A whoa moment here: FBI Director James B. Comey today told the media that the suspected assailants in the San Bernardino, Calif., massacre — Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik — wrote private messages to each other stating support for jihad. However: “So far, in this investigation we have found no evidence of posting on social media by either of them at that period in time and thereafter reflecting their commitment to jihad or to martyrdom. I’ve seen some reporting on that, and that’s a garble,” Comey said at a media availability during an event in New York City.
A garble, huh?
Here’s the headline on a New York Times story that appeared on page A1 on Sunday: “Visa Screening Missed an Attacker’s Zealotry on Social Media.” The story was straightforward, noting that three immigration checks for Malik had missed something critical: “None uncovered what Ms. Malik had made little effort to hide — that she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad,” wrote Matt Apuzzo, Michael S. Schmidt and Julia Preston. The reporting is sourced to “American law enforcement officials,” and the existence of these postings is the centerpiece of the article.
“Had the authorities found the posts years ago, they might have kept her out of the country,” reads the story. “But immigration officials do not routinely review social media as part of their background checks, and there is a debate inside the Department of Homeland Security over whether it is even appropriate to do so.”
In a Wednesday article on Comey’s remarks, the New York Times writes, “The New York Times reported on Sunday that Ms. Malik had talked openly about jihad on social media before she applied for a visa to come to the United States. While those remarks were made online, Mr. Comey said, they were ‘direct private messages’ and not easily accessed. Nevertheless, the F.B.I. was able to obtain them in the days since the attacks.”
The Los Angeles Times, in a Monday article, alleged that Malik had “sent at least two private messages on Facebook to a small group of Pakistani friends in 2012 and 2014, pledging her support for Islamic jihad and saying she hoped to join the fight one day,” according to the report from Richard A. Serrano. That tidbit is sourced to “two top federal law enforcement officials.” Again, the information is deployed to question the competency of U.S. anti-terrorism officials. “The new details indicate U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies missed warnings on social media that Malik was a potential threat before she entered the United States on a K-1 fiancee visa in July 2014,” writes Serrano, who notes that FBI agents “recovered” the messages.
These reports set fire to the news system. All sorts of follow-up reports surfaced. And straight into the political arena it went. “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.”
That quote came from Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) at Tuesday’s CNN debate in Las Vegas.
Police have said that Malik wrote a Facebook post pledging allegiance to the Islamic State on the day of the attack, though Comey’s statement Wednesday addressed earlier alleged social media activity.
A rep for the Los Angeles Times said the newspaper has no immediate comment on the discrepancy because the newsroom is busy reporting on it.
Updated to include mention of Wednesday’s New York Times story on Comey’s remarks.