As He Retires, U.S. Diplomat Delivers Message That 'Values Have Power'

Longtime diplomat Daniel Fried, shown here at a meeting in Seoul in 2016, told colleagues at his retirement party on Friday he’s “learned never to underestimate the possibility of change.”

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Retirement parties have become frequent events at the State Department in recent weeks. So, too, are the warnings about where foreign policy may be heading under the Trump Administration.

On Friday afternoon, yet another experienced State Department official moved on. Daniel Fried was feted with champagne and cake at the end of his 40-year career as a diplomat who helped shape America’s post-Cold War policy in Europe.

Fried, a longtime critic of Russia, served in the then-Soviet Union, worked on Poland and Central Europe and was the assistant secretary of state for Europe under President George W. Bush.

Most recently, Fried was the lead sanctions expert at the State Department, formulating sanctions including those imposed on Russia for annexing Crimea in 2014 and stirring up a conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Fried told colleagues at his party on Friday that over the years, he learned that values have power. Time and patience can pay off, as it did when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

“The West’s great institutions, NATO and the EU, grew to embrace 100 million liberated Europeans,” Fried said. “It was my honor to do what I could to help.”

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Amb. Dan Fried, one of generation’s great diplomats, retired today. Read his powerful defense of liberal international order.

— Antony Blinken (@ABlinken) February 24, 2017

“I learned never to underestimate the possibility of change,” he said. “Nothing can be taken for granted, and this great achievement is now under assault by Russia, but what we did in my time is no less honorable. It is for the present generation to defend and, when the time comes again, extend freedom in Europe.”

There were some not-too-subtle digs, too, at President Trump, who has talked about trying to make “a deal” with Russia.

Germany offered Britain a sphere of influence deal in 1940, Fried reminded his colleagues. “Churchill didn’t take the deal then,” he said. “We shouldn’t take similar deals now.”

The Atlantic Council’s Damon Wilson tweeted that Fried’s remarks were a “clarion call for the U.S. to believe in itself and lead [a] liberal order.”

Fried urged his colleagues to continue to serve the Trump administration with “loyalty, dedication and courage.”

“Help Secretary Tillerson,” he said. “He deserves it. And he needs it. And help the president as well, putting your backs in it.”

Fried also spoke of the importance of American values and identity.

“We are not an ethno-state, with identity rooted in shared blood,” he noted. “The option of a white man’s republic ended at Appomattox.”

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Deported With A Valid U.S. Visa, Jordanian Says Message Is 'You're Not Welcome'

Yahya Abu Romman stands outside his family’s home in downtown Amman. The 22-year-old was deported from the U.S. after landing in Chicago at the end of January with a valid visa. He says border officers questioned why he holds a Jordanian passport when he was born in Syria.

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Yahya Abu Romman, a 22-year-old languages major, had just graduated from university. To celebrate, he planned a six-week trip to the U.S., where his brother, uncles and aunts and more than a dozen cousins have lived for years.

With good grades, an engaging personality and fluency in three languages — English, Arabic and Spanish — he had worked as a nature conservation ranger while studying, and had his pick of jobs with tour companies in Jordan, a strong U.S. ally.

In 2015, Abu Romman was issued a tourist visa at the U.S. embassy in Amman, good for five years. With money from a graduation present, he bought a round-trip ticket and landed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport a few days after the start of President Trump’s travel ban on the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

That’s where the positive impression of the U.S. he’d inherited from his father came to a screeching halt.

“My dad is a graduate from the University of Illinois,” says Abu Romman. “He always told me America is the land of justice, land of opportunities, of generosity. That there are very kind people. And there are. But I think things have changed.”

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Abu Romman is a Jordanian citizen, but born in Syria. He’s been to Syria only once since birth — and being born in an Arab country doesn’t automatically confer citizenship there. Instead, citizenship is generally based your father’s nationality. Still, Abu Romman couldn’t persuade the border officer at O’Hare that he wasn’t Syrian.

“He said, ‘Sir, if you were born in Syria, you should have a Syrian passport,’ ” says Abu Romman at his family’s home off a winding street in the Jordanian capital. “I said, ‘Why should I have a Syrian passport? My father is Jordanian. My mother is Jordanian. We all are Jordanian, but it happened to be in Syria where I was born.’ He knocked on the glass next to him, to his colleague. He said, ‘We might have a problem with this.”

