? With what do you charge them? I don't want to live in a country where someone can have freedoms taken away solely for being suspicious, without having committed any crime, and without any due process.

Focusing on hardening obvious targets and keeping a vigilant eye on our surroundings would be an obvious way to mitigate an attack once it is occurring. Addressing the root of terrorism, such as why a young man would be motivated to go on a religiously or politically motivated killing spree, is the best long term approach. But this is a political science and religious question, not a law enforcement or technical one. You can't institute a measure or pass a law this instant to answer it, so I doubt it will gain much interest.

Clive RobinsonJune 22, 2016 11:04 AM

@ Will,

We'll see how it pans out when the facts come to light.

You are I suspect being "overly optimistic" about "the facts coming to light".

There were "suspicious red flags" early on that suggested the FBI might have tried to either recruit or entrap Omar. Thus Omar could well be "The one who got away" and went "off plan" from what the FBI had lined up for him. It's not difficult to see why this might happen,

Let's assume for the sake of argument that he was gay, nothing wrong with that in modern Western culture, but older Muslim culture... Thus he would have been wide open to blackmail, which is known to be used quite frequently by the FBI as a recruiting tactic.

Having been turned into an informant the cognative disruption could easily have made him appear mad as he possibly considered his options from suicide to coming out, to get out from under the FBI thumb. This may have caused him to turn more to what he perceived as religion but in fact left him very suggestable. Which may well have caused him to more strongly associate with the views of those he was supposed to contact and inform upon.

If it is the case the FBI had been blackmailing him etc, then I suspect they will try to keep it well under wraps, with a generic cover story.

It's also possible Omar was only a confused man forced into the conformity of marriage by his family, then I would not be supprised that his wife found him mad. Which gives rise to another possibility "suicide by cop", it's not exactly unknown, and in his mind he would have died as a warrior fighting for a cause/belief not as a coward etc.

Again the FBI would not see much in the way of benift over this unless they were covering up their own incompetence yet again...

Either way what ever the FBI eventually disclose is not likely to be the truth, but slanted for their benifit.

An AmericanJune 22, 2016 12:10 PM

@ z

> What's the answer?

In any case, we must resist the urge to pass it off to the government. We (the collective we) have drifted too far away from taking personal responsibility for our safety and shifted it to government oversight, which (as you rightly point out), is wholly incapable of addressing it without unreasonable restrictions on our freedom.

Cecile VanschoonhovenJune 22, 2016 12:36 PM

@An American:
"We (the collective we) have drifted too far away from taking personal responsibility for our safety and shifted it to government oversight"

Yeah, bring on the lynchings an mob justice instead, like they do in Brazil and cartel territory in Mexico. That's going to sort it all out.

AwkwordsJune 22, 2016 1:30 PM

Someday somebody's going to get on the wayback machine and find the profoundly embarrassing words 'lone wolf terrorism' on your website, and you'll never live it down. Sure government shitheads feel all tingly down there when they say it in their best FBI show vocal-fry serious voice. Maybe they'll even give you some money if you can say it with a straight face. But the origin of the term is socially retarded chickenshit white supremacists who gave themselves a Walter Mitty fantasy identity. The term gained currency among socially retarded chickenshit bureaucrats on the paperpushing fringes of the state-violence biz. It gives them a Walter Mitty fantasy identity too. All it means today is losers susceptible to the pervasive state culture of violence, in government or in private life.

Denticulate DodoJune 22, 2016 1:50 PM

Granted, the term "lone wolf terrorist" sounds a bit sensationalistic (and its origins are marred by associations with white supremacist groups in the USA), but what alternative should we use, short of "SAASTOWDOL" (Single Actor Attacker in Support of a Terrorist Organization Without Direct Organic Links)?

AwkwordsJune 22, 2016 2:57 PM

Touchy! Guess we harshed on somebody's 24 daydreams.

Violence is violence. Civilized countries know that.

GlomarJune 22, 2016 2:59 PM

@ Clive Robinson

I was speculating in your direction in the squid blog, but I hadn't thought of blackmail for being gay as leverage to co-opt Omar. I would definitely be a mess for the FBI, if they turned him and he went off reservation due to inner conflict and, stress and anger.

GlomarJune 22, 2016 5:43 PM

I just hatched a "new" conspiracy theory chatting with a friend a few minutes ago:

Back in 2014 according to The Guardian, "You can be turned into an informant (or punished if you refuse) Keeping track of suspected terrorists may not be the only purpose the watchlisting system serves. Recent lawsuits allege that the FBI uses it to as leverage to turn people into snitches."

