The New York Times reported that Malik, a Pakistani woman who moved to the U.S. with a fiancée visa in May 2014, "had made little effort to hide" her support of violent jihad, and her desire to be a part of it.
This activity was quickly uncovered by the FBI shortly after Malik and her American-citizen husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, killed 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino.Of three background checks conducted by immigration officials during the visa process, none uncovered Malik's activity on social media.
"Had the authorities found the posts years ago, they might have kept her out of the country. But immigration officials do not routinely review social media as part of their background checks, and there is a debate inside the Department of Homeland Security over whether it is even appropriate to do so," wrote the Times.
On Monday, ABC News reported that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson refused around that same time to end a secret Obama administration policy that prohibited officials from reviewing the social media accounts of visa applicants.
"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.
The question of reviewing applicants' social media accounts was a topic of debate in the DHS, and was consistently opposed by the DHS Office of Civil Liberties and the Office of Privacy.
"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 a recent interview. He disagreed with the prohibition.
"There is no excuse for not using every resource at our disposal to fully vet individuals before they come to the United States," he explained.
On Sunday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, demanded that the U.S. create a new policy that allows officials to check the social media accounts of visa applicants.
"Had they checked out Tashfeen Malik," the senator said, "maybe those people in San Bernardino would be alive."
In response to revelations about the background checks of Malik, DHS spokesperson Marsha Catron said that since the fall of 2014, the department created three pilot programs that include social media review in the vetting process.
A review of the broader policy is said to be underway.
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