Surveillance State: The F.B.I.’s Growing Surveillance Gap

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There are more homegrown jihadists than the feds can actually watch. And not everyone likes what the FBI is doing instead.

A day after Omar Mateen killed 49 and wounded 53 in an Orlando nightclub, purportedly under the banner of the Islamic State or other terrorist groups, the FBI announced that it had repeatedly scrutinized the shooter in recent years. As shocking as that news might have appeared, it fits a disturbing pattern: Many of the so-called “lone wolves” who have carried out terror attacks in the United States have been previously known by the FBI. Among others, the FBI had investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev years before the Boston Marathon bombings, Nidal Hasan before he opened fire at Fort Hood and Carlos Bledsoe before he opened fire on a Little Rock military recruiting station in 2009.

Particularly in the wake of the Edward Snowden scandals, we tend to think of the FBI and the sprawling homeland security apparatus as a giant surveillance machine—an all-seeing government eye reading emails, tapping phones, tracking purchases and sitting in vans outside homes as undercover agents infiltrate terror cells. But the circumstances behind the Orlando shooting, counterterrorism experts say, underscore the very different reality: The FBI actually isn’t big enough to tackle the new era of online radicalization and independent-acting lone wolves. It’s not that the FBI didn’t recognize Mateen as a threat; it’s that there are too many people like Mateen and Tsarnaev and Hasan across America today for the FBI to track them all—leaving the vast majority of people who the FBI suspects might harbor terrorist aspirations to go about their daily lives without any regular government surveillance. Experts say it’s a big problem—one that’s been brewing for more than two years as the Bureau has struggled to keep up with a wave of aspirational homegrown jihadists, who act faster and leave fewer clues than would-be terrorists a decade or two ago.

 And the resource crunch—as well as the obvious risk of being wrong about leaving someone like Mateen on the streets—has been pushing the Bureau to expand use of its controversial undercover terror stings, which help speed up the road to radicalization, but which also raise deep concerns among civil liberty advocates that the FBI is engaging in entrapment.

The Bureau has repeatedly said over the last six months that it has had more than 1,000 active probes related to the Islamic State. But, of these 1,000 or so suspected terrorists, the FBI only has the resources to thoroughly monitor a select few. The precise number of round-the-clock FBI surveillance teams is classified—and additional teams can be readied in an emergency—but sources familiar with Bureau resources say that the number is “shockingly” low, only in the dozens. At one point last year, sources reported that the Bureau was watching 48 people intensely, a number that is towards the upper limit of the FBI’s regular surveillance resources.

Read the Remainder at Politico

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2 thoughts on “Surveillance State: The F.B.I.’s Growing Surveillance Gap

  1. Then I got to thinking.
    Most of the hype about surveillance was just that, hype.
    In the UK we have security forces, the Mission Impossible lot, but I reckon that a lot of Intel is gathered from an office desk by digital snooping simply because of political constraint, money, and manpower.

    Within our land there must be millions of potential bad guys.
    After all we let anyone in (including known criminals and despots) to settle, breed, and raise new clutches of fine upstanding racially and politically radicalised animals.

    State schooled, funded by welfare, with free medical to ensure they are in optimum physical condition for when they go off to war.

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