San Bernardino Shooting

Terrorism Seeming More and More Likely the Motive for San Bernardino Rampage (UPDATED: FBI Makes It Official)

Inspiration from both al Qaeda and ISIS noted.


Syed Farook

Did the wife push for the attack in San Bernardino? The latest information about the motives for the assault that killed 14 people at a San Bernardino County health employee gathering suggests that Tashfeen Malik, 27, the Pakistani immigrant wife of Syed Farook, 28, an American citizen, was radicalized. From the Washington Post:

One of the two people involved in the San Bernardino attack that killed 14 people pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State, the clearest indication yet that this was an act of terrorism, according to two law enforcement officials.

The officials said Tashfeen Malik, 27, the Pakistani wife of the other shooter, made the statement on a Facebook page. It's not immediately clear when she posted the declaration referring to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the emir of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the terrorist group that says it has established a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

The two attackers sought to cover their tracks by damaging some personal electronic devices, a senior U.S. law enforcement official said Friday as investigators struggled to learn what prompted the rampage that claimed 14 lives.

There's also information that connects them to al Qaeda. Another unnamed law enforcement source, according to the Los Angeles Times, said that the improvised explosive they attempted (and failed) to use during the attack was based on schematics from Inspire magazine, al Qaeda's propaganda publication. This doesn't necessarily mean they were acting in support of al Qaeda, though.

There will be a whole host of issues coming up over the next few days about this. Federal surveillance has been my beat, so a few observations to keep in mind if we enter another round of arguments that the federal government is not collecting enough private information about us all to keep us safe:

  • The new rules that somewhat restrict the mass collection of phone metadata of American citizens in the USA Freedom Act just came into play at the end of November. Its implementation could not have played any role in any sort of intelligence failure (assuming there even is one) that might have prevented this shooting. Given that we've been told the FBI is looking into communications between Farook and other terrorism suspects, it seems very likely that Farook's phone metadata was indeed already previously collected and stored.
  • Even under the USA Freedom Act's guidelines, our intelligence agencies will still be able to monitor what might be going on with other guys like Farook, Americans who may have been radicalized. Officials can still get metadata information originating from individuals through telecom companies via use of search terms, such as the name of any suspected terrorists the United States is already watching. If Farook's contact information showed up in any of the communications on the other end, feds would be able to request Farook's data. And if there was any suspicion that Farook had been radicalized, targeted surveillance would have been a possibility and not prohibited by the Act.
  • The USA Freedom Act does nothing to restrict the CIA or National Security Agency (NSA) in foreign surveillance. If Farook or Malik spoke to terrorists overseas, the USA Freedom Act does not prevent them from getting access to data from the other end of the conversation. That data could again be used as justification for heightened surveillance that specifically targeted Farook.

UPDATE: The FBI has made it official that they believe it was an act of terrorism: