An Executive Failure
“Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks; it is not less essential to the steady administration of the laws; to the protection of property against those irregular and high-handed combinations which sometimes interrupt the ordinary course of justice; to the security of liberty against the enterprises and assaults of ambition, of faction, and of anarchy”… Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 34, January 4, 1788
A secret U.S. policy has blocked immigration investigators from reviewing the social media messages of all foreigners applying for U.S. visas – including that of San Bernardino terrorist Tashfeen Malik – it has emerged.
The revelation comes after U.S. officials learned that Malik, who received a fiancée’s visa last May, posted extensive social messages the FBI said included talk of Jihad and martyrdom.
John Cohen, a former acting under-secretary at DHS for intelligence and analysis, told ABC News that immigration officials were not allowed to ‘use or review social media as part of the screening process’ when he was there last year.
ABC reported that one current and one former senior counter-terrorism official confirmed Cohen’s account of the refusal of the Department of Homeland Security to change its policy.
“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.
He added: “There is no excuse for not using every resource at our disposal to fully vet individuals before they come to the United States.”
Early last year, immigration officials asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson for new policies allowing them to review applicants’ publicly posted online messages.
However, Johnson refused to end the secret policy in fear of a civil liberties backlash and ‘bad public relations’ for the Obama administration, ABC News reported.
Cohen, who left DHS in June 2014, said he and other U.S. officials had pressed for the policy change that year but it was opposed by top officials with the DHS Office of Civil Liberties and the Office of Privacy.
“Immigration, security, law enforcement officials recognized at the time that it was important to more extensively review public social media postings because they offered potential insights into whether somebody was an extremist or potentially connected to a terrorist organization or a supporter of the movement,” said Cohen.
A former senior counter-terrorism official said that it was shocking that DHS had not leveraged the power of social media.
“They felt looking at public postings [of foreign U.S. visa applicants] was an invasion of their privacy,” the official said.
‘The arguments being made were, and are still, in bad faith,’ the official added.
Malik, 29, and husband Syed Farook killed 14 people earlier this month after passing through customs at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport in July 2014 and getting married the following month.
Malik underwent three background checks and had her K-1 fiancée visa approved in just three weeks even though she openly posted on social media about committing violent jihad.
If US officials had discovered the messages Malik posted before she applied for her visa from Pakistan last year, red flags would have gone up and she likely would not have been approved for entry.
Malik was screened by Homeland Security officials and then the State Department before she entered the US, and then faced a third screening after applying for a green card, the New York Times reported.
The trio of national security and criminal background screenings failed to find old postings on social media.
On Sunday, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer called for the U.S. to immediately start a program that would check the social media sites of foreign applicants admitted on visas, ABC reported.