The questions moved on to the case of Abu Romman’s brother, who had lived illegally in the U.S. and overstayed a visa before becoming a citizen. Then border guards went through Abu Romman’s phone and found emails he’d sent to flight schools in the U.S. and other countries.

Abu Romman says his dream was to learn to fly, and he was simply asking about scholarships. But the officer wasn’t convinced that he wasn’t planning to stay in the U.S.

“He said, ‘Sir, we’re going to be cancelling your visa,'” says Abu Romman.

He shows me his U.S. visa with the words “Revoked – cancelled by CBP” – Customs and Border Protection — written across it with a red marker.

Zina Khabbas (left), a Jordanian engineering graduate who says she wants to leave the country but has no interest in going to the United States. Khabbas was at a demonstration Friday protesting rising prices of fuel and government services.

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Abu Romman says the officer told him he would not be allowed to call his embassy before he signed papers agreeing to be deported. He says he wasn’t allowed to phone a lawyer or a family member.

“He said, ‘If you refuse to sign the papers … I will ban you from entering the United States for the rest of your life,'” Abu Romman says.

He was told he would be deported the following morning.

CBP officers took his jacket, his belt, his phone and his shoelaces, he says, and put him in a cold cell with a steel door and open toilet, along with five other people.

“I sat there and introduced myself to my cellmates. Most of them were engineers or something,” Abu Romman says.

There were five mattresses on the floor for six people. Abu Romman says everyone crammed into the cell had advanced degrees, including an Indian engineer working for an American company.

Refugee and immigrants’ rights organizations have gone to court over the issue of other travelers who were earlier denied entry to the U.S. after the ban. The case argues that the travelers were coerced by border officials into agreeing to be deported. This is similar to Abu Romman’s account of his experience at O’Hare, though he is not represented in the case.

As of Friday afternoon, CBP had yet to comment in response to NPR requests about Abu Romman’s experience.

Abu Romman had visited the United States once before, when he was in the sixth grade, and has wonderful memories of that trip.

“They were so welcoming – ‘Come to us. See our beautiful land,'” he says. “Now they’re telling you not to come, please. ‘You’re not welcome.'”

He’s been told by the U.S. embassy in Jordan he can apply again for a visa, but probably shouldn’t do it right way. Abu Romman says he probably will, but it’s been a painful lesson. He seems genuinely puzzled by the assumption by border officers that he might try to stay in the U.S.

“I’m a lot safer in Jordan,” he says. “You hear about people being robbed and killed [in the U.S.] all the time. My relatives say sometimes even in gas stations, there are bullet-proof windows between people working there and the customer. You never have to worry about that here.”

Most Jordanians say their biggest problems are economic. At a demonstration Friday in downtown Amman to protest price increases in fuel and public services, another recent graduate, Zina Khabbas, said she was thinking of moving to the Gulf.

Khabbas, wearing designer sunglasses and an elegant head scarf woven with gold threads, is an engineer. She says it’s tough to make ends meet in Jordan, but neither she nor her friends are considering the U.S.

“America was an opportunity for people here before,” says the 22-year-old. “But now, no one is actually thinking about the United States for a future place to live.”

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Criticized By Peers, White House Counterterror Adviser Returns Fire

Deputy assistant to President Trump Sebastian Gorka participates in a discussion during the Conservative Political Action Conference on February 24, 2017, in National Harbor, Md.

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President Trump’s counterterrorism adviser is under fire from his peers — and Sebastian Gorka is hitting back.

Just ask Michael Smith. He’s a counterterrorism expert in Charleston, S.C., who specializes in online recruiting efforts and who has advised members of Congress on terrorism-related issues.

At about 7 p.m. on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 21, Smith says he received a call on his smartphone from a private number in Falls Church, Va. It was Gorka — not calling from a government line at his office at the White House.

“The statements made from the very beginning led me to believe that it was a prank call,” Smith tells NPR. “Because he’s calling me from a cellphone suggesting that he wants to talk about official business — specifically, elevating awareness of my tweets about him to White House legal counsel.”

Smith has been a prominent critic of Gorka, questioning the 46-year-old British immigrant’s qualifications to be Trump’s new counterterrorism czar.

