In the wake of the San Bernardino terror attacks, we’ve all gotten a big fat wake-up call on apparent gaps in our screening process to admit people to this country. As y’all know by now, one of the San Bernardino terrorists, Tashfeen Malik, was here in the U.S. on a fiancée visa and had passed not just one, but three, background checks before being admitted. And none of these checks uncovered posts Malik made publicly on social media proclaiming her support for ISIS and other forms of violent jihad.
But as frightening as that is, what may be worse is the reason for the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security’s policy PROHIBITING checking social media accounts as part of vetting for foreigners applying for U.S. visas. According to a new report by ABC News, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson chose not to end this secret U.S. policy prohibiting review of foreigners’ social media accounts, because he feared — wait for it — a civil liberties backlash and “bad public relations.”
The Independent Journal Review reports that none of the background checks that Tashfeen Malik, one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino terrorist attack uncovered posts she made on social media declaring her support for ISIS or other forms of violent jihad.
Had any of those posts been discovered during the multiple background checks run against her when she applied to move to the U.S. on a fiancée visa, she would have likely been denied entry.
The New York Times reported that it wasn’t until after the December 2nd attack on the Inland Regional Center, which left 14 people dead and another 21 people injured, that law enforcement officials discovered the old (and previously unreported) posts.
You might ask, why would foreigners applying to stay in this country — coming from terrorist hotbeds, no less — not be subject to the most vigorous screening, using every means at our government’s disposal? This, even as controversy continues to rage about how much monitoring of its own citizens our government does supposedly in the name or our protection.
Well, apparently “optics” in this case were more important to the department whose sole reason for being is to protect Americans — and our homeland.
Via The Hill:
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson decided against ending a secret U.S. policy that prohibits immigration officials from reviewing social media posts of foreigners applying for U.S. visas, according to a report by ABC News.
Johnson decided to keep the prohibition in place in early 2014 because he feared a civil liberties backlash and “bad public relations,” according to ABC.
“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 undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security for intelligence and analysis, told ABC News.
One current and one former senior counterterrorism official confirmed Cohen’s account to ABC.
A DHS spokesman told ABC News that in the fall of 2014 after Cohen left, the department began three pilot programs to include social media in vetting, but officials say it’s still not a widespread policy and a review is underway.
The policy’s revelation comes after U.S. officials learned that Tashfeen Malik, one of the San Bernardino shooters, posted a message on Facebook declaring allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; 14 people were killed.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) demanded Sunday that the U.S. immediately start a program to review social media sites of those admitted on visas.
“Had they checked out Tashfeen Malik … maybe those people in San Bernardino would be alive,” he said, according to ABC News.
Cohen said he and other U.S. officials had pressed for a policy change in 2014 but top officials with the DHS’s Office of Civil Liberties and the Office of Privacy opposed it.
“The primary concern was that it would be viewed negatively if it was disclosed publicly and there were concerns that it would be embarrassing,” Cohen said in an interview with “Good Morning America.”
Anyone want to guess whom they were concerned about offending? Perhaps one of the Muslim American groups like Council on American Islamic relations?
“There is no excuse for not using every resource at our disposal to fully vet individuals before they come to the United States,” he added.
No excuse indeed.
Another former senior counterterrorism official vouched for Cohen’s retelling: “They felt looking at public postings [of foreign U.S. visa applicants] was an invasion of their privacy.”
So let’s get this straight: our government, charged with protecting American citizens — first and foremost, our very lives — was more concerned about the privacy of foreigners wishing to come here? Pretty mixed-up priorities, if you asked me.
Never mind that everyone knows that what you post to social media must be considered public. We expect our social media accounts to be scoured when we apply for a job, and yet the government considers it an invasion of privacy when it comes to foreigners?
Cohen said there were concerns over the U.S. government’s standing with civil rights groups and European allies after National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed surveillance policies.
“It was primarily a question of optics,” Cohen said. “There were concerns from a privacy and civil liberties perspective that while this was not illegal, that it would be viewed negatively if it was disclosed publicly.”
Absolutely outrageous. Here we have 14 Americans killed, whose lives might have been saved, except for the concern about “optics.” I kinda feel like the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 is pretty bad optics. Not to mention just sheer tragedy.
The more we learn about the so-called vetting that led to the likes of Tashfeen Malik being allowed into our country, the more it’s no wonder she slipped through unnoticed. We wrote the other day about active efforts to shut down important aspects of investigation into dangerous Islamists linked to terrorists Sayed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, because they wanted to protect the “civil liberties” of members of the caliphate-supporting network.
So, sure, it’s fine for the NSA to be monitoring Americans, but we gotta be extra careful not to violate the “privacy” and civil rights of the terrorists. Obama’s America, folks.
[Note: This article was written by Michelle Jesse, Associate Editor]