Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Report: U.S. doesn't review social media posts by visa applicants

One reason Donald Trump gets away with saying the things he says is the foil he has in the Obama administration, whose incompetence in various areas creates an opening for virtually anything to sound better to at least some people. That's the proper context for reading this report from ABC News :

"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.

"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.

"The revelation comes as members of Congress question why U.S. officials failed to review the social media posts of San Bernardino terrorist Tashfeen Malik. She received a U.S. visa in May 2014, despite what the FBI said were extensive social media messages about jihad and martyrdom.

"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.'"

It is astonishing that an administration that has resorted to social-media hashtag campaigns against such barbarians as the Boko Haram terrorists in western Africa, and which has pointed to the recruiting success ISIS has had on social media , would refuse to consider social media as even one source of information about people seeking entry to this country. It not only undermines the notion that the federal government is doing everything it can to prevent terrorists or terrorist sympathizers from entering the U.S. It calls into question what the administration's real priorities are, given the reasons ABC reports for the position against reviewing visa applicants' social-media posts, especially "bad public relations."

Well, the administration deserves some terrible public relations for acknowledging it ignores this information.

As anyone with a degree of awareness about the world should know, social-media posts are used as clues by everyone from employers to potential dates. The idea that reviewing what someone has posted online publicly would be considered an invasion of privacy is another example of the absurdity of our bureaucracy and a willful ignorance about the actual meanings of words.

Could such a policy be abused? Sure. Officials could decide not to allow, say, Israelis who tweeted support for Bibi Netanyahu. That doesn't mean this couldn't be a valuable tool when used properly. Nor should a couple of legitimately worrisome social-media posts be enough to block someone from getting a visa. But they should prompt a deeper vetting of that person than would otherwise be done.

If Trump is often seriously dangerous, the Obama administration can be dangerously unserious.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.