So the FBI had the Orlando shooter under investigation and on the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) or Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE), a broad terror database that feeds into the TSDB. Then he was taken off the list by the FBI's own admission so my question is did the FBI offer to end their investigation and take him off the list if he turned informant against his "community"?

Sounds plausible to me.

Why would the FBI redact the shooter's 911 calls?

There's no appeal process to get off these lists. The Orlando killer was employed by G4S, the world's largest security company. Can you work for such a company if you're on the TSDB? Loss of livelyhood is a lot of leverage. Again according to the Guardian, "So much for that job." The only way off the lists is what?

Man who went to the same mosque as Omar Mateen reported him to the FBI in 2014, but didn’t believe he 'fit the profile' to commit violence

Why would the FBI ignore this too after their earlier two investigations? [correction, there were only two investigations]

Justice Dept. reverses course on redacting transcript of Orlando gunman:

But if it were NSL. I have to think hinky.

@ Glomar

‘Back in 2014 according to The Guardian, "You can be turned into an informant (or punished if you refuse) Keeping track of suspected terrorists may not be the only purpose the watchlisting system serves. Recent lawsuits allege that the FBI uses it to as leverage to turn people into snitches… Why would the FBI redact the shooter's 911 calls?"’

[The guardian]

‘Recent lawsuits allege that the FBI uses it to as leverage to turn people into snitches… A 30-year-old Afghan American, Naveed Shinwari, found that after FBI agents questioned him about his 2012 travel to Afghanistan – he was getting married – he couldn't obtain a boarding pass he needed for an out-of-state job interview. Soon he found himself talking to other FBI agents, who wanted to know if he knew anyone "threatening" his community in Omaha, Nebraska. "That’s where it was mentioned to me: you help us, we help you. We know you don’t have a job; we’ll give you money," Shinwari, who is suing over the apparent quid pro quo, told the Guardian in April.] - Guardian

It’s very plausible as you say.

Police routinely try to turn gang member into informants once arrested in exchange for a slap on the wrist.

My thinking is Mateen was trying to become a police officer and he would be required to inform authorities on other Muslims – regardless of him becoming a full police officer or not [Note that Mateen had no criminal record – yet was on watch lists for a time – a strange thing].

“Justice Dept. reverses course on redacting transcript of Orlando gunman” –Glomar

So, the Justice Department says – take that with a grain of salt.

“the FBI censored details that should have led them to raise questions about Mateen’s invocation of ISIS. It made no mention of what Comey did: that Mateen also invoked al-Nusra and the Tsarnaev brothers (presumably in the calls to the crisis negotiation team), which doesn’t make sense. So rather than elucidating, this “transcript” actually covers over one of the problems with FBI’s reaction…Update: FBI and DOJ have now released the name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (calling it the “complete” transcript), but not the other things that would make them look bad.” –emptywheel

I tried to follow the two "transcripts" but I was not able to do so with any certainty. So, we have to take the FBI/DOJ’s word for it- which is not reassuring as emptywheel notes.

@ Glomar,

I just hatched a "new" conspiracy theory chatting with a friend a few minutes ago:
You are by no means the first, and certainly will not be the last.

But why do you call it a "conspiracy theory"?

People talk of "means, motive and opportunity" when talking about crime. We certainly know the FBI had the opportunity, we know they have the means, which leaves motive... Well people also talk about criminals having an "MO", it's certainly been demonstrated that the FBI have considerable "previous" in setting people up as patsies for "terrorism" in what most who think about it say is "entrapment".

If you were talking about others not a LEA in this way you would be calling them a "Dangerous Career Criminal".

So do you want to have a rethink on using "conspiracy theory"?

Just a question as the say ;-)

@ Clive Robinson

Well I think the powers that be would label the hypothesis just that.

"To aid them in their efforts, the FBI has deployed paid undercover informants throughout the nation's Muslim community, particularly in mosques. These informants often act as agents provocateur. At a mosque in California in 2007, for example, one such FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, who says he was paid $177,000 for his services, talked so vigorously about jihad that the mosque sought and received a restraining order against him."

