According to Reuters, the FBI has now claimed that San Bernardino shooters Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik did not support Islamic terrorism on social media, but rather kept their extremist writings to email. Specifically, FBI director James Comey stated on Wednesday that, as best as the FBI can tell, the pair never posted support for jihadist acts of violence in Facebook messages, which is a major turnaround from what officials had been saying in recent weeks — just on Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that "two top federal law enforcement officials" had confirmed the Facebook angle, but now the head honcho of the Federal Bureau of Investigations has claimed the contrary.
In fact, Comey's remarks went even a bit further than that, as Reuters detailed — he also reiterated that there's no actual evidence yet of any prior organization or communication between the couple and terrorist groups overseas.
In other words, from an official perspective, this is a big brake-pumping moment on the part of the FBI. You wouldn't have thought either of these things if you'd watched the GOP debate on Tuesday night. Although in fairness, the social media claims had been reported widely leading up to the Las Vegas showdown, this new information casts the fifth Republican debate in a dubious light, considering just how much time the candidates spent arguing about monitoring social media.
Here, for the record, are some of the things that two particular Republican candidates claimed about the San Bernardino shooting on Tuesday night, especially as relates to the couple's alleged activities on Facebook. All credit to the The Washington Post's transcription of the debate.
Cruz was particularly staunch on the subject of social media and terrorism, and insisted that Tashfeen Malik's radical writings on Facebook weren't checked out because of "political correctness," a claim which doesn't hold water.
And let me go back to the earlier discussion a minute ago. 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. ... The problem is because of political correctness, the Obama administration, like a lot of folks here, want to search everyone's cell phones and e-mails and not focus on the bad guys. And political correctness is killing people.
Fiorina was similarly animated about the perceived inability of the Obama administration to scan social media accounts for violent and/or radical sentiments. She would not, however, say that tech companies should be forced to cooperate with the FBI in breaking encryption for terrorism investigations, another recent, conspicuous conservative target in the aftermath of terrorist attacks.
And yet, we also know that ISIS is recruiting who are not in those databases. So of course, we're going to miss them. And then we now learn that DHS says, "No, we can't check their social media." For heaven's sakes, every parent in America is checking social media and every employer is as well, but our government can't do it. The bureaucratic procedures are so far behind. Our government has become incompetent, unresponsive, corrupt. And that incompetence, ineptitude, lack of accountability is now dangerous. It is why we need a different kind of leadership in the White House that understands how to get bureaucracies competent again.
To be clear, none of the information Comey gave on Wednesday means that a similar situation couldn't occur, in which monitoring someone's social media might prevented a terrorist attack — if governments had free reign to rifle through every private communication on Earth, they'd probably be much harder to catch off-guard, even though the consequence would be a profoundly dystopian, un-free society. But for all the concern stoked about this issue on Tuesday night, it sounds like the specific fears of "political correctness" and social media were overplayed and under-heated, and that's a cautionary tale for any politicos or average citizens following along with the San Bernardino story.