Report: Rex Tillerson Implements ‘Mandatory Social Media Check’ on Visa Applicants

Reuters/Dado Ruvic

Reuters reports that they have exclusively obtained four memos written by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to American diplomatic missions, instructing them to identify “populations warranting increased scrutiny” for visa applications.

Tillerson’s memos implement a “mandatory social media check” for applicants who have ever passed through territory controlled by the Islamic State. Two anonymous “former U.S. officials” told Reuters that social media screening – in other words, reading Facebook pages and Twitter streams to find extremist content – is rarely done by consular officials at the moment and would be a highly labor-intensive practice.

That is presumably why the Secretary of State placed such emphasis on determining which populations were most in need of enhanced scrutiny. However, Reuters states that “advocates and immigration lawyers said the guidance could lead to visa applicants being profiled on the basis of nationality or religion rather than because they pose an actual threat to the United States.”

The article quotes one such immigration lawyer who said the State Department is telling embassies to “step away from the focused factors they have spent years developing and revising, and instead broaden the search to large groups based on gross factors such as nationality and religion.”

CBS News argues that the visa application process is already burdensome, and the added procedures described by Reuters will effectively implement Trump’s ban on immigration from several countries:

An individual from Iraq who wants to visit the U.S. as a tourist, for example, first fills out an online application for a visa. Before the interview, information in the application is run against U.S. terrorism watch lists and databases. Any derogatory information would be flagged for a specially-trained State Department consular officer in a U.S. embassy or consulate in or near that person’s home country who conducts the interview. For high-risk countries, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is involved to some extent.

During the interview, the officer tries to determine whether the person poses a terrorist or criminal threat, and also whether the person is a potential illegal immigrant. The visa applicant needs to show proof that a return ticket has been purchased, a defined place to stay in the U.S. and ties to his or her home country. Applicants are asked basic biographic questions, but also queried about their demeanor.

[…] If and when the person is approved for a visa, photos and fingerprints are taken. Before departing for the U.S., all air passengers coming into the U.S. are subject to information analysis by officials on the ground overseas and at the National Targeting Center in Virginia.

Once the traveler arrives at a U.S. airport, an officer with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will have access to all of the information collected through the targeting center, will ask the person for his or her fingerprints again to match with the original set, and will ask questions again about the trip to the U.S.

According to Reuters, Tillerson sent a “flurry of cables” to implement “extreme vetting” but then retracted some of them after activist judges blocked implementation of President Trump’s executive order to suspend visas from six countries of particular security interest.

Daniel Greenfield accuses Reuters of undermining national security by publishing these internal cables: “This is certainly helpful to the left and to its terrorist pals. The cables emphasize, among other things, screening social media. Considering how easy it is to erase social media, that certainly is a great help to terrorists and terrorist supporters to know.”