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The Vetting Process for Discovering Terrorists Must be Reformed

The Vetting Process for Discovering Terrorists Must be Reformed
U.S. Attorney General William Barr speaks during a press conference on the shooting at the Pensacola naval base January 13, 2020, in Washington, D.C. Barr said the Justice Department’s investigation determined the shooting "was an act of terrorism" that was "motivated by jihadist ideology". (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Wednesday, 15 January 2020 11:59 AM Current | Bio | Archive

The fatal attack on Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, on December 6 by a Saudi national, admitted into the United States for military training, was an act of terrorism motivated by jihadist beliefs, U.S. Attorney General William Barr has reported.

The gunman was identified as Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Saudi Air Force. The 15-minute attack left three service members dead and eight others injured.

Evidence released by the Attorney General showed that Alshamrani clearly held anti-American and anti-Israeli views — he had posted them on social media, including just a few hours before he opened fire.

“This was an act of terrorism,” Barr said. “The evidence shows the shooter was influenced by jihadist ideology.”

In the aftermath of the attack, the Pentagon halted operational training of all Saudi Arabian military personnel in the United States. The Pentagon then announced on December 19 that specialists had reviewed the profiles of the 800-plus remaining Saudi military students and found no further threats.

Yet Attorney General Barr announced on January 13 that 21 Saudi military cadets studying at U.S. military bases were being sent home after investigators found child pornography, “jihadi or anti-American content” on their devices or social-media accounts. Moreover, 17 of those students had shared their jihadi or anti-American views on social media.

These disclosures raise several urgent concerns.

The contradiction between the Pentagon’s earlier announcement that no threats were found in the review of Saudi military studying in the United States, and Barr’s announcement of that 21 of those students are now being deported, must be reconciled. Assuming both announcements are correct, why did the Pentagon find no threats in its review of the Saudi students? Could it be that the same, flawed, process was applied here that failed to detect the murderous intentions of Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood military officer who shot and killed 13 military personnel and one unborn child in 2009?

Even if this is not the case, the current vetting process used by the military — and by U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence agencies — must urgently and immediately be reviewed and re-evaluated.

As we tragically discovered with the Pensacola shootings, the existing vetting process has allowed jihadis and potential jihadis to continue to enter our military bases. Clearly, that process cannot effectively detect men who mean to perpetrate terror on American soil, whether they arrive prepared to commit terrorism or are susceptible to such ideologies.

It is commendable that 21 additional potential terrorists were finally discovered and are being removed from our shores. On the other hand, 21 can never again be considered an insignificant number. Remember, only 19 jihadis managed to kill nearly 3,000 innocent souls on September 11, 2001.

I would like to know if the personnel who conducted the initial vetting process on the remaining Saudi students are the same ones who detected the 21. If so, did they suddenly develop a greatly improved capability, or was it merely a stroke of good fortune? I should caution those responsible for screening foreign nationals that it is not always possible to detect jihadis via their social-media postings. A dedicated terrorist might intentionally circulate anti-jihadi information solely to mislead authorities.

To be more specific, using social media postings or examining files stored on a smartphone or computer hard drive is insufficient to detect the most clever Islamic radicals, who can disguise their views in order to infiltrate our military, intelligence, and law-enforcement agencies. Relying exclusively on such investigative techniques can risk further tragic consequences.

Fortunately, it is possible to detect covert Islamic radicalism effectively. The U.S. government needs to train its military, intelligence and law-enforcement personnel in such methods to detect early and covert forms of Islamic radicalism. To do otherwise is to fail to protect Americas from future disasters, such as what occurred in Pensacola.

Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why It Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat It." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.

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Evidence released by the Attorney General showed that Alshamrani clearly held anti-American and anti-Israeli views, he had posted them on social media, including just a few hours before he opened fire.
terrorist, pensacola, military
Wednesday, 15 January 2020 11:59 AM
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