With the usual fanfare, President Obama has established a task force to direct efforts by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice toward “countering violent extremism” in response to the San Bernardino attack. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has sidelined a key official at the Department of Homeland Security whose efforts could have helped prevent the first post-9/11 terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
The San Bernardino attack, which resulted in 14 dead and 22 seriously wounded Americans, represents a catastrophic failure of the administration’s flawed policy on combating terrorism.
Phil Haney, a founding member and 13-year veteran of DHS, arrived at work one day and, to his unpleasant surprise, was escorted into a conference room. Haney had diligently and meticulously investigated Islamist groups in an effort to identify potentially violent fanatics on American soil before they could carry out terrorist attacks against innocent Americans.
DHS officials ordered Haney, their colleague, to surrender his government-issued firearm. DHS brass had mysteriously concluded he was a threat. Despite having devoted all of his waking hours over 13 years to protecting the homeland from violent attack, Haney was now treated as a malfeasant for the supposed offense of tracking potential terrorists before they could act.
“How do you want me to turn it over? Should I remove the magazine and give you that first?” Haney asked. In a stressful and insulting moment, he unholstered his weapon and carefully slid it across the table. DHS had unarmed the man whose investigation may well have prevented the San Bernardino civilian massacre while ISIS-inspired terrorists Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik were beginning to plan their attack.
The devoted and patriotic civil servant was no longer collecting the data that could have led the federal government to the perpetrators of the next terror attack. Instead, he sat alone in an empty cubicle as Farook and Malik built their bombs. How did it come to this?
“It’s not a lack of competence that is preventing the Obama administration from stopping these attacks,” Sen. Ted Cruz said during a GOP presidential debate. “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,” Mr. Cruz continued. “She made a public call to jihad, and they didn’t target it. The Tsarnaev brothers, the elder brother made a public call to jihad and the Obama administration didn’t target it. Nidal Hasan communicated with Anwar al-Awlaki, a known radical cleric, asked about waging jihad against his fellow soldiers.”
“Political correctness is killing people,” Mr. Cruz said.
Haney’s investigation yielded 1,200 law enforcement actions and identified 300 terrorists before the Obama administration shut it down. Government lawyers destroyed the information Haney had collected citing concerns that he had unfairly profiled Muslims. They then investigated him and stripped him of his security clearance.
Haney’s investigation had focused on the mosques, Islamic centers and schools with credible connections to Islamic radicals. Farook’s mosque, for example, had a known affiliation with a transnational Islamist network. Malik was affiliated with Al-Huda, an Islamist group for Pakistani women.
Congress created DHS for the very purpose of connecting the dots in real time, to improve our ability to stop these attacks before they occur. Yet DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson deliberately shut down Haney’s investigation.
Farook and Malik’s involvement with the mosque and Al-Huda could have raised red flags and subjected the couple to “comprehensive screening,” denial of the K-1 visa for Malik to legally enter the U.S., and the placement of Farook on the No Fly List. Rather than leaving her six-month-old with granny so Malik could open fire on a holiday party at her husband’s workplace, Malik would have been denied entry to the United States. Farook could not have flown to Saudi Arabia to take Malik as his lawfully wedded wife and fellow terrorist.
DHS brought an immediate stop to this effort. When he learned that DHS intended to erase reams of meticulously compiled data out of supposed concern for privacy rights of non-citizens, Haney contacted the DHS Inspector General and members of Congress in an effort to prevent irreparable harm and to save American lives. For his efforts, Haney was sent to administrative Siberia, shunted off to a barren cubicle where he would remain indefinitely isolated within DHS.
“Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks,” Mr. Obama said in his state of the union address. “In today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.”
The shutdown of Haney’s meticulous efforts and the treatment he has since received from the Obama administration’s DHS indicate a different set of priorities. “What I witnessed,” Haney said, “suggests the Obama administration is more concerned with the rights of non-citizens in known Islamist groups than with the safety and security of the American people.”
Gayle Trotter is a columnist, political analyst and attorney.