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“I frankly was stunned that the administration would hire him to work in the White House on such critical issues as counterterrorism,” says Smith, a Republican who voted for Trump. “This could blow up in our faces, to have basically an amateur working on such important policies and working with people like [White House chief strategist] Steve Bannon.”

Much of Smith’s criticism of Gorka has appeared on his Twitter account under the hashtag #FakeTerrorismExpert.

Gorka began their phone conversation by threatening to have a White House legal team review Smith’s online jabs, Smith says.

“I believe it speaks to an absence of professionalism,” Smith says. “I mean, to call somebody and posture intent to entangle that person in a legal battle with the White House — that’s a call that should be made on an official White House line so there’s a full recording of it for the public record.”

So about five minutes into their conversation, Smith began recording the call. Here’s one excerpt:

Gorka: Why, why is there such vitriol pumping out of you constantly every day now? It’s so strange. I look at your Twitter feed, you know, once or twice a day and again, it’s half a dozen tweets about me and I’ve never met you.

Smith: Wow. Are you defeating jihad by monitoring or trolling my Twitter feed? I mean honestly, to begin, you’ve called…

Gorka: Oh, if that’s your answer, if that’s your explanation…

Smith: … you’ve called, you’ve called as a White House official, you have called an American citizen…

Gorka: Yes, I have.

Smith: …and begun the conversation very confrontationally by accusing me of animus toward you. Of which I’m attempting to explain, there is no animus towards you: I believe that you are a charlatan.

At another point in the conversation, Gorka recapitulates what he said before Smith began recording the call:

Gorka: Before I do anything and show these materials to legal counsel, tell me why you’re doing it.

Smith says Gorka’s initial harsh tone softened during the call.

“I think it occurred to him that he may be approaching things in such an unprofessional manner that I could perhaps bring that to light in such a way as to harm his career working in government,” Smith says. “He probably recognized that his conduct was so unbecoming.”

Gorka did not respond to NPR‘s repeated requests for comment on this story. He did appear on Morning Edition earlier this month to talk about the counterterrorism raid that Trump ordered in Yemen and the administration’s positions about Israeli settlements.

As for his conversation with Smith, Gorka invited him during the call to come to the White House to discuss the matter “face to face, man to man.” They agreed to meet there on March 8.

That invitation was rescinded the next day.

“Given your statements for the latest attack piece and continued disparaging Tweets against not only myself but the administration and president,” Gorka wrote in an email to Smith, “consider your invitation to meet withdrawn.”

Despite having authored the best-selling 2016 book Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War Gorka was not well known in Washington before his arrival at the Trump White House.

“This is somebody who has been kind of excluded from a lot of mainstream conversations for a long time,” says James Carafano, a military expert at the Heritage Foundation and a member of the Trump transition team. “And if there’s one thing Seb is well practiced at, it’s about not being ignored.”

In a December interview with Fox News, Gorka declared: “The era of the pajama boy is over January 20th — and the alpha males are back.”

Gorka seemed to illustrate that point three days after Trump won the presidency, at a gathering in Palm Beach, Fla.

“I’m gonna start with something a tad naughty,” he told a giddy crowd of Trump supporters. “We are happy. But I am going to show a picture I’m not meant to show usually.”

A grisly photo was then projected onto a large screen of the body of an insurgent lying face down, with an AK-47 at its side. “We can win now,” Gorka roared before the cheering crowd. “We can win!”

“Gorka is a showman,” says Paul Pillar, a former chief of counterterrorist analysis at the CIA who is now a fellow at Georgetown University. “Gorka is not taken seriously as an analyst of terrorism or international affairs in the serious academic community.”

Still, Trump’s top counterterrorism adviser has gotten a lot of attention.

That’s due in good measure to Gorka’s fierce public defense of the president’s executive order temporarily barring the entry of refugees and the people of seven predominantly Muslim nations.

“The border is our front door,” Gorka told an approving crowd at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, D.C. “Surely we should have a control as to who enters our house. This is the house of America, and the idea that we don’t control it is crazy!”

Such views alarm Gorka’s critics.

“It is dangerous and counterproductive to allege, as Gorka does, that the struggle against terrorism and political violence is basically a struggle against Islam,” says Georgetown’s Pillar. “Unfortunately, the doctrine that Gorka articulates is reflected in much of what President Trump and, earlier, candidate Trump have been saying.”

