Until they have answers, the top priority for U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies needs to be determining whether Mohammed Alshamrani was a lone-wolf terrorist or part of a larger plot.
Alshamrani, an officer in the Royal Saudi Air Force, was being trained at a U.S. naval base at Pensacola, Florida, when, on Friday, he went on a shooting rampage. He killed three people and wounded several others at the base before being shot dead by a sheriff’s deputy.
It is known that during the week before the shooting, Alshamrani hosted a dinner party at which he and three other people watched videos of mass shootings. The FBI says one of the three Saudis recorded video outside the classroom building where Alshamrani was killing people. Two other Saudi students sat in a car and watched.
Clearly, much more needs to be learned about what those three knew about Alshamrani’s plan. If they had advance knowledge of his intentions, they need to be held accountable in a U.S. court.
But another troubling aspect of the attack is that Alshamrani had been posting social media criticisms of the United States for some time.
How is it that no one in the U.S. intelligence community picked up on that?
We know the government has the ability to monitor not just our social media posts, but also other forms of communication. Some critics of the process warn that so much information is obtained that intelligence analysts cannot process it properly. In other words, they cannot see the forest for the trees.
Was that a factor in the Alshamrani case?
Some of the Islamic terrorists who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in our country trained at U.S. civilian flight schools. After 9/11, there was criticism that they were not monitored closely enough.
Now, a Middle Eastern military man training as a pilot at a U.S. Navy base has executed another attack — though a much, much less bloody one.
The question that arises, then, is whether our intelligence agencies are any better at watching for and spotting terrorist threats than they were before 9/11.