TEL AVIV – Law enforcement and intelligence officials privately told the House Committee on Homeland Security that the U.S. screening process for refugees contains inherent vulnerabilities and that a lack of information makes background checks for potential refugees difficult to trust.
“In other words, we cannot screen against information we do not have,” reads the House Homeland Security Committee’s Final Report of the Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel.
The contents of the report, issued September 2015, received little news media attention. The details are newly relevant in light of the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily halting the refugee program while government agencies revamp the flawed screening process.
Separately, a June 13, 2016 government document prepared by the Congressional Research Service for members and committees of Congress warns that U.S. agencies have limited resources to confirm biographical claims provided by Syrian refugee applicants.
The document states (bold added by this reporter):
The Obama Administration has noted that refugees experience a more “rigorous screening than anyone else we allow into the United States.” Administration officials have asserted that federal agencies are involved in additional screening of Syrian refugees. For example, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services within DHS conducts enhanced reviews of potential Syrian refugees.
However, congressional critics have noted that such enhancements may not be enough, especially because U.S. intelligence agencies know relatively little about the people in Syria and Iraq who are involved with the Islamic State and have limited/no resources in Syria that can confirm the information provided by refugee applicants.
The Congressional briefing document was titled, “Islamic State’s Acolytes and the Challenges They Pose to U.S. Law Enforcement.”
That document referenced the House’s Final Report by the Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel.
The Congressional Task Force report found that U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies “remain concerned about terrorists posing as refugees.”
“Agencies have made improvements to the refugee security screening process, but more must be done to mitigate potential vulnerabilities,” the report states.
The final report took note of news articles in which members of the Islamic State have openly boasted about the possibility of using refugees to infiltrate the West.
The report states:
The Task Force recognizes terrorist inﬁltration into the United States through the refugee process is less likely than other routes and more time intensive for extremists, but these threats must be kept in mind during the refugee screening process. Such tactics would not be new for terrorist groups, and more than four million people have ﬂed the conﬂict zone in Syria, offering extremists ample opportunity to blend into migrant groups. …
Law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed concern publicly and privately to Task Force Members that our refugee screening process has inherent vulnerabilities, particularly in war-torn countries where we have little intelligence on the ground. The lack of information makes it difficult to conduct high-conﬁdence background checks on potential refugees. In other words, we cannot screen against information we do not have.
The Task Force recommended that government agencies set forth “clear plans to enhance background reviews and outline how domestic agencies like the FBI will be involved in mitigating any risks associated with populations of concern which are granted entry.”
Another Congressional Research Service document, this one form November 7, 2016, outlines the main screening procedures used to check the backgrounds of foreigners, including refugees.
One central tool is the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB). Other “lookout” databases draw from the TDSB, including data housed at the National Counterterrorism Center’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment.
The document explains the TSDB, managed by the FBI, includes “biographic identifiers for those known either to have or be suspected of having ties to terrorism. In some instances, it also includes biometric information on such people.”
However, to make it into the TDSB and other databases, the paper documents, sufficient identifiers must exist.
“At the very least, for inclusion in the TSDB a record must have a last name and at least one additional piece of identifying information (for example a first name or date of birth),” the Congressional document states.
In other words, the database relies in large part on existing intelligence information on suspected terrorists.
Trump’s January 27 executive order halts visas for 90 days for “immigrants and non-immigrants” from Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, Iran and Iraq. The order further suspended the entry of all refugees for 120 days, indefinitely blocked Syrian refugees from entering and lowered the ceiling to 50,000 for refugees allowed to enter the U.S. during Fiscal Year 2017. Last week, an appeals court in San Francisco upheld an original court ruling that temporarily restrained Trump’s executive order.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.