National Security & Defense

It’s Time to Get Serious about Screening Terrorists


Earlier this month, two terrorists, Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook, managed to conduct one of the deadliest Islamic-terrorist attacks on American soil since September 11, 2001, murdering 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. They were facilitated at nearly every step by a grossly negligent government that prioritized cultural sensitivity over national security.

It is now widely known that Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani native who grew up in Saudi Arabia, was welcomed into the United States in 2014 on a K-1 visa — even though the Pakistan home address she listed on her visa application did not exist, and despite a Homeland Security Department counterterrorism screening. Now it emerges that a years-long secret policy has prohibited immigration officials from reviewing the social-media accounts of immigration applicants — meaning that, by government policy, a Wendy’s manager has more resources to evaluate candidates for friturier than immigration authorities have to evaluate visa applicants — and that the policy has been kept in place for fear of causing the White House “bad public relations,” according to a former senior DHS official. While this may not have caught Malik — the FBI now denies that she penned social-media posts sympathetic to jihadism prior to her immigration — it is mind-numbingly irresponsible.

RELATED: Tashfeen Malik’s Jihadist Social-Media Posts Were Deliberately Ignored by the Feds

The administration’s policies have proven equally inane when evaluating potential threats from persons already inside our borders. DHS and the National Counterterrorism Center recently compiled a list of dos and don’ts in an effort to “bring together best practices in Countering Violent Extremism training.” Among said best practices is to avoid “generaliz[ing] about appearance, national origin or other similar characters in an attempt to identity ‘indicators’ or ‘types’ of people likely to carry out acts of violent extremism.” In other words, while it’s obvious that our violent-extremism problem is not coming from fair-haired Swedes, paying more attention to Mohammed from Mosul than to Sven from Stockholm is a no-no. Notably, the list, previously available online, has been taken down.

RELATED: The Families and Friends of the Terrorists Know About Their Radicalization

But DHS is, apparently, serious about the list. Writing in The Hill this week, Philip Haney, a retired 13-year Homeland Security veteran, alleged that a year-long National Targeting Center project to identity individuals and institutions that posed threats was shut down “at the request of the Department of State and DHS’ own Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Division,” who “claimed that since the Islamist groups in question were not Specially Designated Terrorist Organizations (SDTOs) tracking individuals related to these groups was a violation of the travelers’ civil liberties.” According to Haney, the investigation, which began in 2012 and was cut off a year later, had identified as sources of radical activity the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah Mosque in Riverside, Calif., among whose worshippers was Syed Farook, and the Pakistani women’s school al-Huda, where Malik was a student (and which has a history of graduating Islamic State brides). “The combination of Farook’s involvement with the Dar Al Uloom Al Islamiyah Mosque and Malik’s attendance at al-Huda would have indicated, at minimum, an urgent need for comprehensive screening,” Haney says. “It could also have led to denial of Malik’s K-1 visa or possibly gotten Farook placed on the No Fly list.”

#share#Yet neither of these things happened, because the current administration — based on this evidence, at least — is more interested in signaling openness to the outsider than in effectively scrutinizing suspicious individuals for potential security threats. So clear is that message that Americans have even been persuaded to downplay their own security; we ought not forget about the neighbor who was suspicious of goings-on at the Farook household but refused to call the police for fear of being smeared as a bigot.

In light of all of this, is it any wonder that the White House pressured the FBI not to call the San Bernardino attacks terrorism?

#related#We have called on Congress, on several occasions, to reassert its authority, particularly in the realm of oversight. Representatives Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) and Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), both members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, have written to DHS demanding that the agency release all documents related to Tashfeen Malik. That is a good start. But the relevant congressional committees should exercise every ounce of constitutional muscle to determine exactly what went wrong in San Bernardino, and why. And they should demand reforms that put the safety of American citizens first. One such reform, a vital one, is to reject the Obama administration’s misconception that, because the First Amendment protects radical ideology and fiery speech from prosecution, the Constitution shields people who espouse such ideologies or engage in such speech from police suspicion. That is especially so when those people are aliens who are seeking admission to the United States and thus are not endowed with the same constitutional protections that Americans enjoy. Our national-security agents cannot protect us from harmful conduct if they have to wait until it happens to start investigating.

Political correctness doesn’t kill. But our enemies have realized that they can use it to their advantage, and as long as we prioritize warm feelings over national security, political correctness will continue to make killing American citizens a whole lot easier.

The Editors — The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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