Time for Targeted Screening ...

...  not political correctness.

Americans were rightly outraged earlier this week when it was revealed that DHS officials had failed to check social media postings before granting permanent residency to the woman who, along with her radicalized husband, would mount their own jihad and murder 14 innocent people in San Bernadino, California on 2 December 2015.

Tashfeen Malik had gained entry to the U.S. in 2014 through a visa program that expedites processing for persons who will be marrying an American spouse, which in this case was Syed Farook the other San Bernadino mass murderer. It is now reported that Malik and Farook had extensive jihadist-supporting social media postings with each other and may have actually met online while championing jihad.

Malik was a Pakistani national who had spent many years in Saudi Arabia. Both are recognized as countries where Islamic extremism flourishes. Had DHS officials used their legal authority, they may have discovered these alarming postings as well as her attending an extremist madrassa (which also runs a school in Mississauga), giving a false address, and that her intended husband had previous connections to identified Islamic extremists involved in a 2012 jihadi plot. Most people would call those ‘clues’.

What’s even more alarming is that, thanks to internal leaks, we now know that the decision not to conduct social media checks was a deliberate policy direction given to officers by the Obama administration and DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. Screeners were specifically instructed not to seek social media information that related to religious views even though extremist Islam is the undeniable motivator of Islamic terrorism. This ‘look the other way’ approach is, however, entirely consistent with the Obama administration’s politically correct approach to Islamic terrorism that is now undermining the security of Americans.

Added to this, apparently, was a ‘concern’ that checking social media postings, albeit with defined immigration criteria and purpose, might be seen as a ‘privacy’ concern and thus to be avoided. Suffice to say, bad things happen when political correctness and bureaucratic risk aversion are prioritized over public safety.

So what about Canada? How are we handling this screening issue? Originally Canada’s new Immigration Minister said that the 25K Syrian refugees could be security screened after they arrived in Canada. Fortunately, Canadians and the Conservative opposition made it clear that this blatant political position created a significant security risk which caused the government to change its approach.

Social media is a part of the modern world and Islamic extremists and jihadis have a demonstrable history of using it to radicalize, recruit and indeed facilitate terrorism. That’s why the former government included special measures in C-51 for law enforcement to get court orders to take down such sites and to enable prosecution of persons who advocate the commission of terrorism offences. The Trudeau government has promised to amend C-51 but hopefully recent events will demonstrate that these measures are a necessary part of an effective counter terrorism strategy, whether Barack Obama likes it or not.     

This reminds me of the immediate aftermath of 9-11 when the Ontario government crafted an intelligence-led ‘Security Perimeter Strategy’ to improve joint Canada-US border security and trade. The Liberal federal government of the day refused to engage in the discussion because, for political reasons, they rejected the concept of ‘perimeter security’. I saw firsthand the potential dangers when politics or political correctness trump pragmatics, and we need to remain vigilant against this today.

Targeted screening is a critical part of our immigration process – especially in today’s environment that includes religious motivated threats and the the use of social media. Hopefully our new Government will accept these hard truths and choose a different strategy than what has now been revealed by the San Bernadino terrorist attacks. And for those ‘sunny way’ folks who question why this is necessary, the answer is simple. Because it’s 2015.   

Scott Newark is a former Alberta Crown Prosecutor who has also served as Executive Officer to the Canadian Police Association, Director of Operations to the Washington D.C.-based Investigative Project on Terrorism and as a Security Policy Advisor to the Governments of Ontario and Canada.