U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Monday that a new inquiry by the Senate committee he heads into the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, is part of a bid to prevent “Islamic terrorists” from entering the U.S. in the future.
Johnson, R-Oshkosh, chairs the Senate Homeland Security committee. Reuters reported Friday that the committee is requesting much of the evidence collected in the shooting by the U.S. Justice Department, in what appears to be a search for “possible intelligence lapses” in the lead-up to the Dec. 2 shooting, which killed 14 and wounded 22.
Johnson spoke to reporters Monday at an event in Fitchburg at which he helped prepare care packages for overseas troops. He said the inquiry could shed light on what may have been known about the two shooters in the attack: Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik.
“We need to do a complete review of all the security precautions — whatever watch lists they may or may not have been on, what did the Justice Department know; what did international agencies know; what did our intelligence partners know about this?” Johnson said. “From my standpoint, my responsibility is to hold this administration’s feet to the fire to make sure we don’t take any shortcuts in the vetting process.”
Johnson is the Senate sponsor of a bill that passed the House that would boost vetting of certain refugees before they’re admitted to the U.S.
The Senate’s top homeland security lawmaker is pressing the Department of Justice (DOJ) to turn over any evidence that the San Bernardino, Calif., shooters used encryption to cover up their plans.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) on Friday opened an investigation into the incident with a fact-finding letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The letter was released late Monday.
In the memo, Johnson poses 15 questions about how the suspected shooters — Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik — came to be radicalized, what U.S. authorities knew about the pair and how they acquired the guns used in the assault.
One of the questions directly addresses encrypted messages, a hot topic in the wake of the terror attacks in both Paris and San Bernardino.
“Please provide any evidence of encrypted communication retrieved from the electronic devices of Mr. Farook and Ms. Malik that may have masked specific plans and logistics regarding the December 2, 2015 attack,” the letter reads.
Several top intelligence and homeland security leaders on Capitol Hill believe it is likely encryption was employed at some stage, although investigators have yet to provide any direct evidence.
As questions remain unanswered about any plotting done in advance of the Dec. 2 shooting rampage in San Bernardino, the chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee has asked the Department of Justice to disclose whether the suspects may have relied on encryption to obscure their plans.
Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, sent Attorney General Loretta Lynch a 15-question inquiry on Friday requesting specifics about the DOJ’s investigation so far into Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the husband-and-wife duo suspected of perpetrating an ambush at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino earlier this month that left 14 people dead and injured 21 others.
Authorities have already determined that the couple became radicalized in the years prior to the assault, and social media postings and interviews with acquaintances have suggested that the two failed to fully keep their ideologies a secret. Having failed to land on the radar of the FBI, however, Mr. Johnson has asked the attorney general if she can answer once and for as to whether any encrypted communications were obtained by authorities at this point into their investigation.
“Please provide any evidence of encrypted communication retrieved from the electronic devices of Mr. Farook and Ms. Malik that may have masked specific plans and logistics regarding the December 2, 2015 attack,” Mr. Johnson in a letter disclosed by the senator’s office on Monday.
James Comey, the director of the FBI, has said repeatedly in recent months that terrorists have been able to evade authorities time and time again as the result of products and services made by companies including Apple and Google that allow users to communicate privately with encryption.