Dear @StateDept, You Need Bond. Michele Bond at the Daily Press Briefing

Posted: 4:08 am EDT
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In case you missed this:

 

We’ve just read the Daily Press Briefing from last week with the press corps asking questions about K-1 visas related to the San Bernardino attack.

Oh, holy mother of goat and her stupid nephews!

It should have been all hands on deck to know absolutely everything about this case.  Instead we have Mark Toner, the deputy spokesperson of the State Department on December 3, either asking to take the question, or guessing his response. “I don’t know “…. “I would presume …”

Then the next day, Elizabeth Trudeau, the Press Office director did the DPB and seriously underwhelmed our video player. She refused to confirm that the K-1 visa was issued in Islamabad, something that Mr. Toner already talked about just the day before. 

Folks, haven’t you learned anything at all?  Anything? It’s not like this case is locked in a file cabinet in the catacombs of Foggy Bottom..  That’s why you have your consular systems.

 

Her name is Bond, Michelle Bond.

The State Department need to put its Consular Affairs Assistant Secretary of State Michele Bond up there at the podium to answer these questions.  Help the journalists understand the K-1 process, and the roles State and DHS play in the systems currently in place.  PA officials who have not done visa work in 15-20 years should not be left on the podium guessing about the process and unable to answer questions about this case.

When the press asks, “Can Americans have confidence in this visa processing system?”, Ms. Bond should be able to say “Absolutely, and here’s why.”  And she should be able to explain clearly the whys.  Hopefully, she’s not going to say because “it’s an adaptable system” or  that “We continue to improve it.” Because people are not really interested whether it’s an adaptable system. They want an assurance that the systems in place work; and if it did not work in the visa issuance process for Tashfeen Malik, they want to know what had been done to update that process.

We were going to suggest that the State Department convene an Accountability Review Board per 12 FAM 030. The ARB Permanent Coordinating Committee, where the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Visa Services sits as one of its seven members, by the way, can make that recommendation to the Secretary:

“The ARB process is a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security- related incidents. Through its investigations and recommendations, the Board seeks to determine accountability and promote and encourage improved security programs and practices. In addition, the ARB mechanism enhances the integrity of the visa issuing process by determining accountability in certain instances in which terrorist acts in the United States are committed by aliens.”

Except that current regulations are quite clear that “a Board will be convened with respect to a visa incident only if the following three determinations are made:”

(1)  That the incident involved a terrorist act causing serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property in the United States;

(2)  That there is probable cause to believe that a specifically identified alien was a participant in the terrorist act; and

(3)  That the alien was issued a visa on or after May 1, 1996; at the time of visa issuance, the alien’s name was included in the Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) and that the visa was issued as a result of a failure by the consular officer to adhere to the procedures required to be followed by the inclusion of the name in such visa lookout system.

Since State is confident of its vetting process, it appears right now that subject was not in the CLASS.  Which would make the ARB not a requirement under these regs.

Nonetheless, it would be helpful to know if the State Department has reviewed its internal processes or that it plans to do so. This individual got through  — despite the vetting, the interagency sharing of information, fingerprints, etc, and the face to face interview —  it is not unreasonable to ask how she got in. Maybe there are no cracks, but the public needs to understand the process, which will never with 100% fault-free.

As our consular blog pal told us, “It will never be fault-free because humans aren’t.” People can get away with lying, or can change their minds. Unless the USG has come up with a precognition system similar to Philip K. Dick’s in the Minority Report, there is no way to determine an individual’s action in the future. What do you do with a culprit that has not yet committed a crime? Do you arrest him or her before he/she commits a future crime thereby protecting the public from all prospective harm?  What regulations apply to that?


Daily Press Briefing excerpts:

On December 3, Mr. Toner, the State Department’s deputy spox took a stab at the K-1 questions.  If you want to beat your head against the wall, hard … well, we can understand the feeling, but wear your helmet first, okay?

QUESTION: — of the suspects in the San Bernardino mass shooting that happened yesterday? There are various statements and reports out there about Tashfeen Malik, the alleged female shooter suspect who was killed yesterday. Some are saying that she lived in Saudi Arabia before coming to the U.S. And what I wonder is the extent to which the State Department has been pulled into this investigation. Can you give us some kind of guidance on whether those reports are accurate? And if so, what type of visa was she in the United States on? Is there anything about the citizenship status of her that you can share with us?

MR TONER: Sure. Well, since it’s already been reported out in the press, I can confirm that she did receive or was issued a K-1 so-called fiancee visa, I believe in 2012. Is that correct? 2015 – 2000 – help me here. Okay, we’ll get that number for you. Unfortunately, it’s not in front of me here. But she did receive that from Pakistan. That allowed her to travel here to the United States.
[….]
QUESTION: Does that require an interview?

