Tashfeen Malik

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Vetting Year
Time from U.S. Entry to Discovery
1 year, 7 months
National Security Crime Type
Nationality of Perpetrator
Immigration Status Type
K-1; Lawful Permanent Residence
Agency Responsible for Failure
USCIS for K-1 and Lawful Permanent Residence
Opportunities Missed
Nation(s) Vetting Occurred
Arresting Agency
Criminal Charges
Case Outcome
Killed by law enforcment during attacks
Case Summary

Pakistani citizen Tashfeen Malik entered the United States in about May 2014 on a K-1 fiance visa to marry American citizen Syed Rizwan Farook. They were married in August 2014, then in December 2015 conducted an attack together that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. Both were eventually killed after a running gun battle with police.

Malik was born in Pakistan and moved with her family to Saudi Arabia when she was a child. State Department officials would have asked how Malik and Farook met; how they decided to marry; and some details about Farook, as a U.S. citizen. Malik would have needed to detail for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and State Department officials every country to which she had traveled over the last five years and if she was tied to terrorism or its ideology. But none of the checks found her prolific social media postings, which indicated an extreme hatred for the United States and support for violent jihadist acts.

According to a Los Angeles Times report:

It takes three to five months for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to review and approve a petition, at which point the petition goes to the State Department. A U.S. Embassy or consulate conducts a medical exam, checks police records and interviews the foreign applicant, [immigration attorney Paul] Herzog said.

“It’s a very detailed petition,” said Los Angeles immigration attorney Roman P. Mosqueda. “If you’re getting married in a church, you have to show proof of getting a church date for the wedding, a date for the restaurant for the reception.... It’s very strict.”

The paper also quoted State Department spokesman Mark Toner during a news briefing after the attack that "Since 9/11, [any visa application will] involve multiple layers of vetting, with multiple agencies putting folks through various systems, where we watch individuals, what their affiliations are, whether they're on any kind of watch lists".

Malik reportedly passed three separate terrorism background checks for her fiance visa by the USCIS and then the State Department, which were responsible, the New York Times reported. But all of those missed her prolific “online zealotry” for jihad before she arrived in the United States, mainly because security screening routines, even for Pakistanis who grew up in Saudi Arabia, “do not routinely conduct social media searches during the visa process”, the newspaper reported.

And so that key evidence was missed some 15 years after the 9/11 hijackers, most of whom were citizens of Saudi Arabia, struck in New York and Washington, D.C.

“Had the authorities found the messages years ago, they might have kept her out of the country,” the Times reported. “But their recent discovery exposed a significant — and perhaps inevitable — shortcoming in how foreigners are screened when they enter the United States, particularly as people everywhere talk more and disclose more about themselves online.”

“Despite a tremendous electronic intelligence-gathering apparatus that captures phone calls and emails from around the world, it remains impossible to conduct an exhaustive investigation for each of the tens of millions of people who are cleared each year to come to this country to work, visit or live.” the article continued.