Report: U.S. doesn’t review social media posts by visa applicants

San Bernardino terrorist Tashfeen Malik tried to tell the world she was dangerous. The U.S. officials in charge of deciding whether to let her in the country refused to listen.

San Bernardino terrorist Tashfeen Malik told the world she was dangerous. The U.S. officials in charge of deciding whether to let her in the country refused to listen.

One reason Donald Trump gets away with saying the things he says is the foil he has in the Obama administration, whose incompetence in various areas creates an opening for virtually anything to sound better to at least some people. That’s the proper context for reading this report from ABC News:

“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.

“A spokesperson for the DHS, Marsha Catron, told ABC News that months after Cohen left, in the fall of 2014, the Department began three pilot programs to include social media in vetting, but current officials say that it is still not a widespread policy. A review of the broader policy is already underway, the DHS said.

“The revelation comes as members of Congress question why U.S. officials failed to review the social media posts of San Bernardino terrorist Tashfeen Malik. She received a U.S. visa in May 2014, despite what the FBI said were extensive social media messages about jihad and martyrdom.

“Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., demanded Sunday that the U.S. immediately initiate a program that would check the social media sites of those admitted on visas.

“‘Had they checked out Tashfeen Malik,’ the senator said, ‘maybe those people in San Bernardino would be alive.'”

It is astonishing that an administration that has resorted to social-media hashtag campaigns against such barbarians as the Boko Haram terrorists in western Africa, and which has pointed to the recruiting success ISIS has had on social media, would refuse to consider social media as even one source of information about people seeking entry to this country. It not only undermines the notion that the federal government is doing everything it can to prevent terrorists or terrorist sympathizers from entering the U.S. It calls into question what the administration’s real priorities are, given the reasons ABC reports for the position against reviewing visa applicants’ social-media posts, especially “bad public relations.”

Well, the administration deserves some terrible public relations for acknowledging it ignores this information.

As anyone with a degree of awareness about the world should know, social-media posts are used as clues by everyone from employers to potential dates. The idea that reviewing what someone has posted online publicly would be considered an invasion of privacy is another example of the absurdity of our bureaucracy and a willful ignorance about the actual meanings of words.

Could such a policy be abused? Sure. Officials could decide not to allow, say, Israelis who tweeted support for Bibi Netanyahu. That doesn’t mean this couldn’t be a valuable tool when used properly. Nor should a couple of legitimately worrisome social-media posts be enough to block someone from getting a visa. But they should prompt a deeper vetting of that person than would otherwise be done.

If Trump is often seriously dangerous, the Obama administration can be dangerously unserious.

Reader Comments 0

74 comments
DwightGlover
DwightGlover

The fact check response on this issue from CNN:

CNN Reality Check Team: There is no State Department policy prohibiting social media checks by consular officers, who interview prospective visa recipients and make the final call on whether they qualify for a visa, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday.

These consular officers are free to check any and all publicly available information on an applicant, including their social media postings.

That said, they aren't required to do so with every applicant.

The Department of Homeland Security -- which runs background checks on foreign applicants as part of the interagency process -- also allows social media checks, but again, they aren't required. In fact, in recent months the United States has begun to take steps to review social media postings of visa applicants from certain countries.

The value of these social media searches is limited, since terrorist sympathizers can conceal their identities online or use privacy settings to hide their posts.

In fact, San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik obscured her identity when making pro-jihad comments on social media sites and used enhanced security settings, U.S. law enforcement officials told CNN this week.

Some of Malik's postings were only visible to a small group of friends, which runs in direct contrast to Cruz's suggestion that Malik made the statements publicly

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@DwightGlover Former DHS employee says there's a secret program disallowing the checks; DHS spokesman says checks are allowed but not required.

It wouldn't be much of a "secret" program if it were confirmed on the record, would it?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@DwightGlover Within this story about whether Malik posted such statements on social media -- note that the FBI says she didn't, but that the FBI was also the source for the original story saying she did -- Jeh Johnson seems not to deny the ban's existence as to put a different spin on what it was and when it ended:

"The criticism intensified after an ABC News report this month indicating that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson decided against ending a secret policy prohibiting immigration officials from reviewing social media posts.

"On Wednesday, Johnson attempted to refute the allegation, calling the initial policy 'too restrictive' and claiming that it had been rolled back 'very early this year.'

"'I think we need to do more of this,' Johnson said in a news conference in Washington. 'Consulting social media is something that as long as I’ve been secretary is something that we need to do and we have begun to do that.'

"Reports of a secret policy banning review of accounts like Malik's are 'not accurate,' he said."

Of course, in politi-speak, "not accurate" doesn't mean "false," but rather "true although some details were wrong."

