FBI: 'No evidence' Calif. shooters supported jihad on social media

The FBI said on Wednesday that suspected San Bernardino, Calif., shooters Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik did not express their support for jihad publicly on social media, potentially undercutting efforts to ramp up surveillance of foreign travelers’ online presences.

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FBI Director James Comey told reporters that there was “no evidence of a posting on social media by either of them" to reflect that they had been radicalized.

The communications instead were “direct, private messages,” the FBI head said during a news conference in New York.

“I’ve seen some reporting on that and that’s a garble.”

Comey’s comments appear to undercut calls from national security hawks for U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials to ramp up their scrutiny of social media accounts of people coming into the country through various visa programs.

During Tuesday evening’s Republican presidential debate, multiple candidates dinged the Obama administration for reports indicating that officials had been barred from screening foreigners’ social media accounts because of privacy concerns.

“It's not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks. It is political correctness,” Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said.

“We didn't monitor the Facebook posting of the female San Bernardino terrorist because the Obama DHS [Department of Homeland Security] thought it would be inappropriate. She made a public call to jihad, and they didn't target it.”

Also on Tuesday, 25 Democratic senators sent a letter to the DHS calling social media postings “critical background information” and urging officials to review it for people coming not the country.

If Malik’s messages were private, however, it likely would have been impossible for the government to screen them without obtaining permission from the social networking company.

Criticism about the government’s search of migrants’ and travelers’ social media accounts spiked after reports that Malik had posted her support for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook. The criticism intensified after an ABC News report this month indicating that Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson decided against ending a secret policy prohibiting immigration officials from reviewing social media posts.

On Wednesday, Johnson attempted to refute the allegation, calling the initial policy “too restrictive” and claiming that it had been rolled back “very early this year.”

“I think we need to do more of this,” Johnson said in a news conference in Washington. “Consulting social media is something that as long as I’ve been secretary is something that we need to do and we have begun to do that.”

Reports of a secret policy banning review of accounts like Malik's are "not accurate," he said.

The Los Angeles Times and other outlets this week reported that Malik had sent at least two private Facebook messages professing her support for jihad, which helped to spur calls for new scrutiny on the social media accounts of foreigners.

Other reports indicated that the account was created with a pseudonym and subject to strict privacy settings that would have made them extremely difficult for officials to detect.

Malik and Farook had been radicalized since at least 2013, Comey told lawmakers last week. The revelation raised new questions about how Malik, who is Pakistani, had nonetheless been able to enter the country through a fiancee visa.

Bradford Richardson contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:28 p.m.