Key Senate panel chairman opens inquiry into California massacre

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FBI, Homeland Security to Brief Congress on San Bernadino Killers

Nine days after 14 people were shot dead in California by a married couple the FBI says were inspired by Islamic extremism, the Republican chairman of a key U.S. Senate panel demanded the Justice Department on Friday turn over much of the evidence collected so far in the case.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson asked her agency to furnish the requested evidence, along with answers to more than a dozen questions he posed about the investigation, by Dec. 24.

A Justice Department spokesman declined comment, except to say, "We have received the letter and will review it."

The 10-page letter gives no explicit rationale for the request other than to cite the committee's congressional oversight authority in matters of national security.

But the nature of Johnson's queries and scope of the evidence he asked to review indicated his committee was looking for possible intelligence lapses in tracking Islamic extremist activity that might have worked to the killers' benefit.

"What did you miss and how can we tighten that up," a source close to the senator told Reuters in characterizing the thrust of Johnson's inquiry.

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Key Senate panel chairman opens inquiry into California massacre
Pictures of Wednesday's shooting victims are displayed at a makeshift memorial site Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 in San Bernardino, Calif. Thousands of employees of San Bernardino County are preparing to return to work Monday, five days after a county restaurant inspector and his wife opened fire on a gathering of his co-workers, killing 14 people and wounding 21. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A mourner holds a program with a picture of Isaac Amanios during a memorial service at St. Minas Church in Colton, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Amanios, 60-year-old environmental health inspector, fled his war-torn Eritrea for the United States in January 2000. He was fatally shot in the Dec. 2. mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Flowers and a portrait of Isaac Amanios are displayed at a memorial servic at St. Minas Church in Colton, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Isaac Amanios, 60-year-old environmental health inspector, fled his war-torn country in search of the American dream. Amanios immigrated to California in January 2000 from Ertiera. On Wednesday, he was among 14 people killed and 21 wounded when two assailants entered the Inland Regional Center and fired at a gathering with San Bernardino County Department of Health employees.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Family members and friends of Isaac Amanios grieve during a memorial service at St. Minas Church in Colton, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Isaac Amanios, 60-year-old environmental health inspector, fled his war-torn country in search of the American dream. Amanios immigrated to California in January 2000 from Ertiera. On Wednesday, he was among 14 people killed and 21 wounded when two assailants entered the Inland Regional Center and fired at a gathering with San Bernardino County Department of Health employees.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Family members and friends of Isaac Amanios grieve during a memorial services at St. Minas Church in Colton, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Isaac Amanios, 60-year-old environmental health inspector, fled his war-torn country in search of the American dream. Amanios immigrated to California in January 2000 from Ertiera. On Wednesday, he was among 14 people killed and 21 wounded when two assailants entered the Inland Regional Center and fired at a gathering with San Bernardino County Department of Health employees.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Family members and friends of Isaac Amanios grieve during a memorial service at St. Minas Church in Colton, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Isaac Amanios, 60-year-old environmental health inspector, fled his war-torn country in search of the American dream. Amanios immigrated to California in January 2000 from Ertiera. On Wednesday, he was among 14 people killed and 21 wounded when two assailants entered the Inland Regional Center and fired at a gathering with San Bernardino County Department of Health employees.  (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA - DECEMBER 12: Van Thanh Nguyen, center, mother of Tin Nguyen, 31, one of the victims of the deadly San Bernardino terrorist attack, is consoled by family members during her daughter's funeral service at the Good Shepherd Cemetery, in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Dec. 12, 2015. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA - DECEMBER 12: Nghi Van Nguyen, grandmother of Tin Nguyen, 31, one of the victims of the deadly San Bernardino terrorist attack, weep at her casket during her funeral service in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Dec. 12, 2015. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ANA, CA - DECEMBER 12: Pallbearers stand guard over the casket of the slain Tin Nguyen, 31, one of the victims of the deadly San Bernardino terrorist attack, at the start of the memorial service at St. Barbara's Catholic Church, in Santa Ana, Calif., on Dec. 12, 2015. (Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
SANTA ANA, CA - DECEMBER 12: Community members attend the funeral for Tin Nguyen, 31, one of the victims of the deadly San Bernardino terrorist attack, at St. Barbara's Catholic Church, in Santa Ana, Calif., on Dec. 12, 2015. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
COLTON, CA - DECEMBER 12: A woman consoles a man during a funeral service for San Bernardino shooting victim Isaac Amanios at the St. Minas Orthodox Church in Colton Saturday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
SANTA ANA, CA - DECEMBER 12: San Trinh, long time boyfriend of of Tin Nguyen, holds a photo after her coffin was loaded into a hearse at her funeral held at St. Barbaras Catholic Church in Santa Ana, CA on Saturday, December 12, 2015. A heavily armed man and woman opened fire Wednesday on a holiday banquet for his co-workers, killing multiple people and seriously wounding others in a precision assault, authorities said. Hours later, they died in a shootout with police. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
