MSNBC’s Ari Melber reported on exclusively obtained documents Thursday morning revealing the Department of Homeland Security rejected a plan to check the social media posts of visa applicants in search of possible links to terrorism.
The documents, an internal department memo, show that top officials within the department were offered a strategy to strengthen security screenings for foreign visa applicants, but ultimately rejected the proposal in 2011.
The memo will call to question why DHS turned down the proposal in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack that killed 14 Americans. One of the shooters, Tashfeen Malik, advocated for terrorism in messages on social media before obtaining her visa to emigrate to the U.S. from Pakistan, leading many to call for an installation of social media vetting. Recent reports have found Malik used a pseudonym to express her desire to participate in violent jihad.
Melber reported that a former senior DHS official confirmed, "not only was this (social media vetting) not done, but people in the customs offices had firewalls that prevented them from accessing these sites."
"I thought it was a done deal," a former DHS official told Melber on condition of anonymity, adding he found the review process to be unusual. "We are at war now, and we need all the tools we can get."
One potential reason for not checking social media is DHS's privacy and civil liberty concerns. "Obviously, I think the headline is if this is OK to do now, which is what the administration is saying they are exploring, it is striking they couldn't get this done years ago and move forward."
Non-residents seeking entrance to the U.S. have no rights to privacy under U.S. law.
It is not clear who specifically rejected the plan. DHS did not dispute the memo obtained by MSNBC and claimed, "the Department is actively considering additional ways to incorporate the use of social media review."