UPDATE: Fearing 'Bad Public Relations,' Obama Administration Barred Officials From Screening Foreign Visa Applicants' Social Media

Guy Benson
|
Posted: Dec 14, 2015 11:20 AM
UPDATE: Fearing 'Bad Public Relations,' Obama Administration Barred Officials From Screening Foreign Visa Applicants' Social Media

UPDATE: It gets worse. ABC News is reporting that Homeland Security officials have been bound by a secret US policy not to scrutinize visa applicants' social media footprint because the Obama administration feared bad press over "civil liberties." This represents an stunning, intentional dereliction of duty -- all for PR:

Fearing a civil liberties backlash and "bad public relations" for the Obama administration, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson refused in early 2014 to end a secret U.S. policy that prohibited immigration officials from reviewing the social media messages of all foreign citizens applying for U.S. visas, a former senior department official said. "During that time period immigration officials were not allowed to use or review social media as part of the screening process," John Cohen, a former acting under-secretary at DHS for intelligence and analysis. Cohen is now a national security consultant for ABC News. One current and one former senior counter-terrorism official confirmed Cohen's account about the refusal of DHS to change its policy about the public social media posts of all foreign applicants.

This administration seeks to curtail US citizens' second amendment rights rights -- relying, in part, on a secret list, without due process -- but exposes the country to risk by bending over backwards to safeguard foreign nationals' "civil liberties." As noted below, these are people applying for the privilege of entering our country. Some defenders of the policy say sifting through a massive number of applicants' Facebook and Twitter feeds would be logistically impossible, given the resources available. If that's true, what does that say about the thoroughness our current vetting standards? And if that's true, are we allowed to suggest that either (a) maybe we should think about stemming the flow of immigrants to a rate at which we can properly screen people, or (b) perhaps some form of "profiling" to trigger additional screening should be considered? Or aren't we allowed to address uncomfortable realities?

UPDATE II - They've gotten their "bad public relations," alright, just not the kind they were anticipating. And now -- surprise! -- their insane, politically-correct policy is reportedly on the chopping block. All it took was 14 Americans murdered on US soil by ISIS loyalists:


--- Original Post ---

Remember how the US State Department declared itself perfectly "satisfied" with the visa screening process that green-lit San Bernadino terrorist Tashfeen Malik's entry into the country -- even as concerning details about her background and family have come to light?  Set aside the detail that her husband was reportedly in contact with several suspected jihadists who had attracted the feds' attention.  Set aside the apparent fact that she provided false information on her visa application, which then sailed through.  Let's focus on this New York Times story published over the weekend, which contains frightening and baffling information:

Tashfeen Malik, who with her husband carried out the massacre in San Bernardino, Calif., passed three background checks by American immigration officials as she moved to the United States from Pakistan. None uncovered what Ms. Malik had made little effort to hide — that she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad. She said she supported it. And she said she wanted to be a part of it. American law enforcement officials said they recently discovered those old — and previously unreported — postings as they pieced together the lives of Ms. Malik and her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, trying to understand how they pulled off the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. Had the authorities found the posts years ago, they might have kept her out of the country. But immigration officials do not routinely review social media as part of their background checks, and there is a debate inside the Department of Homeland Security over whether it is even appropriate to do so...

Ms. Malik faced three extensive national security and criminal background screenings. First, Homeland Security officials checked her name against American law enforcement and national security databases. Then, her visa application went to the State Department, which checked her fingerprints against other databases. Finally, after coming to the United States and formally marrying Mr. Farook here, she applied for her green card and received another round of criminal and security checks. Ms. Malik also had two in-person interviews, federal officials said, the first by a consular officer in Pakistan, and the second by an immigration officer in the United States when she applied for her green card. All those reviews came back clear, and the F.B.I. has said it had no incriminating information about Ms. Malik or Mr. Farook in its databases. The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have said they followed all policies and procedures.

