The FBI and NSA Won't Keep Us Safe

The NSA was too busy spying on your family to stop the Orlando gunman. But why aren’t night clubs keeping tabs on people who walk in with rifles? 

According to various sources, the gunman in Orlando’s Saturday massacre, Omar Mateen, was being investigated by the FBI. (See Judge Napolitano’s interview for more, here.) But, as was the case before 9/11, the FBI keeps such a long list of so many many people, that the list tells them nothing about who is a real threat. Meanwhile, we have been told countless times that the NSA should be able to spy on anyone it wishes in order to “keep us safe.” Given that Mateen was already on an FBI threat list, was the NSA eavesdropping on Mateen? If not, why not? Was the NSA too busy spying on dirt-poor backwoods members of “militias” to bother keeping track on Mateen, who, by many accounts, was a man who spoke often of his sympathy for terrorists? It’s becoming increasingly evident the NSA simply collects so much information on so many people and casts far too wide of a net. What the NSA does is great for blackmailing powerful people. It’s less useful in actually catching terrorists.

We have also learned that Mateen worked for a taxpayer-funded “private” security agency that is under contract with numerous government agencies around the world including the CIA. The company often provides security for Federal buildings and presumably has access to numerous federal installations. His co-workers believed he was unhinged.

Basically, it sounds just like another “success” story we’ve come to expect from the FBI and the US federal government in general. The Feds maintain huge lists of “suspects” but have no way of separating out the real threats from the people who just say things. The Feds insist they should be able to spy on everyone, but ignore crucial information. The Feds pay private security firms that hire people like Mateen.

Meanwhile, the federal government insists on the prerogative to regulate the lives of ordinary people right down to whom they can hire, what sorts of plants they can grow, and of course — what kinds of self-defense they can obtain for themselves. Violations often come with long, draconian prison sentences.

But rest assured, the FBI and NSA will no doubt “rectify” the situation by lobbying for bigger budgets for themselves and giving pay increases to all involved.

Where Was the Private Security? 

It should surprise no one that the FBI, yet again, has failed to use its already-vast powers to prevent a major act of terrorism. But, we’re still left asking ourselves why it was so easy for a man with a long gun to walk into a private establishment and shoot dozens of people? Did the Pulse club in Orlando keep any tabs on its entrances, and did it allow anyone and everyone to enter?

By state law, the Pulse club was a “gun free zone” as people with a conceal-carry license are not allowed to carry in an establishment that serves alcohol.

In other words, the patrons at the club were denied the ability to defend themselves by state law. So, why did the club not provide any meaningful security of its own?

Will the Pulse club hide behind the claim that it could not “foresee” an event like this, and therefore need not provide any security?

That was the strategy used by the Aurora movie theater where James Holmes murdered 12 people. In that case also, the theater could not be bothered with noticing that someone had propped open a back door and walked to his car to put on body armor and walk back with several weapons, a gas mask, and tear gas grenades. Now that mass shootings have occurred at various types of theaters (including the Paris theater where dozens were shot in 2015), will owners continue to claim that there is no way to foresee such events?

Nightclubs have been targets for terrorists for many years. The La Belle club in Berlin was bombed in 1986, resulting in 3 deaths and 230 people injured. The 2002 Bali Bombings — at a night club — resulted in 203 deaths. There have been other cases of shootings and arson attacks at nightclubs. Was an attack on a night club so “unforeseeable” that it was no problem to allow a man with an assault rifle access to a dance floor?

Lawsuits will be sure to come alleging that the establishment in question should have provided better security. It will be interesting to see what arguments will be employed to demonstrate those private owners need not take steps to exclude bombers and gunmen from their clubs, presumably on the grounds that such events are “unforeseeable.” How many bombings and shooting at public entertainment venues must take place before it is considered prudent to take steps to prevent such events?

Private Security Addresses Immediate Threats And Casts a Far Smaller Net

Indeed, decentralized, private security is far more likely to actually work — especially considering the “safety” provided by the NSA and FBI — than are broad regulatory approaches at the national level.

After all, harsh and broad gun control laws in France did not prevent the 2015 Paris massacres. An adequate private security at the Bataclan theater in Paris, on the other hand, might have actually done some good.

Unfortunately, many people still subscribe to the idea that governments can “keep us safe” with gun control laws and mass spying programs and other massive nationwide programs that target the entire population. Not only are these programs extremely costly (in terms of both enforcement and administration) but they are incapable of identifying when and where these acts of violence will occur. After all, a nationwide program that targets everyone must monitor and regulate 300 million people. Immense amounts of resources are spent monitoring, prosecuting, and regulating harmless people.  Private security at a night club need only regulate the people seeking access to that specific location.

Private Security Is Prudent Even when Peaceful Individuals Can Carry Weapons 

Naturally, many opponents of gun control will point out that private gun ownership is effective in providing both direct and indirect deterrence to the gunman. That is often true.

Oddly, though, many of the same people who advocate for private gun ownership also deny that owners of public shops and venues bear any responsibility in securing their own property from bombers and gunmen. Not only is this view naive, but it also provides fodder to gun control advocates who believe that only centralized, regulatory efforts by governments can provide meaningful safety from attackers.

Patrons at public businesses should demand that the owners have taken steps to prevent gunmen with malicious intent from entering the premises. Not all citizens — a group that includes children and old people and the disabled — have the time and resources to train in self-defense with firearms. Similarly, one might point out that not all people have the resources to train in other essential activities, including keeping automobiles in safe, working order, and building structures that don’t fall down on us. While some amateurs are trained in those skills, most people rely on trained professionals for these services.

Naturally, we expect private owners to provide buildings that are structurally sound before we are willing to enter them. So, why should security be just an afterthought?

I suspect that many reasons for the disconnect here is that people have a nostalgic and fanciful view of the world in which safety should just be a “given” that is provided cheaply and easily by some government agency that’s out of sight and out of mind. There is also a naive view that government can effectively prevent and combat violence everywhere by passing some laws. We’ve been conditioned to believe that we shouldn’t have to worry about things like safety from murderers when we go to the hardware store. In the real world, though, it is extremely important to consider the real costs and benefits of providing private and decentralized safety measures at private establishments. As the Orlando massacre has demonstrated yet again, relying on government agencies for safety just isn’t cutting it.

Note: The views expressed on are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.