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US Lawmakers Criticize Visa Officials for Not Vetting Social Media

  • Cindy Saine

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, left, confers with committee member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Dec. 17, 2015.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, left, confers with committee member Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Dec. 17, 2015.

U.S. Homeland Security officials came under tough questioning Thursday at a congressional hearing for not having a widespread policy to vet the social media accounts of those seeking a visa to come to the United States.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held the hearing in response to the San Bernardino, California, shooting that left 14 people dead and 22 injured. One of the attackers, Pakistani-born Tashfeen Malik, had come to the United States on the K-1 fiancée visa program.

Republican Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz asked why U.S. authorities could not have prevented the San Bernardino massacre from happening: "It was pretty clear now, looking back, that it was well known among her [Tashfeen Malik's] friends and family that she supported violent jihad against the United States."

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined in the criticism.

Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Homeland Security Department, right, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 17, 2015.

Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services at the Homeland Security Department, right, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 17, 2015.

Democratic Representative Stephen Lynch said even though alleged shooter Tashfeen Malik's communications about jihad were not posted openly on Facebook as had been originally reported, but were sent via private messages, authorities should have been vetting visa applicants a lot more thoroughly.

"We should have gotten that anyway," he said. "We should have said, we want your social media, your private stuff and your public stuff. That's entirely reasonable to ask people coming from countries that we know are sponsoring terrorism. Why aren't we doing that?"

Pilot programs vet social media

Speaking for the Obama administration, Leon Rodriguez, Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, insisted that homeland security officials have already begun vetting visa applicants' social media posts in three pilot projects.

"In fact, the third of the pilots — we are talking about small numbers — the third of the pilots actually is being applied to thousands of individuals,” he said. “I won't go into detail beyond that, because I don't want to tip people off as to what we might be looking at."

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But this did not satisfy members of the committee.

"It needs to not just be pilot programs,” said Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu. “It needs to be a policy of our government to look at social media."

President Barack Obama said Thursday that U.S. officials are seeking to learn from the San Bernardino tragedy, and are reviewing the K-1 fiancée visa program.

The president went to the National Counterterrorism Center in Virginia to get a briefing from his national security team. He again sought to assure Americans that there is no specific, credible threat of a planned terrorist attack at this time, but asked them to remain vigilant.

Obama is traveling to San Bernardino on Friday to meet privately with families of victims of the attacks.

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