Several stunners.  She passed three separate, "extensive" background screenings, none of which examined her social media footprint, which was rife with posts promoting radical Islamism, dating back years.  (Shortly before carrying out their deadly mission, both Malik and Farook pledged allegiance to ISIS on social media).  One of the reasons that these very public red flags weren't caught is that our national security apparatus can't decide whether checking social media as part of the immigration vetting process is appropriate.  Think about that.  The Times story goes on:

In a brief telephone interview on Saturday, the sister, Fehda Malik, said Tashfeen Malik was not an extremist, and she rejected the allegations against her sister. “I am the one who spent most of the time with my sister,” she said. “No one knows her more than me. She had no contact with any militant organization or person, male or female.” She said her sister was religious, studied the Quran and prayed five times a day. “She knew what was right and what was wrong,” Fehda Malik said. She added that the family was “very worried and tense,” before hanging up the phone. On social media, Fehda Malik has made provocative comments of her own. In 2011, on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, she posted a remark on Facebook beside a photo of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center that could be interpreted as anti-American. Social media comments, by themselves, however, are not always definitive evidence. In Pakistan — as in the United States — there is no shortage of crass and inflammatory language. And it is often difficult to distinguish Islamist sentiments and those driven by political hostility toward the United States. At the time Fehda Malik’s comment was posted, anti-American sentiment in Pakistan was particularly high; four months earlier, American commandos had secretly entered Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden.

Jonah Goldberg goes off: "The sister, Fehda, denies that Tashfeen is a radical Islamist. She spent a lot of time with her sister apparently. Weighing against Fehda’s character reference? Tashfeen’s Facebook posts, including the one in which she pledged loyalty to ISIS, not to mention the bodies of fourteen dead Americans (and a good deal more wounded). So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Fehda’s word doesn’t count for very much. This is a suspicion the authors themselves seem to corroborate, given that they found a post of hers on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that 'could be interpreted as anti-American.' Again, we’re not allowed to see the actual comment..."  So Malik's sister denies that she was an extremist after she carried out a lethal terrorist attack in the name of ISIS -- and after she herself posted some sort of pro-9/11 message on Facebook, the details of which the Times chooses not to share with its readers, instead cautioning that inflammatory rhetoric online is "not always definitive evidence" of a violent, radical agenda.  Maybe not in a court of law for a US citizen, but shouldn't anti-American, pro-jihad postings be...highly relevant factors in the process of determining whether or not to admit foreign nationals into our country?  And why on earth are homeland security officials debating whether reviewing and considering visa applicants' public statements is "appropriate"?  Not doing so seems wildly inappropriate and irresponsible.

Next time a public official requests new surveillance tools, he or she should be asked why the government functionaries need more power when they've been intentionally ignoring in-plain-sight evidence.  Jonah is rightly flabbergasted that American officials are apparently ignoring "ugly posts on social media by people asking for the privilege — not the right — to move here."  Such revelations seriously undermine the administration's indignant and demagogic statements about those who question the supposedly robust Syrian refugee screening process.  No wonder a sizable percentage of the public is open to the (unworkablecounterproductive and debatably illegal) idea of imposing a blanket ban on all foreign Muslims from entering the United States.  Ineptitude breeds mistrust.  I'll leave you with this, in case you missed it last week.  We'd like to believe we're in the very best of hands.  If these allegations are true, we most certainly are not:


Haney was given an agency award for his work identifying potential terrorists and he was asked to become part of the National Targeting Center, which works to connect the dots between radical figures and groups, he said. After more than six months tracking the Deobandi movement, Homeland Security halted the investigation at the urging of the State Department’s Office of Civil Rights, Haney said. The agencies asserted that since the Islamist groups in question were not Specially Designated Terrorist Organizations, tracking individuals related to these groups was a violation of the their civil liberties, according to Haney. “The administration was more concerned about the civil rights and liberties of foreign Islamic groups with terrorist ties than the safety and security of Americans,” Haney said. He met with the DHS Inspector General in 2013, in coordination with several Members of Congress. DHS and the Justice Department then subjected him to investigations, none of which showed wrongdoing, he said. In September 2014, they sequestered him, revoked his access to the database and revoked his security clearance.

Haney says his work would have flagged Mr. Farook's California mosque, which could have raised obstacles to Malik's entry visa.  The Obama administration says there are "holes" in Mr. Haney's story, but wouldn't elaborate, due to privacy concerns.