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/263448-fbi-no-evidence-san-bernardino-shooters-supported-jihad-on

bendedknee
bendedknee

Kyle is correct here; there is no reason anyone from Saudi Arabia or Pakistan should not be vetted for all internet usage and should sign a waiver for monitoring of their internet usage as a condition of entry. However similarly the 9-11 hijackers got in with express visas from travel agents 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week found that at 57 percent, a solid majority of Americans, oppose Trump’s proposal. A CBS News poll also found nearly six-in-10 Americans opposed the ban, with two-thirds saying it goes against the country’s founding principles.


But Republicans are far more receptive; 54 percent voiced support for the ban in the CBS poll.


Guess that poll was biased too.....

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar Polls that asked the question one way -- explicitly linking the proposal to Trump's name -- have found higher support for the ban than polls that didn't make that link. Polling 101 says to avoid priming respondents in this way for this exact reason.

This isn't hard, except for the hard-headed.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar Do you honestly not understand that by refusing to address my point you are only underscoring your own bias? Or do you just not care?

bendedknee
bendedknee

@Kyle_Wingfield @Hedley_Lammar The issue is not whether they should be let in  but as Trump insinuated "figuring out what is going on" when they are being screened for entry or reentry. If his comments and the hysteria he created forced INS  to vett people like the two Jihadis in the picture more closely by looking at their web presence , Trump should take the credit. Sorry Hedley.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

let me ask you this 


Would it be fair to ask the candidates if they support a ban on Muslims entering the US during the debate tonight ?


Especially considering the runaway frontrunner is proposing just that 


Or would that be a "gotcha" question ?

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar "If they have its been very muted."

If it's seemed muted, it's because you need to watch something besides MSNBC and hearing people like Melissa Harris-Perry say Star Wars is racist because Darth Vader is black (although storm troopers are white ...)

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Hedley_Lammar “He’s a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn’t represent my party, and he doesn’t represent the values that our men and women in uniform are fighting for,” Graham told CNN


Is Graham wrong ?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Lets propose a hypothetical 


Can you imagine someone on the left proposing banning Muslims and having their support INCREASE.


I cant.


Must be Obama's fault

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar Well, the fact it's Obama's administration that OK'd the social media ban on visa applicants, a plainly bad policy, is enough to get people like you to defend it. So ...

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

"Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States generates little support, even among his fellow Republicans. Just 26% of Americans are in favor of this idea while 67% are opposed. Majorities of Democrats (83%), independents (64%), and Republicans (52%) oppose such a ban. In fact, only those voters who specifically support Trump for the GOP nomination favor such a ban (61% to 29% opposed). Among other Republicans and Republican-leaning voters, nearly 2-in-3 (65%) oppose a ban on Muslims entering the country, with only 26% in favor."

http://www.monmouth.edu/assets/0/32212254770/32212254991/32212254992/32212254994/32212254995/30064771087/bf47e045-654d-4fab-9b75-049c1925934f.pdf

As I wrote in a comment the other day, it is hard to separate support for Trump's Muslim ban from support for Trump himself. This poll is evidence of that -- and that the initial Bloomberg poll about the proposal was poorly done.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield A new poll conducted by Landmark/Rosetta Stone for Channel 2 Action News shows Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential field in Georgia by an even wider margin than he does nationally, with GOP voters overwhelmingly approving his plan to block Muslims from entering the U.S.


Makes you proud to be a Georgian dont it ?


Respondents were asked the following question about the Muslim ban: “Donald Trump has proposed prohibiting Muslims from entering the United States until stronger background checks can be employed. Others have argued that this would discriminate against people based on their religion. Do you generally support or oppose this proposal?”

Among Georgia Republican primary voters, a whopping 71.8 percent backed Trump, with 17.2 percent opposed.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar As I pointed out about the Bloomberg poll, the wording of that question primes people to respond a certain way. If you support Trump, you're going to answer that you support the ban. If you don't, you're less likely to.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar "You approve of one poll and not the other."

I know that's how you judge things, but not all of us are like you.

And I brought up the Bloomberg poll because it has the same problem as the Bloomberg poll.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar "So two polls that dont say what you want are rigged but one that still shows bias but isn't as bad is not"

Which other one still shows bias?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Kyle_Wingfield @Hedley_Lammar Id say this


 Majorities of Democrats (83%), independents (64%), and Republicans (52%) oppose such a ban.


Can you see that far fewer Republicans oppose a ban. Even in the one poll you like to cite. 


To me that still shows a GOP xenophobia Trump has clearly tapped into.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar "Can you see that far fewer Republicans oppose a ban. Even in the one poll you like to cite. "

Yes, because as the poll goes on to explain, people who support Trump support the ban. But because the poll was conducted in a way to avoid priming respondents (see comment below) it shows there's a difference between Trump-supporting Republicans and other Republicans. Other Republicans answer the question in basically the same way as independents -- or are you accusing independents of being xenophobes now, too?