At another recent gathering, Gorka described a global jihadi war that extends to every American home.

“The front line in this war,” he told defense contractors and special operations personnel, “is when you step out of your house in the morning. That’s the front line.”

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Doug Wamble On Piano Jazz

Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Doug Wamble grew up listening to the Southern gospel, country and blues traditions of his Tennessee home. Once he developed his love for jazz, Wamble began to soak up the sounds of jazz masters like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Ornette Coleman. Along the way, he discovered his off-the-cuff singing was a hit with fans and critics alike. In this 2005 Piano Jazz session, Wamble and host Marian McPartland perform a number of genre-spanning standards, from “St. Louis Blues” to John Coltrane‘s “Naima.”

Originally broadcast in the fall of 2005.

Set List
  • “Come Rain Or Come Shine” (Mercer, Arlen)
  • “Stardust” (Carmichael, Parish)
  • “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” (Hammerstein, Romberg)
  • “Lonely Woman” (Coleman, Guryan)
  • “St. James Infirmary” (Mills)
  • “You Don’t Know What Love Is” (DePaul, Raye)
  • “Naima” (Coltrane)
  • “St. Louis Blues” (Handy)

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FCC Chairman Goes After His Predecessor's Internet Privacy Rules

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit is moving to soften his predecessor’s sweeping privacy rules for Internet service providers.

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The newly appointed Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is moving to scale back the implementation of sweeping privacy rules for Internet providers passed last year.

Chairman Ajit Pai on Friday asked the FCC to hit pause on the rollout of one part of those rules that was scheduled to go into effect next week. This marks the latest in his efforts to roll back his predecessor’s regulatory moves.

Overall, the privacy rules would regulate how ISPs have to disclose to their customers what information is collected on them and how it’s used or shared with other companies — including guidance on getting consumers’ consent in some cases.

Pai’s move on Friday does not target those data-collection regulations, but goes after one element of the rules related to security protocols and other measures ISPs have to take to protect the collected data.

While the rest of the FCC’s privacy regulations are still winding through required government reviews, the data security rules were set to go into effect on March 2.

“This is the first robin of spring,” says Andrew Jay Schwartzman, veteran telecom lawyer now at the Georgetown University Law Center. “These rules are about to go into effect so (Pai) has got to act on them now. … He’s got more time to act on the other rules.”

A group of telecom associations and companies, including Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, has filed a petition asking the FCC to halt broader privacy rules, which were passed in part on the basis of the broader authority the agency claimed over the industry through its landmark “net neutrality” overhaul.

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As we’ve reported before, telecom and cable companies argue that the new FCC privacy rules put them on an unequal footing with other Internet companies that collect data on users, like Google and Netflix, which are only overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC’s privacy guidelines are less stringent than the ones passed by the FCC and they are implemented through investigations and enforcement, rather than pre-emptive regulations.

When the Democratic majority passed the FCC privacy rules, Republican commissioners — including now-Chairman Pai — called them corporate favoritism. This sentiment was echoed in the statement the FCC issued on Friday:

“Chairman Pai believes that the best way to protect the online privacy of American consumers is through a comprehensive and uniform regulatory framework. All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another. Therefore, he has advocated returning to a technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world and harmonizing the FCC’s privacy rules for broadband providers with the FTC’s standards for others in the digital economy. Unfortunately, one of the previous administration’s privacy rules that is scheduled to take effect on March 2 is not consistent with the FTC’s privacy standards.”

Consumer advocacy groups have argued that the ISPs have a broader capacity to collect data on people than websites and digital services, given that ISPs connect users to all those websites and services in the first place.

ISPs might use the collected data for their own promotions or sell it to data brokers for marketing or other uses.

Pai’s move on Friday seeks a vote of his fellow commissioners, of which there are currently two: a Democrat and a Republican. But even without the vote, the FCC staff can hit pause on the data security part of the rules until the full FCC vote on the pending petitions to reconsider the broader privacy rules.

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Bounding Baby Bongo Born

A month-old baby bongo at the Los Angeles Zoo.

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Jamie Pham/Los Angeles Zoo

The Los Angeles Zoo has officially announced its newest addition: a baby bongo.

Eastern bongos are striped forest antelopes, with large ears and horns. They are found in the wild in East Africa and are critically endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which maintains the so-called red list of species facing extinction.

