FBI Director James Comey acknowledged at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today that it will be “very, very important” to know if terrorist organizations are setting up jihadi marriages.
A week after the massacre at a holiday party of San Bernardino County health department employees, authorities have determined that health inspector Syed Farook had been planning jihad for many years — even plotting an attack with an unidentified co-conspirator three years ago that wasn’t carried out. That information came from his longtime friend and former neighbor Enrique Marquez, whose Russian bride is the sister of Farook’s brother’s Russian bride.
Marquez, a convert to Islam and Walmart employee, purchased two AR-15 rifles that were used in the attack. He checked himself into a mental institution afterward, and is now cooperating with investigators. Marquez reportedly says he knew nothing about the attack.
Farook reportedly met Tashfeen Malik in 2013. He brought her back from Saudi Arabia in 2014 on a fiancee visa, and the pair were married in Southern California.
Comey said “it looks like she was” radicalized before coming to the United States and before even meeting Farook.
“What data we’ve collected, the intelligence indicates that she was [radicalized] before she connected with the other killer and came here,” the FBI chief said.
“Is there any evidence that this marriage was arranged by a terrorist organization, a terrorist operative, or was it just a meeting on the Internet?” Graham asked.
“I don’t know the answer to that yet,” Comey replied.
“Do you agree with me that if it was arranged by a terrorist operative or organization, that is a game changer?” the senator continued.
“It would be a very, very important thing to know,” said Comey. “That’s why we’re working so hard to understand it.”
“Well, that’s the biggest focus, I think, of how it would change the game, that they could actually arrange a marriage of two like-minded individuals, use the fiance visa system to get into the country,” Graham said.
Asked if there were ISIS cells already in the country, the FBI director said, “I don’t have reason to believe that. It’s something that we constantly look for.”
“They’re trying to do two things. They’re trying to motivate people already in the United States to become killers on their behalf,” he added. “And they would very much like to — they aspire to be the leader in the global jihad, send people here to conduct attacks. It’s that second piece we have not seen yet.”
Graham then asked, “Is it fair to say that they wake up every day in Raqqa, Syria, thinking about ways to hit us here?”
“Some of them do, for sure,” Comey responded.
Asked if there was the likelihood of another 9/11 in the United States if the caliphate isn’t taken out with the next year, the FBI chief said “that’s certainly a hard question for me to answer.”
“Their ability to have a safe haven from which to gather resources, people and plan and plot increases the risk of their ability to mount a sophisticated attack against the homeland.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told Comey she was “appalled” to see media rifling through the shooters’ apartment after the San Bernardino attack.
“From an intelligence point of view, it immediately compromised any future intelligence gathering from any trace materials or anything else,” said the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “How did that happen?”
“A lot of folks, I think, found that confusing. That is our, what I believe, great criminal justice system in action in part. The way it works is we get a search warrant. It allows us to enter someone’s residence. Our forensic experts and agents were in that residence for over 24 hours and combed through it and took everything that we could take under the search warrant and that was appropriate to take and recorded that which we needed to record,” Comey said.
“Once we’ve exhausted that examination, we board the place up, make it secure. We have to post under the law an inventory of what was taken — that’s part of American law — and then leave the residence. That part makes good sense to me. The part I can’t explain is why the landlord for the place allowed the boards to be pried off and for folks to go through.”
“Wasn’t it important enough to have some law enforcement officer there to see that that didn’t happen?” Feinstein continued. “I mean, after all, you know, 14 people were killed and 21 were injured. It seems to me that protecting that scene is really important. So I hope that there is some procedure whereby that doesn’t happen again.”
“Well, the judgment of the investigators and our forensic experts was we were done with that scene. There was nothing else to be gained from that scene, which is why it was boarded up, and then the inventory was left,” Comey explained. “What happened next was strange and it struck me as strange on the TV that the landlord allowed the media to go through. But we had done our work in a careful, responsible way.”
“From an intelligence point of view, I could see things in an investigation that would crop up that you might want to come back and look behind the picture frame on the wall because there’s some message behind the picture that you don’t know about when you went through the apartment initially, or some document,” Feinstein noted. “So it just doesn’t seem to me to be smart.”