Obama, at Counterterrorism Center, Offers Assurances on Safety
No specific, credible terror threat exists for holidays, Obama says.
Americans gearing up for Christmas holiday travel are as safe as the world’s more technologically advanced government can make them, President Barack Obama told Americans in a rerun of earlier status reports delivered Thursday from the National Counterterrorism Center. The White House has seen a week of embarrassing news stories exposing federal investigators’ inability to screen social media like Facebook and Twitter for clues to the destructive intentions of potential visa-holders. Federal officials are going after terrorists in the Middle East, he said, as well as working with international partners to prevent terrorists from flowing into and out of places like Iraq and Syria and then back into the U.S. “We cannot give in to fear or change how we live our lives because that’s what terrorists want,” Obama said. “That’s the only leverage that they have.
Unlike large-scale, carefully orchestrated attacks, an assault like the one in San Bernardino is “smaller, often self-initiating, self motivating” and “harder to detect,” Obama said Thursday. “And that makes it harder to prevent,” he said. “But just as the threat evolves, so do we. National security chiefs considered in 2011 green-lighting a policy of vetting visa applicants’ social media histories – but decided to deny rank-and-file State Department background checkers access to that tool. Obama said nothing in his latest offering about that troubling liability, nor did he offer new policy prescriptions aimed at tightening the border-control noose around Islamists who mean to create chaos with blood.
That’s what we have to guard against.” Obama has ordered a review of the K-1 visa program under which suspected San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik entered the United States to marry her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook. We’ve prevailed over much greater threats than this; we will prevail again.’’ Obama spoke after a briefing by his national security team on the current threat level, the effort to combat extremist groups and propaganda abroad, and steps to tighten scrutiny of people entering the US on visas.
Obama said national security officials will use the San Bernardino shooting to“learn whatever lessons we can and make any improvements that are needed.” “In the meantime, what the world doesn’t always see are the successes, those terrorist plots that have been prevented,” he said. “And that’s how it should be. Because Malik and Farook had not been in direct contact with terror-linked groups listed in national security databases, they passed Homeland Security Department background checks.
The president insisted his team of information-sharing pros, working ‘literally shoulder-to-shoulder,’ can now shift gears into a new phase of terror prevention – although he didn’t say how. Contradicting previous media reports, Director James Comey on Wednesday told reporters the bureau found no evidence that the husband-and-wife duo revealed their commitment to violent extremism in any social media posts; instead, they communicated by non-public messages. Obama noted that while many Americans may not be aware of it, intelligence and counterterrorism officials have taken in terrorists, disrupted plots, thwarted attacks and saved lives.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) responded to the report during a hearing on Thursday, saying: “They made the wrong call. They heard him boast that the U.S. has grown in its capacity to prevent mass-casualty terror attacks on the scale of the largest ones the western world have faced. ‘Here’s what I want every american to know,’ Obama said: ‘Since 9/11 we’ve taken extraordinary steps to strengthen our homeland security: our borders, our ports, our airports, our aviation security, including enhanced watch lists and screening.’ He said comparatively little about the mechanisms that prevent lone wolves from making it across the nation’s borders or slipping past airport passport counters.
On Monday, Obama made a rare trip to the Pentagon, where he met with his cabinet officials and senior national security advisers in a gathering billed as a “quick update” on the more than 18-month-old campaign against the Islamic State. Constitution, DHS apparently believes foreigners seeking entry to the U.S. have some sort of reasonable expectation of privacy under the Constitution,” he said. “They do not have those rights. On Tuesday, Kerry met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow push for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war, which could lead to cooperation between Washington and Moscow in their independent responses to the Islamist militant group. On the same day, Johnson activated a new terrorism warning system for the country, replacing an existing that was introduced in 2011 but never activated because of its high threshold for credible or imminent threats.
Obama heads to San Bernardino on Friday to meet privately with the families of the shooting victims, before flying to Hawaii for his annual two-week vacation. And without mentioning Islam by name, Obama reiterated that dividing America by religious affiliation – as some Republican presidential candidates have toyed with doing – would be antithetical to basic American values. As if to underscore the faith-neutral nature of his charge to the country, Obama ended his remarks with a curt, ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas.’
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