Only 75 to 140 wild bongos are thought to still live in Kenya.

The baby bongo is about 2 feet tall and about 55 pounds. Its mother is about 500 pounds.

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Jamie Pham/Los Angeles Zoo

“This birth is a true testament to the work zoos are doing to sustain critically endangered species,” said Josh Sisk, the curator of mammals at the Los Angeles Zoo in a press release.

“Babies like this little bongo calf engage visitors and allow the Zoo to spread their conservation message. It is our hope that he will one day father offspring of his own.”

The baby bongo, a male, is almost 2 feet tall and weighs about 55 pounds. In a video shared by the zoo, he stays close to his parents, occasionally bounding over a low divider in the enclosure where he lives.

Adult bongos are about 4 1/2 feet tall and weigh between 500 and 800 pounds, according to the zoo.

He was born Jan. 20. His arrival has just been announced because he is now living with the adult bongos at the zoo, and visitors can see him.

According to the zoo press release, the baby bongo is the son of a five-year-old mother named Rizzo and a seven-year-old father named Asa and lives with two other females in a small herd at the zoo.

“Also housed in the same habitat are two yellow-backed duikers, a forest-dwelling antelope found mainly in central and western Africa. The bongo calf has been very curious [about] his new neighbors and has expressed interest in getting to know them better,” the zoo stated.

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According to the African Wildlife Foundation, a conservation group, bongos can live up to 19 years in captivity.

Which means this bongo will eventually need a name. We humbly suggest Bingo.

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Los Angeles Officials To ICE: Stop Identifying Yourselves As Police

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and Los Angeles police officers enter a house during a joint operation in 2009.

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Officials in Los Angeles have asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents working in the city not to identify themselves as police.

In a letter addressed to the ICE deputy field office director who handles immigration enforcement, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer, and the president of the city council Herb Wesson wrote:

“In Los Angeles, the term “police” is synonymous with the Los Angeles Police Department, so for ICE agents to represent themselves as police misleads the public into believing they are interacting with LAPD. This is especially corrosive given that to advance public safety, the LAPD does not initiate police action with the objective of determining a person’s immigration status.”

The letter cited reporting by the Los Angeles Times which described an agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, identifying him or herself as a police officer.

The article published an account of an exchange captured on video and released by ICE this month:

“A team of ICE agents in Los Angeles approached the house of a man targeted for deportation.

” ‘Good morning, police,’ one agent announced in the pre-dawn darkness.

“A man opened the door moments later.

” ‘Good morning, how you doing? I’m a police officer. We’re doing an investigation,’ the agent said.”

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The report, published Tuesday, explained that “there is nothing illegal about ICE agents simply identifying themselves as police officers while standing outside someone’s door,” but went on to note:

“Agents generally are not armed with search or arrest warrants when they try to detain someone on suspicion of being in the country illegally. Without a warrant, they cannot force their way into someone’s home and, instead must receive consent from an adult to enter.”

A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the western region, Virginia Kice, said ICE agents wear protective vests during operations that often say both “ICE” and “Police” on them. It’s up to individual agents how they configure the identifying patches that attach to the vests — for example, whether they wear the words on their chests or backs.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in February in Los Angeles. The mayor of the city has asked ICE agents not to identify themselves as police during operations.

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Bryan Cox/AP

In a statement, Kice acknowledged, “As a standard practice, special agents and officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may initially identify themselves as ‘police’ during an encounter because it is the universally recognized term for law enforcement and our personnel routinely interact with individuals from around the world.”

“In the often dangerous law enforcement arena, being able to immediately identify yourself as law enforcement may be a life-or-death issue,” the statement continued.

Agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also use the word “police” to identify themselves sometimes.

Mary Markos, a spokesperson for the ATF, wrote in an email to NPR, “if [ATF agents] are in the process of a federal search warrant where we ‘knock and announce’ at the door, we would say police. Other times, our agents would show their credentials and announce themselves as ATF Special Agents.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency told NPR that agents generally identify themselves by saying “DEA, search warrant,” if they are knocking on a door, or by describing themselves as agents for the DEA, not as police.

The disagreement between Los Angeles and federal officials is the latest in a series of public arguments about how local governments do, or don’t, assist federal agents operating in their cities in the wake of executive actions cracking down on people living in the U.S. illegally.