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

As for holding the president responsible for Trump, let’s not forget that the reality-show host entered the 2016 contest as something of a joke. We’re not talking about “a literal unknown” taking advantage of lowered standards; we’re talking about a well-known celebrity who entered the race with roughly 3% support.


http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/conservative-pundit-blames-obama-trumps-rise


His numbers soared, however, when far-right voters liked what they heard from the candidate.
In other words when they heard about banning Muslims or deporting 11 million hispanics they loved it.
And that is Obama's fault ? You cant be serious.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar And as someone who operates solely inside his own little ideological silo, you wouldn't say anything else.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

The meme came to mind this morning reading Peggy Noonan’s latest Wall Street Journal column in which she blames the president for, of all things, Donald Trump’s rise as a Republican contender.


The only thing I feel certain of is how we got here [with Trump’s standing in GOP polls]. There are many reasons we’re at this moment, but the essential political one is this: Mr. Obama lowered the bar. He was a literal unknown, an obscure former state legislator who hadn’t completed his single term as U.S. senator, but he was charismatic, canny, compelling. He came from nowhere and won it all twice. All previously prevailing standards, all usual expectations, were thrown out the window. Anyone can run for president now….

http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/conservative-pundit-blames-obama-trumps-rise

Possibly the genesis for Kyle's Trump is Obama's fault crapola.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Hedley_Lammar

With all the pretzel twisting that goes on, I'll bet the conservative movement makes Auntie Anne quite proud.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Hedley_Lammar Just because you parrot all your ideas from others, that doesn't mean I do.

Look, I realize you disagree with the vast majority of Americans and think Obama has everything under control regarding terrorism, ISIS, etc. But if you had a shred of intellectual honesty, you would recognize that one doesn't have to agree with Trump to see his message resonates with those who think Obama isn't getting the job done.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

Calling Islamic extremism a disease, Saudi Arabia has announced the formation of a coalition of 34 predominately Muslim nations to fight terrorism.


"This announcement comes from the Islamic world's vigilance in fighting this disease so it can be a partner, as a group of countries, in the fight against this disease," Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman said.


Think they would be doing that if we were over there taking bullets for them ? 


Thanks President Obama

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

Blaming Obama for the Trump hell the GOP finds itself stuck in. Was bound to happen.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Eye wonder Nature abhors a vaccum, and politics abhors a leadership vacuum, which is what we have. If people were more assured the Obama administration has everything handled, they wouldn't give Trump an ear. This is an obvious observation to make.

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Eye wonder Kyle is up to about once a week now.


Its only going to get worse.


If Republicans want to know who is responsible for Trump they should look in the mirror. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Eye wonder And the notion that 30-40% of the GOP electorate are "racists, xenophobes and anti-semites" is almost entirely a creation of lazy progressivists.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Kyle_Wingfield @Eye wonder

Again, you're putting words in my mouth.  If Trump really appeals to 30 - 40% of the GOP electorate, you guys are in a heap of trouble. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@Eye wonder @Kyle_Wingfield And the notion that 30-40% of the GOP electorate are "racists, xenophobes and anti-semites" is almost entirely a creation of lazy progressivists.


That is about the same percentage ( 43 % )  that thnk Obama is a Muslim. Coincidence. Hardly.


Dont forget Trumps birther roots either. 


That 30 to 40 percent number is embarrassing but pretty damn accurate.


Sorry Kyle. Own it. 

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Eye wonder That's his percentage in the national polls, and you left no other possible rationale for his popularity. So I hardly think I put words in your mouth. 

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Kyle_Wingfield @Eye wonder

I know what his percentages are today. I was implying that you should be hoping the real support he gets (ie, when actual votes are cast) is much lower than that.  

It is extraordinarily disingenuous to blame Obama for Trump.  We can reasonably disagree on many things, but not this.  The GOP needs to own the Trump (and Cruz, frankly) mess that it has created.  

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Kyle_Wingfield @Eye wonder

Another obvious observation to make is that Trump appeals to racists, xenophobes and anti-semites.  

The Trump phenomenon is almost entirely a creation of modern conservatism itself, from the intellectual élites as personified by Bill Kristol, to inside-the-beltway 'leaders' like Boehner and McConnell, to TP crazies like Palin, Bachmann and now Cruz.

The sooner conservatives are able to look in the mirror - really look, not just pay lip service to an autopsy commissioned in response to an electoral thumping - the better off we'll all be.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Eye wonder I think his real support will be lower. Probably no higher than 20% if I had to guess, and only a fraction of that will be for any reason one could even distort into being about "racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism." And what is "extraordinarily disingenuous" is to say I "blame Obama for Trump," full stop. The only way I've made that argument is with regard to ISIS and terrorism.

Kyle_Wingfield
Kyle_Wingfield moderator

@Eye wonder "virtually anything"

Sigh. The context is pretty clearly in regard to the Muslim ban, since the "saying the things he says" links specifically to a post about that. But if you weren't clear about that before, consider this  a clarification.

DownInAlbany
DownInAlbany

Even after multiple Obama administration officials publically acknowledged that ISIS is using social media as a primary recruiting tool, they refuse to use social media in the vetting process for immigrants.  This is what a picture of gross incompetence looks like.