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Sloppy Vetting? More Like Sloppy Slamming


Okay, I have this stack of paperwork that is the accumulation of I don't know how many other piles of paperwork. I've managed to go through the easy stuff in the pile, leaving this remaining stack of papers that I need to Deal With™. Part of the reason that The Stack™ hasn't been dealt with is that I actually need to DO something with the papers, something more than "put in a box to scan later."

So, in the interest of dealing with The Stack, here's a December 20th 2015 (you read that right, I've been carrying around this newspaper for a year and a quarter now, JUST SO THAT I COULD RANT ABOUT IT) article. Recall, the San Bernadino bombing incident occurred about three weeks before this article (it happened on the 2nd), where 14 people were killed and 22 others were seriously injured. The incident was a mass shooting and an attempted bombing at a health center by an AMERICAN CITIZEN (by birth, let that sink in for a bit) and his wife, who was a permanent resident of the U.S.

For the record, this was a horrible event. Any act of violence done with the intent to harm or kill another person is abhorrent (even as we say sometimes the act is righteous or justified, it is still abhorrent; possibly necessary, still abhorrent). This rant is not about that particular event, nor is it a commentary about that particular event.

So, the article in the Mercury News was titled "Congressman slams sloppy visa vetting." It, like every other short-attention-span article that exists in newspapers today, is a short, easy read. Go on, I'll start my rant after.

WASHINGTON — Immigration officials failed to sufficiently screen the visa application that allowed San Bernardino attacker Tafsheen Malik into the country, according to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Goodlatte said he reviewed Malik’s immigration file, which the State Department has refused to make public. “It is clear that immigration officials did not thoroughly vet her application,” Goodlatte said in a statement issued on Saturday.

Malik, a Pakistani national, arrived in the United States last year on a visa reserved for fiancés and fiancees of U.S. citizens. After being allowed into the country, she married American Syed Rizwan Farook. The couple committed the Dec. 2 attack that killed 14 people in San Bernardino.

“In order to obtain a fiance visa, it is required to demonstrate proof that the U.S. citizen and foreign national have met in person,” Goodlatte said. “However, Malik’s immigration file does not show sufficient evidence for this requirement. What is worse, the immigration official reviewing Malik’s application requested more evidence to ensure the two met in person but it was never provided and her visa was approved anyway.”

Goodlatte’s announcement will increase pressure in Congress to tighten the screening of visa applications for foreigners to enter the U.S.

“Visa security is critical to national security, and it’s unacceptable that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not fully vet Malik’s application and instead sloppily approved her visa,” Goodlatte said. He said the House Judiciary Committee is working on a bill to “strengthen visa processing security.”

Goodlatte said the only proof that Malik and Farook gave immigration officials for having met in person is Farook’s statement that they had been together in Saudi Arabia and “copies of pages from their passports, containing visas to enter Saudi Arabia and stamps in Arabic.”

The immigration officials reviewing Malik’s application asked for the passport stamps to be translated into English to confirm that the two were in Saudi Arabia at the same time. But the file shows no such translation, Goodlatte said.

The House Judiciary Committee had the passport stamps translated and found that Malik entered Saudi Arabia around June 4, 2013. Her exit stamp is only partially legible and the translator could not determine when she left Saudi Arabia, Goodlatte said.

Farook’s stamps show he was in Saudi Arabia between Oct. 1, 2013 and about Oct. 20, 2013.

“However, even if Farook and Malik were in Saudi Arabia at the same time, this does not provide evidence that they met in person,” according to Goodlatte.


OF COURSE it is easy to say, "This visa vetting was sloppy." and it is easy to say "Here are the rules, follow them." It is easy to say these things AFTER THE FACT. You can't know the intentions of people if they aren't carrying a sign that says, "I intend to attempt to kill 80 people" and then verbally tell you are indeed going to be doing this. Arrest the person, put that person away, you can prevent that particular act.

You cannot, however, KNOW these things beforehand (don't even go all Minority Report on me, that a realm of fantasy and you know it).

We have processes that exist, yes. We have rules that say, to allow someone in under the spouse visa, these steps need to be followed. We follow them.

Except we don't, and likely haven't except for when they first came out. This is human nature. We have the "rules" and then we have the "rules we follow." We have a system as designed and we have a system as it exists. If there is one thing that systems thinking and STPA has taught me is that those two systems are very rarely the same.

A system needs to be constantly monitored and adjusted for the system as it exists to reflect the system as designed, while the system design needs to adapt to the system that operates. Without this feedback loop, you can't ever have a safe system.

It is easy for the Congressman to point a finger a sloppy visa vetting. The Congressman is wrong in doing so. It is impossible to get all the visa vettings right. You get as many as you can correct, and you handle the ones that aren't correct. How many of the visas that have been issued are any different than Malik's visa? How many were issued with even less "valid" data and have worked out just fine? You don't know and can't know and, I would argue, shouldn't spend the financial resources to find out unless it becomes a problem. A single incident BY AN AMERICAN CITIZEN (you did let that sink in, right?) does not qualify it as a problem.

Since I've thought about this article, I would also start to argue for harm reduction policies and a more tolerant American society. As I've been told, "shit in one hand, wishes in the other, see which fills up faster." It's hard to practice loving friendliness in the midst of so much blind hatred. Mankind has always been this way. The United States has been in cycles of hatred and racisim since its founding, I'm not sure why I be surprised at this point.

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