In January, President Trump threatened to withhold federal funds to so-called sanctuary cities.

In New York City this week, “ICE officials publicly assailed the city government after an undocumented Salvadoran teenager with suspected ties to a violent gang … was released from Rikers Island despite a federal request for assistance with his deportation,” reported The New York Times.

In Miami-Dade County, the mayor ordered county jails to honor federal detention requests from the Department of Homeland Security, reversing the county’s earlier policy, as The Miami Herald reported.

And in Denver, the federal immigration agency accused the local sheriff of notifying ICE agents too late for agents to act before the sheriff’s department released from the county jail a man suspected of being in the country illegally, according to the local NBC News affiliate.

In an interview with NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered, Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler discussed the tension between local police and federal immigration authorities.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty here,” Adler said. “It’s, unfortunately, undermining a lot of the trust relationship that had been built up with our public safety officials over time. It’s sending people back into the darkness.”

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Trump Administration Weighs Increased Scrutiny Of Refugees' Social Media

In late 2015, the Obama administration began checking the social media accounts of Syrian refugees seeking to come to the U.S. The practice has continued, and may be expanded, under the Trump administration.

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As President Trump prepares a new executive order on vetting refugees and immigrants, one idea keeps cropping up: checking the social media accounts of those coming to the U.S.

In fact, such a program began under the Obama administration more than a year ago on a limited basis, and is likely to expand. But social media vetting is a heavy lift, and it’s too early to tell how effective it will be.

Leon Rodriguez, who stepped down last month as head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the checks began around the end of 2015, coinciding with the rise of Syrian refugee admissions.

Until that point, only 2,000 or so Syrian refugees had been admitted to the U.S. during four years of war there. The number of Syrian refugees coming to the U.S. jumped to more than 12,000 last year.

“Initially, we were focused on Syrian males who had some sort of flag in their application,” said Rodriguez. Over the course of last year, his agency kept “expanding the universe of people whose social media we examined, to include larger numbers of Syrian applicants and Iraqi applicants.”

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The agency examined Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, he said. Most were in Arabic, and it could take an entire day to go over the file of one person, he noted. Additional staffers have been hired and trained, though it’s still a limited number of applicants who receive such scrutiny.

With Trump repeatedly calling for “extreme vetting,” such measures are likely to continue and could well expand, according to analysts.

Trump’s initial executive order on Jan. 27, which froze immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries, has been blocked by the courts, but the president has promised a new order next week.

Asking for passwords

In an interview with NPR earlier this month, John Kelly, the head of Homeland Security, indicated that extreme vetting might include measures like asking applicants for their social media passwords.

“Someone comes in and says, ‘I want to come to the United States.’ Then we ask them to give us a list of websites that they visit and the passwords to get on those websites to see what they’re looking at,” Kelly said.

So far, the only new wrinkle under the Trump administration has been a tweak to forms that request refugee applicants to list specific social media sites they use, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

What would constitute a red flag?

Rodriguez said that expressions of religious devotion were not an issue. But if, for example, a teenage boy in a refugee family had been watching gruesome Islamic State videos on the family computer, that would prompt an agent to take action such as putting an application on hold, if not rejecting it, Rodriguez said.

The agency also undertook a pilot program looking at the selective use of social media vetting for other categories of people coming to the U.S., beyond refugees — including, perhaps, some holding student or fiance visas.

Looking beyond refugees

While much of the recent debate has focused on refugees, they are just a tiny fraction of those coming to the U.S. They are already heavily scrutinized, and have not traditionally been a source of terror attacks.

Rodriguez said social media vetting provided an additional tool, but he said was comfortable with the extensive background checks conducted by multiple government agencies, which now engage in much more data-sharing than in years past.

The U.S. took in 85,000 refugees last year, the largest number since the 1990s.

That compares to more than 1 million immigrants who enter the U.S. annually. Many are coming from countries like Mexico, China, India and the Philippines, and are joining family members already settled in the U.S.

Those receiving temporary visas — tourists, business people and students — account for the overwhelming majority of foreigners coming to the U.S. They numbered nearly 77 million in 2015.

Temporary visas are the quickest way to get into the country with the least amount of scrutiny. Almost all the Sept. 11 hijackers came into the U.S. on tourist or student visas, which many had overstayed by the time of the attacks.

