Counterterrorism operations targeting harmless groups to maintain political correctness?

How has political correctness eroded America’s capacity to prevent terrorist attacks inside our country? We got a taste of that yesterday, when ABC News reported that DHS had mostly refused to include social-media communications in the vetting process of visa applicants lest they be accused of “profiling.” That resulted in granting Tashfeen Malik a K-1 visa despite her public affiliation for violent jihad, and that led to the terrorist attack in San Bernardino two weeks ago. Now Congress wants to fix that, but years of operating under this policy has allowed any number of potential malefactors into the country.

The stress on political correctness hasn’t only focused on DHS and the State Department, either. Intelligence analyst John Schindler wrote in the Observer yesterday that it has also permeated the intelligence communities, especially after the Edward Snowden scandal and aftermath. Now, rather than aggressively go after terrorists even with confirmed-legal tactics, counter-terrorism agents wonder when the White House will throw them under the bus.

So what do they do? They waste time chasing after non-threats to look more PC, Schindler writes:

While the importance of metadata to American counterterrorism will continue to be a hot-button topic, the disastrous effect of the Snowden affair and its political aftershocks on our intelligence agencies is not up for debate. Neither is the fact, as attested to by several Western intelligence chiefs, that Snowden’s leaks have made terrorists more careful in their communications, and therefore more difficult to intercept. Just as bad, several top secret NSA programs, beyond metadata, that assisted counterterrorism have been downscaled since 2013 out of fears they may “look bad” if leaked.

“Before Snowden we had a definite bias for action,” explained a senior NSA official with extensive experience in counterterrorism. “But now we all wonder how the White House will react if this winds up in the newspapers.” “It’s all legal,” the official added, “the lawyers have approved, and boy do we have lots of lawyers – but will Obama throw us under the bus again?”

That concern is widespread in American counterterrorism circles, where the Obama administration’s worries about appearing “Islamophobic” are well known. This White House early on warned intelligence personnel about using the term “Islamic terrorism” even in classified reports that would never be released to the public. “Since 2009 we’ve opened investigations of groups we knew to be harmless,” explained a Pentagon counterterrorism official, “they weren’t Muslims, and we needed some ‘balance’ in case the White House asked if we were ‘profiling’ potential terrorists.”

If this is true, it raises plenty of concerns about civil liberties, but also in effective uses of resources. How many man-hours get wasted chasing innocuous groups and harmless people in order to provide a PC façade to our counterterrorism operations? What might be getting missed because of that misdirection of resources? It’s the question of what’s already been missed that haunts Schindler, even as he urges action by Congress to fix the problem:

At a minimum, this sort of institutionalized dysfunction at DHS and ICE needs Congressional investigation, and there should be little doubt that the White House was the originator of such escapism-as-policy. Until this mess gets sorted out, and immigrants receive a bare minimum of real security screening, we should expect more jihadists to enter our country. How many have entered since 2009 is a vexing question.

The Snowden scandal did reveal potential abuses in the intelligence services, but in some ways this isn’t even about Snowden at all. The policy that allowed Malik to enter into the US existed before the Snowden scandal; DHS chief Jeh Johnson kept it in place in 2014, but it existed for a long while before that. The political correctness that produced the insistence on scrubbing the words “Islamic terrorism” from US counterintelligence work predated that, too.

We are running our counterintelligence operations on a social-justice basis rather than prioritizing national security. That much was clear from yesterday’s ABC report, which as Schindler says allowed Malik into the country with less scrutiny than high-school seniors get from college admissions offices. The San Bernardino terror attack was a wake-up call for a problem that has been apparent since Obama’s insistence that the Fort Hood terror attack was “workplace violence.”