- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2015

As questions remain unanswered about any plotting done in advance of the Dec. 2 shooting rampage in San Bernardino, the chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee has asked the Department of Justice to disclose whether the suspects may have relied on encryption to obscure their plans.

Sen. Ron Johnson, Wisconsin Republican, sent Attorney General Loretta Lynch a 15-question inquiry on Friday requesting specifics about the DOJ’s investigation so far into Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the husband-and-wife duo suspected of perpetrating an ambush at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino earlier this month that left 14 people dead and injured 21 others.

Authorities have already determined that the couple became radicalized in the years prior to the assault, and social media postings and interviews with acquaintances have suggested that the two failed to fully keep their ideologies a secret. Having failed to land on the radar of the FBI, however, Mr. Johnson has asked the attorney general if she can answer once and for as to whether any encrypted communications were obtained by authorities at this point into their investigation.

“Please provide any evidence of encrypted communication retrieved from the electronic devices of Mr. Farook and Ms. Malik that may have masked specific plans and logistics regarding the December 2, 2015 attack,” Mr. Johnson in a letter disclosed by the senator’s office on Monday.

James Comey, the director of the FBI, has said repeatedly in recent months that terrorists have been able to evade authorities time and time again as the result of products and services made by companies including Apple and Google that allow users to communicate privately with encryption. But even after push back from the tech industry helped convince Mr. Comey in October not to pursue a legislative remedy to the bureau’s so-called “going dark” problem, terrorist attacks in Paris, France—then the ambush in San Bernardino—rekindled concerns over the ability for bad actors to orchestrate their plots in the shadows.

“I will urge high tech and law enforcement leaders to make it harder for terrorist leaders to use technology to escape from justice,” President Obama said in the wake of the two attacks.

Although questions were asked in the aftermath of the tragedies in France and California about the perpetrators’ possible use of encryption, investigators have failed so far to conclude that their preparations were done in the dark. Nevertheless, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, evoked the Paris attack last week when she vowed to introduce legislation intended to curb the use of encryption.

“I think this world is really changing in terms of people wanting the protection and wanting law enforcement, if there is conspiracy going on over the Internet, that that encryption ought to be able to be pierced,” she told Mr. Comey during a Senate hearing.

Mr. Johnson has asked the attorney general to provide an answer with regards to the 15 questions contained in his letter by Christmas Eve.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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