The day after a San Bernardino, Calif., couple killed 14 people in a rampage, federal investigators thought they had a crucial bit of evidence.
The childhood friend and neighbor of one of the shooters was believed to be accompanying his Russian wife to a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services meeting that afternoon. Officials raced to the scene to bring the two in for questioning and to safeguard against the possibility of a second attack.
But when five agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), dressed in tactical gear, arrived shortly after noon, they were blocked from moving beyond the lobby of the building.
The agents were visibly anxious as they waited for up to 30 minutes before being able to speak to the field office director, who told them they could not make an arrest in the building. Only later was it discovered that the couple never arrived for their appointment.
The episode was relayed on Friday in a DHS inspector general report criticizing the field office’s behavior, in the aftermath of the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.
The report found that the field office director was in the wrong on multiple occasions during the afternoon action targeting Enrique Marquez and his wife, Mariya Chernykh.
Marquez, the friend of San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook, was later arrested for plotting an earlier terror attack, which was never carried out. Chernykh, who is a Russian national, was arrested for perpetuating a sham marriage.
The Dec. 3, 2015, episode had previously raised the ire of Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonA pandemic of hyper-hypocrisy is infecting American politics Sen. Ron Johnson hoping for Democratic 'gridlock' on reconciliation package Republicans' mantra should have been 'Stop the Spread' MORE (R-Wis.), but the watchdog report is the most comprehensive account of the DHS field office’s failings.
“The contract security personnel at the facility should have immediately permitted entry to the [Homeland Security Investigations] agents once they identified themselves and explained their official purpose,” the report claimed.
And, contrary to the field office head’s claims, the report claimed there is no policy against making arrests in Citizenship and Immigration Services buildings.
What’s more, the field office director initially refused to hand over the file on the couple, until they were given an order from Washington after the investigators had already left.
That, too, was incorrect, the report noted.
In a statement on Friday, Johnson said the incident portrayed a “dangerous lack of coordination” within the DHS that “could have had tragic consequences.”
“This is a classic example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing in the Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security,” echoed Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyAnother voice of reason retires Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — FDA moves to sell hearing aids over-the-counter McConnell: GOP should focus on future, not 'rehash' 2020 MORE (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
“Agents we depend on to keep us safe, especially hours after a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, were blocked by officials within their own agency from conducting a routine law enforcement action to prevent a potentially dangerous situation at a federal building.”
—This story was updated at 12:49 p.m.