HUNTINGTON BEACH, CA - DECEMBER 12: Tram Le, center, cousin of Tin Nguyen, holds a cooler of Tin's during her burial held at Good Shepherd Cemetery in Huntington Beach, CA on Saturday, December 12, 2015. Tin Nguyen was one of 14 that died after a heavily armed man and woman opened fire Wednesday on a holiday banquet for his co-workers, killing multiple people and seriously wounding others in a precision assault, authorities said. Hours later, they died in a shootout with police. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
SANTA ANA, CA - DECEMBER 12: Family members of Tin Nguyen carry her coffin to a hearse at her funeral held at St. Barbaras Catholic Church in Santa Ana, CA on Saturday, December 12, 2015. A heavily armed man and woman opened fire Wednesday on a holiday banquet for his co-workers, killing multiple people and seriously wounding others in a precision assault, authorities said. Hours later, they died in a shootout with police. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
COLTON, CA - DECEMBER 12: The three children of San Bernardino shooting victim Isaac Amanios speak next to their fathers casket during funeral services at the St. Minas Orthodox Church in Colton Saturday. (Photo by Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
COVINA, CALIF. -- THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2015: Attendees weep after seeing a hearse carrying Yvette Velasco's casket, one of the victims of the deadly San Bernardino terrorist attacks, pass by before the funeral service at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Covina, Calif., on Dec. 10, 2015. Yvette Velasco is survived by her parents and three sisters. (Photo by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
California Highway Patrol officers attend a memorial service for Yvette Velasco on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 2. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The parents Yvette Velasco release a dove of during a memorial service on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 and injured 21 last Wednesday. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
A family blows a kiss at the casket of Yvette Velasco during a memorial service on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 2. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
The sisters of Yvette Velasco pay their respects at a memorial service on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 and injured 21 last Wednesday. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Friends of Yvette Velasco embrace as they arrive for a memorial services, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting Wednesday, Dec. 2, in San Bernardino, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
COVINA, CA - DECEMBER 10: Family members hug near the casket of 27-year-old Yvette Velasco at the first funeral for victims of the December 2 massacre in San Bernardino on December 10, 2015 in Covina, California. Velasco was attending a holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center on December 2 when Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik entered the room heavily armed and opened fire, killing 14 people and injuring 21 others. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Family members and friends arrive before a funeral service for Yvette Velasco, killed in the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, at the Forest Lawn in Covina, California on December 10, 2015. Velasco, one of the youngest victims, was at the training and holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center when Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, barged in on the gathering and opened fire on his San Bernardino County Department of Public Health coworkers, killing 14 and injuring 22 others in what the FBI is investigating as an 'act of terrorism.' AFP PHOTO/ RINGO CHIU / AFP / RINGO CHIU (Photo credit should read RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members, friends, and law enforcement members attend the funeral service for Yvette Velasco, killed in the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, at the Forest Lawn in Covina, California on December 10, 2015. Velasco, one of the youngest victims, was at the training and holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center when Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, barged in on the gathering and opened fire on his San Bernardino County Department of Public Health coworkers, killing 14 and injuring 22 others in what the FBI is investigating as an 'act of terrorism.' AFP PHOTO/ RINGO CHIU / AFP / RINGO CHIU (Photo credit should read RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)
Family members, friends, and law enforcement members attend the funeral service for Yvette Velasco, killed in the December 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, at the Forest Lawn in Covina, California on December 10, 2015. Velasco, one of the youngest victims, was at the training and holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center when Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, barged in on the gathering and opened fire on his San Bernardino County Department of Public Health coworkers, killing 14 and injuring 22 others in what the FBI is investigating as an 'act of terrorism.' AFP PHOTO/ RINGO CHIU / AFP / RINGO CHIU (Photo credit should read RINGO CHIU/AFP/Getty Images)
COVINA, CA - DECEMBER 10: Friends and loved ones pass graveside Christmas decorations as they arrive for funeral services for 27-year-old Yvette Velasco, the first funeral for victims of the December 2 massacre in San Bernardino, on December 10, 2015 in Covina, California. Velasco was attending a holiday luncheon at the Inland Regional Center on December 2 when Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik entered the room heavily armed and opened fire, killing 14 people and injuring 21 others. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
The sisters of Yvette Velasco release doves of during a memorial service on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 and injured 21 last Wednesday. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
The parents Yvette Velasco hug during a memorial service on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 in Covina, Calif. Velasco died in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14 and injured 21 last Wednesday. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
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Among the materials Johnson requested are any communications unearthed by investigators pointing to the couple's plans for the massacre, how they concealed their intentions from law enforcement and any other attacks they might have contemplated.

