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The deadly nightclub attack in Orlando, Fla., has given rise to dozens of theories and explanations as to what happened and how it could have been stopped.
One angle gaining traction in social media is that Hillary Clinton’s State Department enabled the attacker, U.S.-born Omar Mateen, 29, by blocking an investigation into a Florida mosque Mateen attended. Mateen killed 49 people and injured more than 50 in an Orlando nightclub June 12.
The conspiracy-minded website InfoWars posted an article with the headline, "Hillary’s State Dept. Blocked Investigation into Orlando Killer’s Mosque" on Monday, June 13.
Other websites, such as The Horn News, teased a story as "Hillary’s shocking link to Orlando massacre," while Conservative County said Clinton’s link to the Orlando shooter "has been exposed." Collectively, they have been shared at least thousands of times.
Is there any truth to these claims? Not according to experts.
The InfoWars article centers on the Fort Pierce Islamic Center that Mateen attended. The article claims the mosque under investigation by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security in 2011, but that the investigation was shut down "under pressure from the Clinton-ran State Dept. and DHS’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office out of fear of offending Muslims."
The InfoWars story seems to be taken directly from another right-wing website World Net Daily. But that article paints a different picture of the investigation.
Both articles are based on the account of Philip Haney, a former Homeland Security agent who says he was assigned to a unit that investigated individuals with potential links to terrorism. He wrote a book published in 2016 called See Something Say Nothing: A Homeland Security Officers Exposes the Government's Submission to Jihad.
Haney described investigating an Islamic movement known as the Tablighi Jamaat (misspelled in the InfoWars article). That movement was connected to the Institute of Islamic Education, which is connected to the Darul Uloom Chicago madrassa, which has links to the Sharia Board of America. Haney said he found the Sharia Board of America also had links to the Fort Pierce Islamic Center.
In other words, the 2011 investigation Haney described didn’t look directly into Mateen’s mosque, like the InfoWars headline makes it seem.
This isn’t the first time Haney has made a connection like this. After the San Bernardino shootings, Haney made the same claim when speaking to Megyn Kelly on Fox News and in a column he wrote in The Hill in February.
"The two San Bernardino jihadists, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, may have benefited from the administration’s closure of an investigation I initiated on numerous groups infiltrating radicalized individuals into this country," Haney wrote in an article on The Hill.
We tried to reach Haney through his phone and also reached out to his book’s publishing company. He could not be reached in either attempt.
The truth of the matter
So that’s the story, and it relies almost entirely on one person’s account.
One of the first holes in the InfoWars article is the misleading headline. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an adjunct assistant professor in Georgetown University's security studies program, said the headline is wrong and noted InfoWars misinterpreted the information that was taken from World Net Daily.
"It’s obviously wrong," Gartenstein-Ross said of the InfoWars headline. "Although, if (InfoWars) changed some words in the headline, it would match their source (World Net Daily). Then there’s a further question if it’s accurate or not."
He said that the State Department could not block a case, but it’s possible it asserted pressure.
Other experts we reached out to agreed that the InfoWars article doesn’t add up, or at least not in the specifics Haney mentions.
The FBI has jurisdiction over domestic terrorism investigations, not Homeland Security, for which Haney worked, said Timothy Edgar, a senior fellow in international and public affairs at the Watson Institute.
While Homeland Security does have a "relatively small" intelligence organization known as the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, Edgar said, the office has no jurisdiction to collect information or investigate cases. Point being, Haney likely wouldn’t be in a position at Homeland Security to investigate a terrorism case in the first place.
Perhaps the bigger problem with the claim made in the article is the way it characterizes the State Department’s role in investigations.
First, the FBI doesn’t investigate entire communities like a mosque, Edgar said. It investigates specific people suspected of terrorist activity. More importantly, the State Department "has no authority or involvement in decisions by the FBI to conduct or close investigations," Edgar said.
"It is simply not credible to describe a mosque as being under ‘FBI and DHS’ investigation, or that this activity was halted by the State Department or by the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties," Edgar said.
The State Department’s focus is on operations overseas, said Martin Reardon, who is the senior vice president of the Soufan Group and a 21-year veteran of the FBI. The secretary of state would have no say in domestic FBI cases, or even have an interest in activities inside the United States.
Furthermore, FBI agents have to go through a number of channels before a case is closed. It’s not just shut down. And even then, agents are sometimes told to do more work to assure the investigation was done properly, Reardon said.
Articles claimed that Clinton as secretary of state enabled radical Islamists by shutting down an investigation of Mateen’s Florida mosque.
The claim relies heavily on one account of a retired Department of Homeland Security agent that has not been corroborated by any additional source.
Experts we talked to say the claims of the investigation and the purported link to Clinton and the State Department is unlikely. The FBI, not Haney’s Homeland Security department, would handle a terrorism investigation. The State Department, meanwhile, would play little to no role in whether a case is opened, closed or anything else.
We rate this claim False.https://www.sharethefacts.co/share/686b3f34-b0bc-4551-9ae4-35394e6f9783
Email interview, Timothy Edgar, Academic Director for Law and Policy, Executive Master in Cybersecurity, June 15, 2016
Interview, Martin Reardon, Senior Vice President at the Soufan Group, June 15-16, 2016
Interview, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and adjunct assistant professor in Georgetown University's security, June 16, 2016
Email interview, Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, June 16, 2015
Email interview, Paul Pillar, researcher at Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies, June 17, 2016
InfoWars.com, "Hillary’s State Dept. Blocked Investigation into Orlando Killer’s Mosque," June 13, 2016
World Net Daily, "Orlando mosque tied to case Hillary's State Dept scrubbed," accessed June 15, 2016
The Hill, "Administration nixed probe into Southern California jihadists," accessed June 15, 2016
Fox News Insider, "Whistleblower: DHS Pulled Plug on Surveillance That Could've ID'ed CA Terrorists," accessed June 15, 2016
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