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DHS Didn’t Check Social Media During Visa Screening In Order To Avoid Bad PR

- December 18, 2015

In 2011, Top Homeland Security Officials Passed On A Plan That Would Have Strengthened The Security Screenings For Visa Applicants' Social Media Accounts. "Top officials at the Department of Homeland Security considered a specific policy to strengthen security screenings for foreign visa applicants' social media accounts, but the proposal was ultimately not adopted, according to an internal department memo obtained by MSNBC. …The federal government considered that policy, according to a former senior official in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), but officials passed on it in 2011." (Ari Melber and Safia Same Ali, "Exclusive: Homeland Security Passed On Plan To Vet Visa Applicants' Social Media," MSNBC, 12/17/15)

  • The Plan Suggested The Obama Administration "'Authorize' Customs Officials To 'Access Social Networking Sites' To Vet Applicants," Which Could Aid In Catching Individuals Who Could Present "National Security" Risks. "While the U.S. visa screening process does not include formal vetting of social media accounts, the memo proposed the Obama administration 'authorize' customs officials to 'access social networking sites' to vet applicants. Such vetting could help catch applicants bent on fraud, crime or 'national security' risks, the memo stated." (Ari Melber and Safia Same Ali, "Exclusive: Homeland Security Passed On Plan To Vet Visa Applicants' Social Media," MSNBC, 12/17/15)

Former Senior DHS Official: "We Are At War Now… And We Need All The Tools We Can Get." "'I thought it was a done deal,' said the former official, who would only speak anonymously about internal security discussions. The memo went through roughly a year of revisions with agency lawyers, privacy officers and senior staff, the official added, and was about to be published as policy - but was then halted by senior officials. … 'We are at war now,' the official added, 'and we need all the tools we can get.'" (Ari Melber and Safia Same Ali, "Exclusive: Homeland Security Passed On Plan To Vet Visa Applicants' Social Media," MSNBC, 12/17/15)

After A 2014 Discussion, The Department Of Homeland Security Refused To Lift A Secret Program That Prevented Agents From Looking At The Social Media Of Visa Applicants. "Fearing a civil liberties backlash and 'bad public relations for the Obama administration, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson refused in early 2014 to end the secret U.S. policy that prohibited immigration officials from reviewing the social media messages of all foreign citizens applying for U.S. visas, according to a former senior department official. … Cohen said the issue reached a head at a heated 2014 meeting chaired by Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, other top deputies and representatives of the DHS Office of Civil Liberties and the Office of Privacy."(Brian Ross, Rhonda Schwartz, James Gordon Meek, and Josh Margolin, "Secret US Policy Blocks Agents From Looking At Social Media Of Visa Applicants, Former Official Says," ABC News, 12/14/15)

Obama's Department Of Homeland Security Failed To Check Social Media During The Visa Screening Process In An Effort To Avoid "Embarrassing" Publicity. BRIAN ROSS: "Now, ABC News has learned that a secret U.S. policy prevented immigration investigators last year from looking for Tashfeen Malik's extensive social media messages that the FBI says included talk of jihad and martyrdom." JOHN COHEN: "During that time period, immigration officials were not allowed to use or view social media as part of the screening process." ROSS: "A former Homeland Security official John Cohen, now an ABC News consultant, says immigration officials asked Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson for new policies last year to allow them to look at applicants social media public posts but were opposed by the Department's Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties." COHEN: "The primary concern was that it would be viewed negatively if disclosed publicly and there were concerns that it would be embarrassing." ROSS: "Malik received her fiancé visa last year in just three weeks, with no check done for whether she had any online messages in support of terrorism." [CLIP] SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: "Had they checked her out more, Tashfeen Malik a little more, maybe she wouldn't have got a visa. Maybe those people in San Bernardino would be alive." ROSS: "In a statement to ABC News this morning, the Department of Homeland Security says it has now started three pilot programs to search the social media of visa applicants but insiders this morning say it's still not a widespread policy and a major impediment." (ABC's " Good Morning America," 12/14/15)

  • Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY): "Had They Checked Her Out More, Tashfeen Malik A Little More, Maybe She Wouldn't Have Got A Visa. Maybe Those People In San Bernardino Would Be Alive." [CLIP] SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER: "Had they checked her out more, Tashfeen Malik a little more, maybe she wouldn't have got a visa. Maybe those people in San Bernardino would be alive." ROSS: "In a statement to ABC News this morning, the Department of Homeland Security says it has now started three pilot programs to search the social media of visa applicants but insiders this morning say it's still not a widespread policy and a major impediment." (ABC's "Good Morning America," 12/14/15)

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