San Bernardino shooter's visa file raised no red flags: U.S. government sources

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 30, 2015 5:25 PM

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - State Department visa officers conducted all required security checks on Tashfeen Malik, one of two shooters in the San Bernardino massacre early this month, but found no "derogatory" information before granting her a visa to enter the United States in 2013, a person familiar with the documentation said.

The standard security inquiries include interagency counter-terrorism screening, fingerprint checks, facial recognition analysis and checks against worldwide U.S. consular records, a State Department source said.

Because there was no derogatory information in Malik's application, visa officers had no grounds for ordering deeper investigations into her background, let alone blocking her entry when she arrived in the United States in December 2013, officials have said.

The latest disclosures will likely strengthen calls in Congress to toughen the procedure for issuing visas in order to spot militants applying to enter the United States.

Pakistan-born Malik came to the United States under a K-1 "fiancee" visa. She was engaged at the time to Syed Farook, a U.S.-born citizen who together with Malik carried out the Dec. 2 shooting that killed 14 people.

Consular officers ran Malik's name through U.S. government consular and intelligence data bases, the source familiar with the documentation said. State Department sources declined to enumerate all the tests conducted before Malik's application was approved. The State Department source said the department was legally unable to discuss the contents of any individual's file.

An individual's application file contains records of which security checks were carried out and the results. None of the documents in Malik's State Department file show any negative information was discovered during State Department security checks, the source familiar with the documentation said.

The State Department's consular corps has come under criticism for allowing Malik entry, especially because a copy of her visa application file released earlier this month by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee raised questions about whether she and Farook actually met in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, before coming to the United States, as claimed on the application.

Late on Wednesday, a State Department official told Reuters that department records show that Malik provided the necessary evidence to satisfy the requirement of an in-person meeting of an engaged couple before a fiancée visa is granted. The official said consular officers may request information such as engagement photos, passport entry/exit stamps or statements confirming time spent together to satisfy the requirement.

The official added that the Saudi Ministry of Interior confirmed through Saudi immigration records that both Farook and Malik were in Saudi Arabia between Oct. 1 and Oct. 6, 2013.

The State Department on Tuesday provided Malik's complete visa file to congressional investigators looking into how Malik obtained her visa.

The file was more extensive than documents earlier sent to Congress by Homeland Security, according to three U.S. government sources familiar with both sets of the material.

The new records outline precisely what security checks were conducted on Malik before her visa was approved, including which U.S. government data bases were checked. 

Despite those checks, another source familiar with the material said they did not entirely resolve questions as to whether Farook and Malik actually met in person before she traveled to the United States.

Farook, in a statement submitted to support Malik's visa application, said the couple first met in person and became engaged on Oct. 3, 2013, during the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, according to the Homeland Security documents released by the House Judiciary Committee.

But information on the documents shows Malik did not receive her visa to enter Saudi Arabia until Oct. 5, 2013.

Farook held a Haj visa, dated Sept. 16, which allowed him to enter the Muslim holy city during the annual religious pilgrimage. But Malik did not hold a Haj visa, meaning she would have been barred from entering Mecca during the time claimed in the U.S. visa application.

Investigators have said that before entering the United States, Malik had sent private messages via social media outlining her interest in Islamic militancy. But given that the messages were not posted publicly, officials say there is no way under current procedures that the messages could have been spotted by officials and raised questions about whether Malik should be granted a U.S. visa. 

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Greising and Leslie Adler)