(SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) — In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, federal bureaucracy and a lack of coordination led to a bottleneck as investigators attempted to locate a friend of one of the shooters in connection with the attack, a new report says.
The delay cost 30 minutes and sparked calls for approval all the way to Washington, D.C., during the urgent investigation, according to an Inspector General report released Friday.
On Dec. 3, 2015, the day after the San Bernardino shooting that left 14 people dead, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) received word that Enrique Marquez’s wife had an appointment to adjust her immigration status that day at a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office.
Marquez, a friend of gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, was being sought in connection to the shooting and was later arrested on terrorism-related charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
When HSI agents arrived at the office, Federal Protective Service (FPS) agents told the them they had to wait in the lobby until the USCIS Field Office Director approved their entry.
After 15-20 minutes, the Field Office Director was eventually reached and the agents were escorted inside.
About 10 minutes later, the Field Office Director told the agents they were “not allowed to arrest, detain, or interview anyone in the building based on USCIS policy, and that she would need to obtain guidance from her superior before allowing them access,” said the IG report. The director denied saying that, but the IG found her account of the encounter to be inconsistent.
After several phone calls to superiors and some more back-and-forth, the USCIS staff determined that Marquez’ wife never checked in for her appointment.
Despite the miscommunication and delay, the investigation itself was not impacted, the report said.
The IG concluded that the USCIS Field Office Director “improperly delayed” HSI agents from conducting a lawful and routine law enforcement action.
“The report from the Office of Inspector General confirms whistleblower complaints I received about a dangerous lack of coordination between ICE and the USCIS,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
In a statement, Homeland Security said coordination has been improved.
“ICE and USCIS have since improved their protocols for facility access and information sharing in circumstances with potential national security or public safety implications, in order to avoid any such delays in the future,” the agency said in a statement. “FPS is also clarifying with its employees, Facility Security Committees, and protective security officers the agency’s policy of allowing law enforcement partners access to federal facilities during emergency situations.”
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