By Clarice Plamer
On Monday morning, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a law enforcement agency administered by the Department of Justice (DOJ), released redacted portions of one of the 911 calls made by Omar Mateen — the individual whose shooting rampage at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, Florida resulted in 49 deaths. But the FBI’s decision quickly had the public wondering whether the agency had made a mistake by keeping the shooter’s full exchange under wraps — with politicians like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) calling the initial decision to edit the transcript “preposterous.”
Later on in the same day, the FBI decided to release the full transcript of portions of the call, revealing the shooter had pledged allegiance to the Salafi jihadist group known as ISIS only moments before the shooting began. But according to USA Today, the short call was not the only exchange between the gunman and the authorities.
From USA Today:
“Authorities previously have said Mateen made two calls to 911 during the attack, and that police called him back once. Mateen also made a ‘goodbye’ call to a friend, called a local television station, made posts to Facebook and exchanged texts with his wife while holed up in the club.”
According to Mic, the full transcript “details more than three hours of correspondence between Mateen and different officials.” When looking at the detailed transcript released by the FBI first thing Monday morning, it’s clear officials only offered the full transcript of one conversation between Mateen and the dispatcher.
Meanwhile, last Monday, June 13, FBI Director James Comey delivered a statement linking Omar Mateen to ISIS. At the time, Comey confirmedhe lacked evidence to back the theory Mateen was working directly with the militant group, and the CIA later admitted it had not discovered ties to ISIS. Nevertheless, the story was picked up by media and prompted right-leaning organizations to usethe Orlando shooting as a valuable propaganda tool in the United States’ ongoing War on Terror.
But as details on the investigation into the Orlando shooting are released, it seems the shooter may have not been radicalized at all.
“Mateen had allegedly pledged allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call during the attack, as The Two-Way has reported. But as further details emerge about the shooter, investigators say Mateen’s profile is more like that of a ‘typical mass shooter’ than an individual radicalized by ISIS…”
When the FBI released the redacted conversation between Mateen and the dispatcher, officials blacked out the portion where the Orlando gunman allegedly said, “I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may God protect him [Arabic], on behalf of the Islamic State.” It’s possible this was excluded because authorities failed to find a direct link between the shooter and the deadly militant group. Regardless, hiding the portion of the conversation in which the shooter pledges allegiance to ISIS seems unproductive if the the DOJ or FBI’s goal is to associate the deadly Orlando mass shooting with terrorism.
To the writers at TechDirt, the DOJ’s initial decision to keep Mateen’s pledge of allegiance a secret may have something to do with fears of being caught making a mistake:
“Of course, now that the DOJ seems to be realizing that this wasn’t based on any connection to Middle East groups, it seems to want to bury the issue. … And, of course, as everyone knows, redacting such information is only calling more attention to it, and almost certainly feeding into the typical plot lines of conspiracy theorists. Why not just release the full transcripts (as required under Florida’s public records laws) and with it a full explanation for why the claims of being associated with various groups (many of which are in conflict with each other) make no sense. That is, why not try to calm down the kneejerk reaction the DOJ set off in the first place?”
In announcing their change of heart, FBI and DOJ officials released a statement claiming the redactions had “caused unnecessary distraction.” And while initially, they “did not want to provide the killer or terrorist organizations with a publicity platform for hateful propaganda,” going back on their decision was deemed important because omitting Mateen’s comments kept the public from praising “the FBI” for “the hard work” they have “been doing to investigate this heinous crime.” Essentially, the FBI dismissed legitimate criticism by focusing on the media’s lack of praise for their efforts.
The full joint statement reads:
“The purpose of releasing the partial transcript of the shooter’s interaction with 911 operators was to provide transparency, while remaining sensitive to the interests of the surviving victims, their families, and the integrity of the ongoing investigation. We also did not want to provide the killer or terrorist organizations with a publicity platform for hateful propaganda. Unfortunately, the unreleased portions of the transcript that named the terrorist organizations and leaders have caused an unnecessary distraction from the hard work that the FBI and our law enforcement partners have been doing to investigate this heinous crime. As much of this information had been previously reported, we have re-issued the complete transcript to include these references in order to provide the highest level of transparency possible under the circumstances.” (emphasis added)
Despite the decision to release the transcript of one of the calls in full, many have continued to criticize the FBI, taking to Twitter to share how the agency’s “pervasive” methods have kept the public in the dark in the past.