WASHINGTON, D.C. — Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) jihadists have access to fake passports they can use to travel legitimately, testified Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Clapper’s comments came in response to a question from John McCain, the committee’s chairman, during a hearing focused on the intelligence community’s annual World Wide Threat Assessment.
McCain asked Clapper, “Isn’t it already proven that [ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi] is sending people with this flow of refugees that are terrorists in order to inflict further attacks on Europe and the United States?”
“That’s correct,” responded the DNI director. “That’s one technique they’ve used is taking advantage of the torrent of migrants to insert operatives into that flow. As well, they also have available to them and are pretty skilled at phony passports so they can travel ostensibly as legitimate travelers as well.”
He did not specifically say what country the fraudulent passports are linked to.
Various lawmakers and analysts expressed concern that jihadist groups could exploit the visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries, many of them in Europe, to use their passport to simply travel to the U.S. without a visa for stays of up to 90 days.
On January 25, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters that ISIS had established a “real fake document industry” based in ISIS strongholds in Syria, Iraq, and Libya that must be investigated by international authorities.
Cazeneuve’s statement came after a major U.S. intelligence community investigation discovered that the Islamic State may have the capability to print authentic passports.
U.S. intelligence officials reportedly revealed their suspicions that ISIS had acquired the machinery available to print legitimate-looking Syrian passports.
According to a Homeland Security Investigation report, ISIS my have been printing fake passports since last summer. The report warned about the likelihood that members of the jihadi group had already clandestinely made their way into the U.S.
“Since more than 17 months passed since Raqqa and Deir ez-Zour fell to [Islamic State], it is possible that individuals from Syria with passports ‘issued’ in these ISIS-controlled cities … may have traveled to the U.S.,” declared the report.
In December, FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers, “The intelligence community is concerned that they [Islamic State] have the ability, the capability to manufacture fraudulent passports.”
Regarding ISIS infiltrating the Syrian refugee flow in the West, a House panel report released last November warned that jihadist groups are determined to do so.
In the U.S., some Middle Eastern refugees, including one from Syria and another one from Iraq, have been arrested on charges of terrorism. One of the refugees was linked to ISIS.
Comey has warned that the government lacks the intelligence to fully vet the Syrian refugees. Furthermore, Attorney General Loretta Lynch has acknowledged that there are “challenges” associated with screening of refugees from Syria.
Other top U.S. officials have also expressed concerns about the Syrian refugee vetting process.
Nevertheless, President Obama and his surrogates have repeatedly argued in favor of the administration’s plan to resettle thousands of Syrian refugees in the U.S.