Where was the FBI, you might ask? And for that matter, the rest of the federal security/law enforcement/intelligence alphabet soup: CIA, DHS, ICE, BATF, and even the TSA? Asleep at the switch. Again, as Mr. Gump would observe. Never mind that the mastermind of the attempted attack, a home-grown ex-con named Elton Simpson, was more than a blip on the feds' radar scope:
"..Simpson was, like the overwhelming majority of murderers and most of those who commit serious violent crimes, already known to the authorities. He had been investigated by the FBI on the suspicion that he was attempting to travel to Somalia to engage in jihad. He was convicted of lying to the FBI in that episode, and sentenced to . . . probation. The average sentence for a tax-related crime in these United States is 31 months in a federal penitentiary, but for attempting to join up with a gang of savages who are merrily beheading, torturing, enslaving, and raping their way around the world? Probation, and damned little subsequent oversight, apparently.
There is one and only one reason that an aspiring al-Qaeda bomber or ISIS beheader such as Elton Simpson should be walking the streets of these United States a free man: so that the FBI can follow him. We have aggressive domestic surveillance on a dozen different fronts — from the IRS to the SEC to the TSA, to say nothing of whatever it is that the spooks are really up to — but nobody could be bothered to keep an eye on a fellow known to federal authorities to be looking for a plum gig with Bin Laden, Inc. For Pete’s sake, the guy seems to have been on Twitter talking up “#texasattack” before the . . . Texas attack. Where was the FBI? No doubt still on the hunt for those angry Christian right-wing militia extremists who keep not attacking anything other than unlucky squirrels in rural Idaho."
What comes next? You know the drill. A few news organizations will examine the trail left by Simpson and his equally dead co-conspirator, discovering plenty of clues and red flags that were ignored by the feds. For starters, someone ought to ask the Garland police chief if his department received any warnings about a couple of would-be jihadists in their backyard. Fortunately, the local constabulary was more than prepared, so when the terrorists opened fire, they were greeted with a lethal shots from a Garland patrol officer. Had the jihadists advanced further, there was a SWAT team waiting. Apparently, a few politicos in Texas still believe in letting the cops do their job and recognize that "creating space" for criminals isn't a viable tactic.
There may also be an obligatory hearing on Capitol Hill, where the FBI Director will be asked about the agency's surveillance of Mr. Simpson. And, in fairness, the bureau can pull out 1,500 hours of recordings between the dead terrorist and an undercover FBI informant. For the mathematically challenged, that's more than eight weeks worth of audio. In one those conversations, Simpson tells the informant "it's time to go to Somalia, brother," claiming "we gonna make it to the battlefield...it's time to roll."
But when Simpson was directly questioned by the FBI, he denied any plans to travel to Somalia. Prosecutors charged him with lying to federal agents and requested an eight-year, maximum sentence. But a federal judge ruled that Simpson's recorded statements didn't equal terrorism, so he received probation three years' probation in 2011. Based on that timeline, it's quite likely that Simpson was no longer under federal supervision when he traveled to Texas, but no one will say if the FBI--or any other federal agency--was still monitoring his activities. We'll take a wild guess and say the answer to that latter question is "no."
As Kevin Williamson observes, probation, parole and surveillance can be effective tools, when they are used properly. But no one with a federal badge was up to the task before Garland, leaving it up to the local cops to stop the terrorists, once and for all. But there's no guarantee we'll be as lucky the next time around. ISIS and its various sympathizers are more than capable of learning from their mistakes; when the feds drop the ball again (and they certainly will) the individuals caught in the jihadist cross-hairs may not have the protective shield of a local SWAT team.