Reuters is reporting that, under the U.S. Visa Security Program, U.S. authorities in Pakistan could have requested a Security Assessment Opinion (SAO) of 27-year-old San Bernardino shooter Tafsheen Malik before granting her fiance (or K-1) visa in 2014, but they chose not to do so because nothing in her routine background checks raised any suspicion. The San Bernardino tragedy has prompted heightened scrutiny of the K-1 visa process and its ability to adequately assess individuals who pose a possible security threat to the U.S.
Prior to being granted a visa, San Bernardino attacker Tafsheen Malik underwent national security and criminal background checks performed by Homeland Security, U.S. spy agencies, and the State Department. In addition, as reported by the The New York Times, she was interviewed by a U.S. immigration officer who was located in the U.S. and a U.S. consulate who was located in Pakistan before being given a green card.
Time reports that the San Bernardino shooter messaged friends on Facebook and expressed a desire to become a jihad fighter. Law enforcement officials investigating the case state that she sent at least two messages, each to a small group of friends. Because it is not currently part of the background check performed as part of the K-1 visa vetting process, Malik’s social media activity was not examined.
In response to concerns about the San Bernardino attacker making it through the K-1 vetting process, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest stated,
“Somebody entered the United States through the K-1 visa program and proceeded to carry out an act of terrorism on American soil. That program is at a minimum worth a very close look.”
Officials reported to CNN that the San Bernardino shooter did not use her real name on social media, however, and had privacy settings on her social media accounts that would have made it difficult to see even if an effort had been made to do so.
Representative Jim Langevin (D-Rhode Island), member of the House Homeland Security Committee stated that:
“Everyone’s asking the same questions about how it is… that they could have flown under the radar and nothing gave an indication that they were a threat.”
Malik and her husband, U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook, had a large amount of weapons and ammunition in their home, prompting suspicions that they had plans to carry out further attacks in addition to the one that took place in San Bernardino early this month. People who knew them describe them as strict Muslims who kept to themselves. Tafsheen reportedly always wore traditional clothing that covered her face. Male relatives had never seen her face.
The New York Times reports that the guns used in the San Bernardino attack were obtained legally. The Wall Street Journal reports they were purchased over three years ago. California gun laws were, ironically, created with the intention of banning assault weapons and are considered among the most strict in the country. The semi-automatic weapons used in the San Bernardino attack are variants of the AR-15, the civilian version of the military M-16. There are regulations associated with these weapons that are intended to minimize the possibility of their use for mass injury, but working around these regulations is fairly easy by modifying the weapon after purchase. Among the weaponry and ammunition discovered at the home of San Bernardino attackers were at least four high-capacity (and illegal) magazines and over a thousand rounds of ammunition.
The San Bernardino attack was carried out at the Inland Regional Center that provides services and programs to those with developmental disabilities. It is the worst terror attack since the 9/11 tragedy. Fourteen people were killed and 21 injured.
[Image courtesy of Sean Hafley/Getty Images]