San Bernardino mass-murderer Tashfeen Malik wrote social-media posts that endorsed jihad and expressed disdain for America. Yet, that did not cause U.S. immigration agents to question her admission into our country, much less deny it. In fact, our government consciously avoided learning about Malik’s Islamist rants.
Commentators stunned by this dereliction are attributing it to “secret” guidance issued by the Department of Homeland Security. In truth, there is nothing secret about it. The instruction to refrain from scrutinizing social-media commentary, a precious source of intelligence, is a straightforward application of what passes for the official Obama administration “anti”-terrorism strategy, known as “Countering Violent Extremism.”
Malik, a native Pakistani, who immigrated to the United States in July after living for a time in Saudi Arabia, joined her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, in slaying 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., earlier this month. The jihad’s Bonnie and Clyde were finally killed in a gun battle with police.
Government officials now concede that Malik was inadequately screened before being permitted to relocate to the United States on a K-1 visa, issued because she was the fiancée of Farook, an American citizen. The couple married soon after her immigration.
Malik’s visa approval was already the stuff of scandal even before the latest revelations – especially in light of President Obama’s plan to admit thousands of immigrants from Syria and other bastions of Islamic supremacism, which inevitably breeds violent jihadism. Right after the massacre, it emerged that Malik had provided government screeners with a fake Pakistani address. She may also have been educated in a notoriously anti-Western madrassa. Neither fact was discovered during the vetting process.
But as we now learn, that’s not the half of it.
It turns out Malik was an active user of social media. Government investigators made this discovery only after the San Bernardino massacre. Malik’s actual posts were not published in the initial media reports (leaving us to wonder just how inflammatory they must be). But sources close to the investigation acknowledge that she championed jihad and condemned the United States.
It is not enough to say that these signs of the Islamist mindset were missed by security and intelligence agencies. Our government chose to miss them.
As a matter of policy, the Department of Homeland Security – the bureaucratic behemoth created after 9/11 to enhance protection of our country – avoids looking at, much less scrutinizing, the publicly available social-media commentary of aliens who seek visas to enter the United States, including from Islamic countries that are jihadist strongholds.
You read that correctly.
Now that the story of shocking recklessness is out, the administration is scrambling for cover. The policy, officials stammer, was not really written down and was, in any event more like a loose guideline than a real rule.
That is simply false. The guidance was mandatory, and it even ignited a furious intramural clash at DHS. In the end, Secretary Jeh Johnson personally refused to countermand the guidance, siding with DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (the radicalism of which is on a par with the Justice Department’s infamous Civil Rights Division) over Homeland Security agents who were worried about, you know, security.
Press reports suggest that the guidance was “secret”: adopted out of concerns about antagonizing civil-rights activists in the wake of the hysteria over surveillance provoked by Edward Snowden. Alternatively, the Obama administration floats the suggestion that scrutinizing the social-media commentary of visa applicants would be (a) too difficult because people like Malik use pseudonyms and privacy protocols, and (b) too time-consuming because there are millions of applications.
Each of these rationalizations is bogus. The surveillance controversy, to the extent it was not entirely overblown, sprang from concerns over spying on Americans. Visa applicants, by contrast, are aliens. They have no right to enter the U.S. and no civil rights under the U.S. Constitution. In addition, even if we pretend they have privacy rights, we are talking in this case about speech that aliens voluntarily share with others, not personal property in which they might be said to have an expectation of privacy.
Moreover, if social-media commentary is sometimes difficult to uncover, that is mainly because government examiners purposely refrain from asking about it. If visa applicants were routinely questioned about aliases and social-media practices, much would be revealed. The fact that some aliens might lie to examiners is no excuse not to ask questions. Many would tell the truth. As for those who would not, it must be remembered that entering the U.S. is a privilege, not a right. The burden is on the alien to demonstrate fitness, not on the government to prove dishonesty. Examiners are good at detecting duplicity, and the visa should be denied if they suspect it.
Finally, the claim about there being far too many visas to allow for competent background checks is frivolous. The number of visas issued is supposed to be a function of our national interest and the resources available to process applications. Plainly, if investigative resources are sparse, the government should issue fewer visas, not skimp on background checks.