This was the second time not third investigation as I mistook:

"After my [Mohammed A. Malik] talk with the FBI [about Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha, the suicide bomber], I spoke to people in the Islamic community, including Omar, abut Moner’s attack. I wondered how he could have radicalized. Both Omar and I attended the same mosque as Moner, and the imam never taught hate or radicalism. That’s when Omar told me he had been watching videos of Awlaki, too, which immediately raised red flags for me. He told me the videos were very powerful."

Thus Manteen was talking up jihad in the mosque in 2014 after the first investigation, possibly the standard approach for an informant, testing waters for others feelings on the subject. I'll just call it all speculation.

Which leads to the suggestion above,
that during the FBI investigation of Manteen, that they discovered he was gay and used that as additional leverage to turn him into an informant.

All of which is a very ugly scenario.

GlomarJune 23, 2016 9:16 AM

@ 65535

Yes, yes, sorry I just put the links to your post and hat tip to @ Clive also.

HarryJune 23, 2016 1:52 PM

@ Denticulate Dodo: Chatham House and other European think tanks use "lone actor" rather than "lone wolf."

ianfJune 23, 2016 6:03 PM

@ Harry, talking to Dodo:
                                          but they only use it to avoid publicly being accused of "anti-faunism" by PETA and assorted local branches of the RSPCA (Royal Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). It's much easier dealing with (similarly misdirected) accusations of anti-thespianism, because, unlike wolves etc, thespians know how to defend themselves verbally.

GrampaSharkJune 24, 2016 3:04 PM

I dislike the "Lone-Wolf Terrorist" terminology. Random Whack-job is more true to the reality. Fortunately since most of these folks ultimately want attention they usually aren't all that well hidden. It certainly is a challenge to identify the point where they transition from saying Random Whack-job statements to the point that they commit real world Random Whack-job acts, but even then, there usually are signs, even if only apparent in hindsight.

Random Whack-job + Persecution Complex = High Risk

HermanJune 26, 2016 1:00 AM

So, how do you denfend against a 'random whack job'? The only way is to ensure that a large portion of the general public is armed and trained in self defence.

ianfJune 26, 2016 4:29 AM

@ Herman,
                  no, arming "large portions of the population" (and thinking that they then can be trained to act only in "self-defense") is a guaranteed surefire way to cultivate successive generations of accomplished whack jobs – which is where the USA proudly is heading.

Unsubstantiated Claims PoliceJune 27, 2016 11:57 AM

@ ianf

> is a guaranteed surefire way to cultivate successive generations of accomplished whack jobs

Citation needed.

GarrettJune 29, 2016 3:24 PM

Another way to decouple resilience from the government is to get training on the response to mass-casualty events. Learning first aid (or what I did, become an EMT) provides a way to mitigate problems whether it be a terrorist attack or an earthquake.

I'm awaiting the final reports. My guess is that at least one of the fatalities will be discovered to have been preventable if only appropriate first-aid was available.

GlomarJune 30, 2016 4:40 PM

"The FBI, therefore, requests that you direct requesters seeking records or information pertaining to the investigation [Orlando shooting] to the FBI to request such information. We further ask that you immediately notify the FBI of any request your agency receives pursuant to Florida’s Sunshine Law or any equivalent law, or otherjudicial, legislative or administrative process, for records or information pertaining to the F Bl’s active, on-going investigation so that the FBI can seek to prevent disclosure through apprOpriate channels, as necessary. Finally, to the extent your agency is obligated to respond to a request under Florida’s Sunshine Law for records and information pertaining to the FBI’s pending investigation, including information that your agency has provided to the FBI in furtherance of our investigation, we request you withhold the records pursuant to FLA. STAT. § 1 19.7 1(c)(1) and any other applicable exemption to help ensure that the FBI’s investigation can proceed unimpeded."

Mr. Obvious (despondent)July 3, 2016 6:14 PM

Wow, thanks Schneier, that article was very interesting and more troubling than anticipated.

I have recently begun to wonder if just about everyone remotely sensible retired last century without leaving core knowledge behind. Or maybe they ran away, which looks like a sensible option right now for those it might concern (well that actually constitutes everybody anywhere across the globe doesn't it; and where to?). Not just in the TLAs but across the board. Did everyone on "our side" (humanity, freedom/liberty) drop the ball in 89 out of relief and let the madness in?

That's what it looks like.

It is always clawing at the door, everybody above grunt level is supposed to realize that fact to some degree, more so at higher levels, enemies arrive and then might disappear in an instant (and did, three times in a row no less during last century) but it is a fight against oneself and will never leave.

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