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FBI and DHS Assessment Outlined Threat of Lone Offenders Targeting Las Vegas

The U.S. government warned of possible attacks on entertainment venues and mass gatherings.

People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival  on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, leaving at least 59 people dead and more than 500 injured. (David Becker/Getty Images)
People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, leaving at least 59 people dead and more than 500 injured. (David Becker/Getty Images)

More than nine months before Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, killing at least 59 people, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued a “Joint Special Event Threat Assessment” warning of the potential threat of lone offenders targeting mass gatherings, like music venues in Las Vegas.

A main concern, according to the unclassified, for-official-use-only document obtained by Foreign Policy, was that unaffiliated lone offenders could take advantage of New Year’s Eve celebrations in the Las Vegas Strip to stage an attack that would be hard to prevent.

“Unaffiliated lone offenders and [homegrown violent extremists] are of particular concern,” the document states, “due to their ability to remain undetected until operational; their willingness to attack civilians and soft targets; their ability to inflict significant casualties with weapons that do not require specialized knowledge, access, or training; and their unpredictability, as witnessed in the Orlando, Florida and San Bernardino, California terrorist attacks.”

The document issued in December 2016 focuses on the FBI and DHS’s concern “about the sustained interest by terrorists and criminals in targeting mass gatherings,” including soft targets like music venues, notes the threat assessment.

The report adds that law enforcement at the time had “no information to indicate a specific, credible threat to or associated with the America’s Party New Year’s Eve celebration on the Las Vegas Strip and Downtown Las Vegas.”

Threat assessments like this are often issued prior to high-profile events with large attendances. Recent similar assessments were issued, for example, for the U.N. General Assembly in New York, the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The idea that Las Vegas, a mecca for gamblers and vacationers, could be a terrorist target is not surprising. The U.S. government issues many warnings around the time of special events, yet the report provides insight into how law enforcement attempts to anticipate threats and underscores how hard it is to predict the specifics of an attack.

The threat assessment asked Las Vegas-area law enforcement and first responders to review several behavioral indicators and to report any and all suspicious or potentially preoperational behavior to the FBI’s Las Vegas office.

At the FBI’s request, FP is withholding information about the specific indicators.

This particular assessment focusing on Las Vegas over the 2017 New Year’s celebration highlights both criminal and homegrown violent extremist threats and outlines recent overseas attacks on Western targets by al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their affiliates, including those inspired by a specific ideology.

“Al-Qa’ida, ISIL, and their affiliates remain intent on attacking Western targets and continue to call on individuals to conduct independent attacks in the United States using improvised explosive devices (IED’s) and small arms,” the report states.

“As part of the continuous dialogue with our law enforcement partners, the FBI routinely shares information about potential threats to better enable law enforcement to protect the communities they serve,” an FBI spokesperson told FP.

Although the Islamic State has claimed credit for Sunday’s shooting, there is no proof that Paddock had any connections to the group, and law enforcement officials have repeatedly said there is no merit to this claim.

Asked if the Department of Homeland Security was limited by law to looking at only terrorist-inspired attacks, Dave Lapan, a spokesperson for the agency, said there no statutory barriers. But the department’s intelligence and analysis division “focuses its threat analyses for events on terrorist, not non-terrorist criminal events, unless there is a specific reason for a particular event to widen the scope,” he said.

No motive for the attack appears to have yet been uncovered.

Photo credit: David Becker/Getty Images

Jana Winter is an investigative reporter based in Washington DC. She worked previously as a national security reporter at The Intercept and breaking news/investigative reporter for FoxNews.com.

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