Scrutiny of temporary visitors has been ramped up dramatically since then, but many feel this remains a potential weak spot because of the huge numbers involved.

“The focus on refugees was always badly misguided,” said Rodriguez. “It’s totally missing the point of where our actual vulnerabilities are.”

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David Oyelowo On The Real 'United Kingdom' Marriage And Its Diplomatic Fallout

David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike play real-life couple Seretse and Ruth Khama in A United Kingdom.

Stanislav Honzik/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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Stanislav Honzik/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

A young woman meets a prince and falls in love. That sounds like the start of an old fashioned fairy tale, but in the movie A United Kingdom it’s the start of a diplomatic firestorm. The film tells the story of Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama, who married in 1948. Williams was a typist in London; Khama was heir to the throne of Bechuanaland, or modern-day Botswana.

Their marriage angered nearby countries that were part of the British empire, including South Africa, which had just banned mixed marriage and was establishing apartheid. As a result, Khama, played by David Oyelowo, was forced to defend his marriage both internationally and at home. One scene shows him doing just that in front of a tribal council.

“We should be fighting for equality,” he says. “That is where we should be focusing our minds, not on the wife I have chosen, who means you no harm, whose only apparent crime has been to fall in love with me — and mine to fall in love in with her. I cannot serve you without her by my side, but I cannot force you to accept this.”

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Oyelowo spoke with NPR’s Audie Cornish.

Interview Highlights

On Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama’s love story

The wonderful thing about Ruth Williams and Seretse Khama is even though they were from different countries, different cultures, even though they were living in a time period where there was very real and apparent opposition to a black man and a white woman being together, they fell in love with each other’s soul[s]; they fell in love with each other’s intellect; they fell in love with each other’s love of jazz.

They managed somehow to cut across and past the racial divide and it was almost as if, once they had fallen in love and were reemerging from that haze, that suddenly the reality of what they had allowed themselves to feel made itself known in the shape not only of familial opposition — both from Ruth’s family and Seretse’s family — but governmentally.

After his marriage, the real Seretse Khama spent years in exile. He’s shown here in 1956 with his wife, Ruth, and two of their children.

Associated Press

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Associated Press

On the political opposition to their marriage

Bechuanaland, as Botswana was called back then, was a protectorate of the United Kingdom, and so therefore Great Britain had a say in what was happening in Bechuanaland.

South Africa was in the midst of instituting apartheid. But also, Great Britain was beholden to South Africa because it needed South Africa’s uranium to fight the Cold War; it needed South Africa’s gold because the coffers were highly depleted after the second world war in the U.K. And South Africa was threatening to leave the commonwealth. So these two people getting married just across the border in Bechuanaland … was something South Africa was just not going to allow, and South Africa had a lot of leverage.

On how people in Bechuanaland reacted to the marriage

The people of Bechuanaland … had been subjected to apartheid-like behavior in their country. … And here was their prince, who had been sent away to be educated, coming back with a white person who, in people in Bechuanaland’s mind, was synonymous with intolerance and prejudice. And now you’re proposing that this person is going to be our queen? So, you know, some of the opposition was very understandable, some of it was purely about the disgust at the thought of this black man and this white woman in bed together.

On the similarities between Khama and Martin Luther King Jr., who Oyelowo played in the film Selma

Both men had that attribute that I personally admire the most in human beings, which is an enormous capacity to love. And not just love in a thin, romantic Hollywood way — I’m talking about sacrificial love where you are prepared to put yourself on the line for others. And in the case of Dr. King, obviously, that was for a people; but with Seretse Khama, it was for both his wife and his people. And, you know, that’s a real point of overlap that I could feel in my body playing both characters.

On whether, as an actor of color, he feels there are more roles for him now than there were before

I can’t lie to you and say I’m buried under an avalanche of scripts. And the reason I say that is, look, the breadth of what you hope will be coming your way isn’t necessarily there. So, you know, I’m not going to complain about it, I’m not going to grow bitter in a corner. I just have to develop things that I want to see myself do.

But having said that, you know, I asked Tom Cruise how he had managed to remain a movie star for over 30 years and he said to me, “David, create create create. After my very first movie, every film I’ve done I had a hand in bringing to fruition.” Now, that’s Tom Cruise. So if that’s the rule for him, it can be the rule for me.

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