MR TONER: If that petition is approved, the case is forwarded to the U.S. consulate abroad in order to verify the qualifying relationship and vet the applicant for any derogatory information. I’m virtually sure that, as in any visa – as in any visa processing, that that involves an interview. I don’t know if —

QUESTION: But not a joint interview, right? They don’t have to appear together at the consular office, wherever that is?

MR TONER: Not – that I’ll have to – I’ll have to take that question. I’m not sure. I’m not sure.

[….]

QUESTION: And can you also check on the – that before getting that given visa, where did they meet? Because I’m not sure, but if I’m remembering correctly, there is a clause that they should have met or like – it’s not just on the —

MR TONER: Again, no, that wouldn’t – so that wouldn’t – again, I would refer those kinds of questions to the FBI who’s conducting the investigation into this.

QUESTION: Well, what happens if they don’t get married within 90 days?

MR TONER: I would presume that the – that would invalidate the visa.

QUESTION: And if – okay. And then if they do, does that mean that the visa is extended or they have to apply for something else?

MR TONER: Unclear to me whether that would be – that would be automatically extended. I would somewhat doubt that. There may be – again, I’m – I’d have to get you the full facts on it. I mean, if there’s extenuating circumstances, perhaps. I don’t know in this particular case and can’t really speak to it, but there’s a 90-day window because there’s a 90-day window. So, I mean —

QUESTION: Right. But one doesn’t automatically become a U.S. citizen —

MR TONER: No, not at all.

QUESTION: — simply because one married one. So clearly —

MR TONER: Not at all. So any individual would have to provide for legal residency or a green card after living here, I guess, in – it’s one year, I think.
[…]

QUESTION: — previous discussion, so would a person be able to apply as a Pakistani citizen from Saudi Arabia for that visa?

MR TONER: For a – for what, for a K-1 visa?

QUESTION: For a K-1 visa to come to the U.S. as —

MR TONER: I don’t believe so. I know she’s nodding yes, but I don’t believe so.

QUESTION: But there are some countries in the Middle East for which – from where, when you apply for a visa, you have to go to another country. I think Jordan, you have to go to from Qatar.

MR TONER: Again, my understanding – somewhat limited from my days as a consular officer – are that you need to apply for a visa from the country of origin. I think there are sometimes exceptions made, but they’re rarely made.

On December 4, Elizabeth Trudeau, the Press Office director did her bit at the DPB. Nope, nope, nope. Please don’t drink all the gin when you read this:

QUESTION: What more can you tell us that – I mean, presumably, you guys have gone back and looked into the whole process by which she was granted this K-1 visa. What more can you tell us that you didn’t – or that you weren’t able – that Mark wasn’t able to tell us yesterday?

MS TRUDEAU: So I don’t have a lot more to add on that. Thanks for the question. What I would say is that – in fact, I’m going to keep this briefing relatively short today. We understand the FBI will be actually – go out this afternoon and have some more information on this ongoing investigation.

What I would emphasize is the process. And I think we spoke a little bit about this yesterday, the issuance of the K-1 visa. All visa applications in the U.S. are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis with the requirements of the Immigration and the Nationality Act. Again, while we can’t speak specifically about the details of this case, what we can is – I can walk you through the process.

I’m not sure if that would be helpful, Matt, or if you have more specific questions.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know if it would be helpful, but why can’t you speak in specifics about it?

MS TRUDEAU: So visa records are confidential under section F – or 222(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

QUESTION: Well, that’s wonderful, but there are a bunch of – there is a lot of dead people in California because of what this woman did, who clearly was interviewed and cleared to enter the United States.

MS TRUDEAU: On a —

QUESTION: So I’m not sure I understand exactly why it is that the immigration law prevents you from talking about a dead terrorist suspect.
[…[

MS TRUDEAU: So the visa records are – I am unable to speak to those because of the confidentiality of the visa records. However, speaking specifically about details of travel and that – that’s the investigation.

QUESTION: Even after someone’s dead? The person’s records are still —

MS TRUDEAU: So visa records are confidential.

QUESTION: Well, I’m sure that’s of great relief to her, but she’s dead now. And there are a lot of other people who are dead, as well. So I’m not sure I understand why it is that you can’t talk about this.

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I can talk about process.

[…]

QUESTION: So – and can you tell us when exactly the – this, in this instance, the K-1 visa was issued, and confirm again that it was, in fact, issued in Islamabad?

MS TRUDEAU: Unfortunately, confidentiality precludes me from doing that.

