Daesh (ISIS) is waging digital war and the Department of Homeland Security refuses to look at an applicant’s digital footprint. That seems smart.

But that’s not even the worst part. DHS kept the no social media policy in place for fear of “bad public relations.”

Terrorist attacks on the homeland? Meh. We can’t peruse a Mrs. San Bernardino Terrorist’s Twitter feed because that might look bad!


ABC News reported on this latest Obama administration fail:

Fearing a civil liberties backlash and “bad public relations” for the Obama administration, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson refused in early 2014 to end a secret U.S. policy that prohibited immigration officials from reviewing the social media messages of all foreign citizens applying for U.S. visas, a former senior department official said.

“During that time period immigration officials were not allowed to use or review social media as part of the screening process,” John Cohen, a former acting under-secretary at DHS for intelligence and analysis. Cohen is now a national security consultant for ABC News.

One current and one former senior counter-terrorism official confirmed Cohen’s account about the refusal of DHS to change its policy about the public social media posts of all foreign applicants.

Secret policy.” Not any more!

Amazingly, it’s Sen. Schumer (D-NY) making a fuss over DHS’s “secret policy.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., demanded Sunday that the U.S. immediately initiate a program that would check the social media sites of those admitted on visas.”

“Had they checked out Tashfeen Malik,” the senator said, “maybe those people in San Bernardino would be alive.”

Despite agency support for checking social media accounts, there’s still no policy in place:

Former DHS under-secretary Cohen said he and others pressed hard for just such a policy change in 2014 that would allow a review of publicly-posted social media messages as terror group followers increasingly used Twitter and Facebook to show their allegiance to a variety of jihadist groups.

Cohen said officials from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) both pressed for a change in policy.

“Immigration, security, law enforcement officials recognized at the time that it was important to more extensively review public social media postings because they offered potential insights into whether somebody was an extremist or potentially connected to a terrorist organization or a supporter of the movement,” said Cohen, who left DHS in June 2014.

Cohen said he and others were deeply disappointed that the senior leadership would not approve a review of what were publicly-posted online messages.

“There is no excuse for not using every resource at our disposal to fully vet individuals before they come to the United States,” Cohen said.

After getting busted by ABC News, DHS says they’re reviewing policy that would include social media vetting. Which is bureaucratic speak for, “Crap, what should we do?! I know, let’s say we’re currently reviewing policy.”

A spokesperson for the DHS, Marsha Catron, told ABC News that months after Cohen left, in the fall of 2014, the Department began three pilot programs to include social media in vetting, but current officials say that it is still not a widespread policy. A review of the broader policy is already underway, the DHS said.

It’s unclear exactly when the “no social media viewing” policy began.

Not mentioned in the ABC News report (from which other reports on this subject are derived) is what this policy might look like and how it could change the role of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

USCIS adjudicates petitions based on information included in a filing. Electronic name match systems, the FBI, and other biometric match systems are used to cross-check applying foreign nationals. Presumably, a social media check would involve creating a new screening entity that the certifying USCIS agent can kick information to.

Counter-terrorism specialists are as flabbergasted as the rest of us:

A former senior counter-terrorism official, who participated in the 2014 discussion, said, “Why the State Department and Homeland Security Department have not leveraged the power of social media is beyond me.”

“They felt looking at public postings [of foreign U.S. visa applicants] was an invasion of their privacy,” the official told ABC News. “The arguments being made were, and are still, in bad faith.”

And all because DHS was afraid of bad publicity. The irony here is not lost on me.

Follow Kemberlee on Twitter @kemberleekaye


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.