The veteran FBI agent and a local sheriff’s deputy took no chances when they got a credible tip about a potential terrorist. 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. Still, they watched him from unmarked vehicles to track his daily routine and to see whom he met, reports the Los Angeles Times. 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 an 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, the 29-year-old security guard strode into a gay nightclub in Orlando 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. “We don’t have a crystal ball, unfortunately,” said a senior FBI official. “We went right up to the edge of what we could do legally, and there was just nothing there.” The senior FBI official said agents could have been more aggressive in accessing Mateen’s social media accounts. In 2013 such checks of online posts were not yet routine or “part of our investigative DNA.” “This was not a baseline shake-the-bushes … kind of investigation,” said Patrick Skinner of the Soufan Group, a security firm based in New York. “They looked and didn’t find anything,” he added. “That doesn’t mean that the investigation was bad, or wrong. It shows how difficult it is to get in front of these things.”