He also asked for information the department had obtained that would suggest any sponsorship of the couple by "a foreign terrorist organization."

U.S. officials have said their investigation has yet to turn up any evidence that Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, or his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, were directed by foreign militants when they stormed a holiday gathering of his co-workers on Dec. 2 and opened fire with assault rifles.

Fourteen people died and 22 others were injured in the rampage, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation said it is treating as an act of terrorism inspired by Islamic extremism, the most lethal such attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

Farook, the U.S.-born son of Pakistani immigrants, and Malik, a Pakistani native he married last year in Saudi Arabia, were killed in a shootout with police hours after their assault in San Bernardino, 60 miles (100 km) east of Los Angeles.

The Senate inquiry came about as new Gallup poll released on Friday showed Americans losing faith in their government's ability to protect them from militant attacks, while a suspicious fire at a Southern California mosque raised new concerns about an anti-Islamic backlash.

The fire, which erupted in the lobby of the Islamic Society of Coachella Valley, 75 miles (120 km) east of San Bernardino, caused smoke damage but no injuries, though the Riverside County Sheriff's Department called the blaze a possible arson.

MISSED SIGNALS?

Last week's deadly mass shooting has sparked intense debate about how Farook and Malik managed to avoid detection by law enforcement as they planned their attack while amassing a large arsenal of weapons, ammunition and explosives.

FBI officials have said the couple were not under investigation at the time of their attack.

But federal agents have since learned that the couple had been steeped in radical Islamic ideology for some time, and were discussing jihad and martyrdom online with each other as far back as 2013, a year before they met in person, FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

While the couple is known to have declared they were acting on behalf of the Islamic State, there was no evidence that the militant group controlling vast swaths of Iraq and Syria were even aware of them prior to their attack, Comey said.

Investigators believe Malik had tried contacting a number of militant groups overseas in the months before the massacre but was ignored, according to U.S. officials.

For more on this story, scroll through the gallery below:

