“The San Bernardino terrorist, the female terrorist, posted publicly on social media a call to jihad. The Obama administration refused to look at social media because they didn’t think it would be politically correct to look at social media.”
–Sen. Ted Cruz, interview on CNN, March 23, 2016
“If you look at the San Bernardino terrorists, the female terrorist had publicly posted on social media calls to jihad. And yet the Obama administration, in yet another nod to political correctness, refused to even to look to social media.”
–Cruz, interview on Fox News, March 22, 2016
“It’s not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks. It is political correctness. We didn’t monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS thought it would be inappropriate. She made a public call to jihad, and they didn’t target it.”
–Cruz, Republican debate on CNN, Dec. 15, 2015
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In the wake of the Islamic State-connected terrorist attacks on Brussels, Cruz resurfaced a claim he made during a presidential debate several months ago. Cruz criticized the “lack of proactive policing directed at radical Islamist terrorism,” such as patrolling Muslim neighborhoods and monitoring social media postings that indicate radicalization.
Cruz said in several radio and television interviews in the days following the Brussels attacks that the Obama administration had failed to monitor the public call to jihad on social media by one of the two killers in the Dec. 2, 2015, mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. The couple died in a shootout with police.
Did Tashfeen Malik, the female shooter in the San Bernardino attack, declare a public call to jihad on social media that the administration refused to investigate?
Malik met her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, online in 2013. She moved to the United States from Pakistan after getting married to Farook, a U.S. citizen. Malik and Farook were radicalized long before the December 2015 attack, and predated the rise of the Islamic State in 2014.
On Dec. 2, 2015, Malik published a Facebook post under an assumed name on behalf of the couple just as the attacks started. The post read, “We pledge allegiance” to Khalifah Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Al Qurashi, the leader of the Islamic State. Facebook confirmed the account belonging to Malik and took down the profile page and post the day after the shooting.
Cruz’s campaign did not respond to our request for comment, but cited this Facebook post to Buzzfeed as the source of his latest claims following the Brussels attacks.
Two days after the shooting, FBI Director James Comey said the couple’s activities were of “no such significance that it raised these killers up on to our radar screen” prior to the shooting.
Cruz has said since December 2015 that Malik posted her call to jihad publicly on Facebook. To be fair, there were inaccurate reports in the two-week period following the shooting that such a public post existed.
The New York Times had reported on Dec. 13, 2015, that Malik “talked openly about jihad on social media before she applied for a visa to come to the United States.” This revelation drew swift criticism from Congress and presidential candidates. But that claim turned out to be inaccurate, as an editors’ note now describes at the end of the article.
On Dec. 16, 2015, Comey called such reports “a garble,” saying that the calls to jihad were made in private messages and email communications that were not easily accessible to federal law enforcement. In such private communications, the couple expressed their joint commitment to jihad and to martyrdom, Comey said.
“So far in this investigation, we have found no evidence of posting on social media by either of them, at that period of time and thereafter, reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom,” Comey said.
“We don’t intercept the communications of Americans. . .without predication, without probable cause or belief that they are involved in terrorism or serious criminal activity,” Comey continued. “If we don’t know anything about somebody we are not combing through their emails or direct messages.”
The FBI did not have any new information to provide to The Fact Checker on March 24, 2016, and stood by Comey’s statements made during the Dec. 16, 2015, news conference.
Cruz refers to the Obama administration’s, particularly the Department of Homeland Security’s, refusal to review Malik’s public social media post of jihad because of “political correctness.”
DHS has guidelines to consult social media in the immigration process, but DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said the existing policies “were too restrictive.” Johnson said he authorized pilot programs in 2015 to incorporate more social media into the visa vetting process.
Since then, DHS and Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have started a Social Media Task Force to review the use of social media in the DHS vetting process, an agency spokesperson said. USCIS is now finalizing a plan to broaden the use of social media as a vetting tool.
DHS also uses social media in several components of the agency’s operation. For example, Customs and Border Protection uses publicly available information, including social media, to assess risk presented by targeted travelers and shipments.
Malik had passed background checks during her fiancee visa application process, which did not flag her extremist views. But even if immigration officials had culled her public social media activity, they likely would not have come across private emails and messages between the couple about their commitment to jihad or martyrdom.
Cruz first began making this claim in the days following the attack, saying the female San Bernardino shooter had publicly declared a call for jihad on Facebook, which the Obama Administration refused to investigate out of political correctness. Whether the decision by the administration not to review public social media postings for visas was out of “political correctness” is a matter of opinion, and can’t be fact-checked. But even if Malik’s public social media activity were vetted, it would not have surfaced private messages and emails between Malik and Farook about jihad and martyrdom. Plus, Malik used Facebook under an assumed name, further making it more difficult to track her social media activities.
Two weeks after the shooting, the FBI director clarified that there were no calls to jihad and martyrdom in publicly posted social media messages by Malik. It has been more than three months since then, and Cruz really has no excuse to continue repeating this falsehood unless he has some exclusive insight into the FBI’s investigation that has not been shared publicly. Malik did publish a post on Facebook on behalf of herself and her husband, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State leader – but this post was published just after the mass shooting began.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Michelle Ye Hee Lee