The San Bernardino terrorists communicated through “direct private messages” and there is “no evidence of posting on social media,” FBI Director James Comey said Wednesday.
Comey made the remarks at a press conference following his speech at the NYPD Shield Conference in New York City. He pushed back on what he called “garbled” reports that indicated Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook may have posted openly about their jihadist tendencies to social media accounts.
Farook and Malik’s rampage on Dec. 2 killed 14 and wounded 22 others at a holiday party for county workers. The married terrorist duo was later gunned down by police.
“I see no indication that either of these killers came across our screen, tripped any trip wires."
- James Comey, FBI director
But following revelations that Malik and Farook spoke about martyrdom online before their marriage, and that Malik tried contacting terrorist groups through the Internet, some have questioned if law enforcement officials should have spotted the plot before it was too late. Malik, a Pakistani, reportedly passed three background checks before she was granted a K-1, or fiancé, visa in 2014. None appear to have uncovered her Islamist sympathies.
“I see no indication that either of these killers came across our screen, tripped any trip wires,” said Comey, who also indicated he hadn’t seen anything that “should have put them on our screen.”
Comey sought to clarify what type of online communication Malik and Farook actually participated in, specifically noting the messages they exchanged were “not public postings.”
“I’m talking about the kinds of messages that billions, trillions are sent every day,” said Comey, who wouldn’t name the specific communications platform the pair of terrorists used. “We don’t intercept the communications of Americans without predication.”
Comey said Malik and Farook “worked very hard for reasons that are not clear to me” to keep authorities from accessing any of their devices following the terror massacre. He said some of the devices were smashed and investigators are still working to access them.
Even if they are able to access them, however, they may not find much.
Comey said that some products or services are designed so not even the provider can access the communications, should the need arise. Other systems are secure and have email encryption when a message is in motion, but also allow companies to read communications if they’re served with a court order.
“I think the conversation we have to have is what do consumers want? Comey said. “And how do businesses want to conduct themselves?”