19 PHOTOS
San Bernardino shooting victims
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Key Senate panel chairman opens inquiry into California massacre
Dounia Omar sets up a poster showing the photos of 14 people killed in Wednesday's shooting rampage before the start of the memorial service at the Islamic Community Center of Redlands, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Loma Linda, Calif. The FBI said it is investigating the rampage as a terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A picture of Juan Espinoza, a victim in the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings, is shown at an interfaith memorial service at the Islamic Community Center of Redlands, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Loma Linda, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Pictures of Wednesday's shooting victims are displayed at a makeshift memorial site Monday, Dec. 7, 2015 in San Bernardino, Calif. Thousands of employees of San Bernardino County are preparing to return to work Monday, five days after a county restaurant inspector and his wife opened fire on a gathering of his co-workers, killing 14 people and wounding 21. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
San Bernardino County employees hold up photos of the San Bernardino shooting victims during a candlelight vigil on Monday, Dec. 7, 2015, in San Bernardino, Calif. The husband and wife who opened fire on a social services center last week had been radicalized "for quite some time" and had taken target practice at area gun ranges, in one instance just days before the attack that left 14 people dead, the FBI said Monday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

This undated photo provided by George Velasco shows Yvette Velasco. She was one of the victims of a shooting at a social service facility in San Bernardino, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. (Courtesy of George Velasco via AP)

RIALTO, CA. -- THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2015 -- Ryan Reyes, 32, holds a photograph of he and Daniel Kaufman, right, his boyfriend of three years who was confirmed as one of the victims of Wednesday's mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center that left 14 people dead. Reyes had waited all night for word of his fate but found via phone call at about 10:30 A.M. on Thursday. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
This 2014 photo provided by Greg Fox shows Larry Daniel Kaufman, left, with his boyfriend Ryan Reyes at Comic Con in Los Angeles . Kaufman was killed in the shootings at a social services center in San Bernardino, Calif., Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015. (Greg Fox/ via AP)
RIALTO, CA. -- THURSDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2015 -- Ryan Reyes, 32, left, is consoled by his mother Patricia Reyes after finding out his boyfriend of three years, Daniel Kaufman, 42, was one of those killed during Wednesday's mass shooting at the Inland Regional Center that left 14 people dead. Reyes had waited all night for word of his fate but found via phone call at about 10:30 A.M. on Thursday. (Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Robert Adams. Husband to Summer. Father to Savannah. Described as "Remarkable and Ch.... https://t.co/mzM58oTZR7 https://t.co/liGssm0UPJ
My cousin's name is Isaac Amanios and he was a great human being. Thoughts and prayers are with my family back in CA.
RIP #Assyrian Bennetta BetBadal, who lost her life in yesterday's massacre in California. We can't escape. https://t.co/uqCRGSqKco
Sierra Clayborn, 27, a county Environmental Health Specialist. Had a biochemistry degree and a promising future. https://t.co/v5l3AfTTRy
Juan Espinoza's family says health inspector loved his job and also trained Syed Farook with restaurant inspections. https://t.co/zstLbjG1lX

Aurora Godoy 

(Photo: Facebook)

Damian Meins, 58, was retired. Was going to dress up as Santa for his family holiday pictures. https://t.co/0r6Uimrk00
Tin Nguyen,1 of 14 people killed in #SanBernadinoShooting.Friend remembers 31y/o Santa Ana woman having huge heart https://t.co/iF0dGkqLYK
One of the victims in the #SanBernadinoShooting Nicholas Thalasinos. His wife Jenn texted me this pic of them https://t.co/0p9xA5uUy7
Michael Raymond Wetzel. He was a husband and a father to six children. Think of his family and pray for them... https://t.co/oLg5xElY46
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Neither Johnson nor other lawmakers briefed on the case on Thursday publicly expressed a lack of confidence in the investigation. But some questioned whether in hindsight some warning signs might have been overlooked and whether current surveillance of potential extremists is sufficiently robust.

That sentiment came through in questions posed by Johnson's letter. In one, he asked whether Farook, Malik or Enrique Marquez - a former Farook neighbor who bought the rifles used in the mass shooting - had ever "been under any investigation or surveillance by U.S. law enforcement or counter-terrorism officials? Please explain."

He also asked which U.S. agencies knew of Malik's alleged connections to a radical cleric at a mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan, and requested information about U.S. security checks conducted on the couple when Malik applied for a visa to enter the United States as Farook's fiancée.

Some lawmakers have said Malik used a fake address on her application that went undetected.

"What, if any, further indicators of threats to national security were missed by the queries of Mr. Farook and Ms. Malik?" the letter asks.

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