But let’s put all of the Obama administration’s panicked excuse-making aside. The fact of the matter is that Tashfeen Malik was issued a visa not because of an insane “secret” visa policy, but because of the Obama administration’s criminally irresponsible but quite public national “security” strategy – “Countering Violent Extremism.”
I wrote about CVE when the new strategy was rolled out during Obama’s first term. In essence, CVE holds that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, or even with Islamist ideology that reviles the United States. According to President Obama, “Muslim American communities have categorically condemned terrorism” – as if that were an incontestable proposition or one that told the whole story. Thus, as I elaborated at the time,
The real threat to our security, [the CVE guidance instructs], is not Muslim terrorist plots against us but our provocation of Muslims by conveying the misimpression that America is at war with Islam. Therefore, the key to security is “partnering” with the leadership in Muslim communities [much of which just happens to be tied to or heavily influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood]. Let them train the police, let them be our eyes and ears, and surely they’ll let us know if there is any cause for concern.
If it is possible, the practice of CVE is even more of a national-security disaster than the theory. That is a central theme of an essential new book by Stephen Coughlin, Catastrophic Failure: Blindfolding America in the Face of Jihad.
Apart from being an exceptional lawyer, Steve is a trained military-intelligence officer who has studied our enemies’ threat doctrine, Islamic supremacism – the classic sharia-based Islam that is mainstream in the Middle East. The book is about how the United States government has systematically stifled the study of this doctrine since before 9/11. CVE is the paragon illustration of how the Obama administration has exacerbated this catastrophic failure.
As Coughlin demonstrates, CVE is no secret. For example, DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties has worked with the National Counterterrorism Center (another bureaucracy created after 9/11 to improve security) to develop government-agency training programs that “bring together best [CVE] practices.” One product of this effort is a handy two-page instruction document of CVE “Do’s and Don’ts” [sic].
The “Don’ts” tell agents to avoid, among other things, “ventur[ing] too deep into the weeds of religious doctrine and history,” or examining the “role of Islam in majority Muslim nations.” The guidance further admonishes:
Don’t use training that equates radical thought, religious expression, freedom to protest, or other constitutionally protected activity, with criminal activity. One can have radical thoughts/ideas, including disliking the U.S. government, without being violent; for example, trainers who equate the desire for Sharia law with criminal activity violate basic tenets of the First Amendment.
This allusion to the First Amendment is patent nonsense. Free-expression principles protect Americans against laws that subject speech to penalty or prosecution (a protection, by the way, that the Obama administration seeks to deny to speech unflattering to Islam). But there is no free-speech protection against having one’s words examined for intelligence or investigative purposes. That is why, for example, speech is routinely used in court to prove crimes. And, to repeat: Aliens outside the United States do not have First Amendment rights at all.
In sum, Obama’s CVE strategy expressly instructs our investigators to consider only violent or criminal conduct. They are told to ignore radical ideology, particularly if it has the veneer of “religious expression.” They are directed to turn a deaf ear to anti-Americanism and the desire to impose sharia, which just happens to be the principal objective of all violent jihadists and of the Obama administration’s oft-time consultants, the Muslim Brotherhood.
Our agents, furthermore, are cautioned to avoid doing anything that smacks of subjecting particular groups or people from select regions to heightened scrutiny. After all, that might imply that terrorism committed by Muslims has some connection to Islam – specifically, to the undeniable, unambiguous commands to violent jihad found throughout Muslim scripture.
Obviously, this CVE guidance is exactly what DHS follows when it willfully blinds itself to social-media postings by visa applicants from Muslim-majority countries where anti-Americanism and jihadist sympathies run rampant. There is nothing secret about it. It is right there in black-and-white. Willful blindness is, furthermore, a guiding principle of Obama’s governance. It is, for example, the same rationale used to justify purging instruction about the Islamic doctrinal roots of violent jihadism from materials used to train our law-enforcement, military, and intelligence agents.
The mulish determination not to “know thine enemy” is the intentional design of the Obama strategy. What happened in the case of Tashfeen Malik was not a glitch. It was foreseeable and inevitable. And now, 14 innocent people are dead.
A version of this piece previously appeared on National Review Online.