The FBI and NSA won’t keep us safe

Ryan McMaken - Contributing Columnist

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. 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.

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 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?

I suspect that many reasons for the the disconnect here is that people have a nostalgic and fanciful view of the world in which safety should just 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.

Ryan W. McMaken is the editor of Mises Daily and The Austrian. To read this post in its entirety, visit

Ryan McMaken

Contributing Columnist

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