This week ABC News reported that U.S. officials have not been taking the common sense measure of reviewing the social media accounts of visa applicants. To the contrary, allegedly fearing a public relations backlash and “bad public relations,” in 2014 Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson decided to continue a secret U.S. government policy that kept immigration officials from reviewing the social media accounts of visa applicants.
The admission of such a policy comes on the heels of cries from lawmakers for answers as to how the signs of radicalization of K-1 visa recipient and San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik were missed, despite online postings to friends declaring her support for radical Islam. In response, State Department spokesperson John Kirby said, “It’s difficult to say exactly what [went wrong]and how, but for an individual to be able to come into this country – one who the FBI has maintained had terrorist tendencies or affiliations or sympathies at least for a couple years, and then to propagate an attack like that on our own soil, obviously, I think it’s safe to say there’s going to be lessons learned here.”
Perhaps one lesson is that the Obama administration needs to spend as much time worrying about what foreign nationals seeking to enter the country are saying as its own citizens of different ideological beliefs. To be sure, the recent admission by Obama administration officials that it was not reviewing the social media accounts of foreign nationals seeking to come to the U.S. flies in stark contrast to how it has treated U.S. citizens who dare to disagree with its policy preferences. Nearly four years ago, FAIR reported on the administration’s monitoring of media and social media relating to the Department of Homeland Security. In fact, a 2011 DHS manual instructed analysts to monitor social networks like Twitter and Facebook and to produce reports on policy debates related to the department. According to the guide, DHS directed its analysts to identify and monitor “media reports that reflect adversely on DHS,” and track reports on the administration’s “policy changes” in immigration and the term “illegal immigration” in particular.
Despite the rise then of radical Islam and calls for attacking the West, the administration apparently thought it more prudent to monitor Joe the Plumber’s Twitter account for the term “illegal alien.” At least some in the administration had the gumption to try to change this asinine politically-charged policy (not that anyone actually listened). John Cohen, a former acting undersecretary at the Department of Homeland Security for intelligence and analysis, told ABC News that despite pressing the issue of reviewing the social media accounts of immigration applicants, the DHS 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. “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.
As a result of San Bernardino, the administration is allegedly considering changing its policy. To allay our fears, DHS spokesperson Marsha Catron told reporters that the Department is “actively considering additional ways to incorporate the use of social media review in its various vetting programs….” Well, I’m sure we will all sleep better knowing that DHS is actively considering reviewing the social media pages of those seeking to enter the U.S., while groups like the Islamic State actively consider attacking our country.