QUESTION: Even though the spokesperson up at —

MS TRUDEAU: So I —

QUESTION: — the podium yesterday said that it was issued in Islamabad, you can’t say that again today?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’d let Mark’s remarks stand on that.

QUESTION: So can you say that it was issued in Islamabad?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m going to let Mark’s remarks stand yesterday.
[…]

QUESTION: What’s the standard for demonstrating that it’s a romantic marriage and not human trafficking? Do you – what kind of – what do you have to demonstrate to —

MS TRUDEAU: So each case is different —

QUESTION: — prove a relationship?

MS TRUDEAU: — and I can actually speak to this, as many Foreign Service officers in the State Department have actually done this sort of work. And each case is looked at individually. There is bona fides that are taken a look at. You establish the relationship. It’s a face-to-face interview with an American officer.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS TRUDEAU: It’s actually with the fiance(e).

QUESTION: They’re both there?

MS TRUDEAU: Actually, it’s – the interview is with the fiance(e). The petition is done by the American spouse.

QUESTION: So did anyone interview —

MS TRUDEAU: So it is required —

QUESTION: — the Pakistani citizen?

MS TRUDEAU: — as part of the visa process that the applicant – so the fiance(e) is interviewed face to face.

QUESTION: But is the recipient also interviewed?

MS TRUDEAU: The U.S. citizen spouse?

QUESTION: Yes.

MS TRUDEAU: On that, let me take that. I’m not quite sure what happens. That’s really a DHS question, because that’s a petition question that happens in the U.S. For the State Department, it’s the visa issuance.
[…[

QUESTION: How long does it take, average, to get a K-1 visa?

MS TRUDEAU: From petition to interview, it varies case to case, it varies on paperwork. Let me get that exact answer for you, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, is it much shorter than 12-18 months?

MS TRUDEAU: It can be, yes.

QUESTION: Yes, it can be pretty – it can be pretty good, right?

MS TRUDEAU: It can also – because each case —

QUESTION: So who determines – who – is it Congress that determines that?

MS TRUDEAU: The amount of issuance —

QUESTION: The process, the process for the K-1.

MS TRUDEAU: So the process for K-1 is actually – it’s codified right now under our procedures in how we issue visas. In terms of the legal authority on that, I’ll have to check that.

QUESTION: Well, has anyone ever given any thought to making the process for a K-1 visa or other types of visas similar to that for the refugee screening process?

[…]

QUESTION: Why should Americans have confidence – or to ask it a different way, should Americans, can Americans have confidence in this visa processing system?

MS TRUDEAU: Yes, I believe they can. And I would say this for a lot of different reasons. One, it’s an adaptable system. This is something that the State Department and our interagency partners continue to look at how we can improve this. We improved it, as I said, after 9/11. We continue to improve it. We’re working closer with the interagency community on this. We have shared databases, shared fingerprints. And also there’s the requirement of the face-to-face interview, which, in cases like this for the fiance(e) visa, it’s very important to establish that sort of relationship that would then trigger a fiance(e) visa moving in.

QUESTION: And I understand your argument it’s been improved over time, but the reality is, based on our reporting today, Tashfeen Malik pledged allegiance to ISIS. So how can you say with absolute confidence that someone didn’t miss something in this case?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. Well, why I can’t – I can’t get ahead of this investigation. I’d say there’s a lot of information out there. So on details of this investigation, I’m going to refer you to the FBI on that. But I would say that the improvements and the continual improvements that we look forward to making as our systems adapt – that the State Department maintains that our primary responsibility in this is to protect the homeland.

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4 responses

  1. These transcripts make the case for having experts respond to media inquiries. The pushback to that seemingly practical and sensible idea would presumably be: that’s the spokesperson’s job, and we can’t have the experts for every topic clustered around the podium at every press briefing. Nevertheless, it would be a smart practice for responding to incidents of this magnitude.

    • Thanks. I can understand the potential push back but the spoxes unable to answer/explain the process correctly serves to only add to the confusion and the misinformation out there.

  2. Hi Guys I am a little old country boy and I am confused on the facts. We were told her visa was issued in 2014 in Saudi Arabia. Your post said 2009, 2012 and 2014. Mentioned Islamabad as the issuing point. We know she was in University and a Madras in Pakistani 2007 – 2014. Several reporters went to Pakistani and spoke to the Imam and a representative of the university. Would you please clarify things as you know them. Ed   Sent: Thursday, December 10, 2015 2:18 AM Subject: [New post] Dear @StateDept, You Need Bond. Michele Bond at the Daily Press Briefing

    • Thanks Ed, I don’t know anything more than you do. That’s the main reason why I think we need the highest official from the CA bureau to be up there answering questions so that State can have the facts out, and avoid confusion.

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