“The FBI was right not to arrest Omar Mateen before the shooting”
Glenn Greenwald has a column in the Washington Post that argues that our rights are important even in the face of terrorism:
The massacre at an Orlando LGBT club has predictably provoked the same reaction as past terror attacks: recriminations that authorities should have done more to stop it in advance, accompanied by demands for new police powers to prevent future ones. Blame-assigners immediately pointed to the FBI’s investigation of the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen. “The FBI closed this file because the Obama administration treats radical Islamic threats as common crimes,” GOP Sen. Lindsey O. Graham argued on Fox News. “If we kept the file open and we saw what he was up to, I think we could have stopped it.” Others cited core fundamental rights, demanding they be eroded. “Due process is what’s killing us right now,” proclaimed Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin about the FBI’s inability to act more aggressively against Mateen.
Ever since the Sept. 11 attack almost 15 years ago, every act of perceived terror, and even thwarted ones, have triggered identical responses. The Boston Marathon attack, for instance, prompted this critique of the bureau, which had looked into the older brother: “Many people thought the FBI should have continued to investigate [Tamerlan] Tsarnaev until the Boston plot was uncovered,” David Gomez recalled this week inForeign Policy. About Orlando, he wrote: “As more terrorists become successful in hiding from the FBI in plain sight using encryption and other means, perhaps it is time to revisit the probable-cause standard to open investigations in potential terrorism cases.”
Underlying this mind-set is an assumption that is both dubious and dangerous: that absolute security is desirable and attainable. None say that explicitly, but it’s the necessary implication of the argument. Once this framework is implicitly adopted, a successful attack becomes proofthat something went wrong, law enforcement failed to act properly and more government authorities are needed. To wit: Hillary Clinton this week proposed an “intelligence surge” to halt “plots before they can be carried out.” And Donald Trump called for more intelligence activity to give “law enforcement and the military the tools they need to prevent terrorist attacks.”
This is wrong, and based on what we know, the FBI acted properly. Agents have the power they need, and they were right to close the case on Mateen. Just because someone successfully carried out a violent mass attack does not prove that police powers were inadequate or that existing powers were misapplied. No minimally free society can prevent all violence. In the United States, we do not hold suspects for crimes they have not committed.
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It is possible, indeed probable, that violent attacks will occur even with superb law enforcement. This is the tradeoff we make for liberty.
The complaint that the FBI, once it had Mateen under suspicion, should have acted more aggressively to stop him illustrates a kind of pathology. . .