Report: ‘Potential Security Risks’ in Program That Recruited 10,000 Foreign-Born Members of U.S. Armed Forces Since 2009

U.S. troops are sworn in as naturalized citizens on Nov. 2, 2012, at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. (State Department)
State Department

Fox News reported on Tuesday that a Department of Defense (DOD) program that has recruited 10,000 foreign-born members of the U.S. Armed Forces since 2009 may have “potential security risks.”

According to Fox News:

After more than a year of investigation, the Pentagon’s inspector general recently issued a report – its contents still classified but its existence disclosed here for the first time – identifying serious problems with Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI), a DOD program that provides immigrants and non-immigrant aliens with an expedited path to citizenship in exchange for military service.

“The Secretary of Defense authorized the military services to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills are considered to be vital to the national interest. Those holding critical skills – physicians, nurses, and certain experts in language with associated cultural background” are eligible to participate in MAVNI, a Department of Defense MAVNI fact sheet says of the program.

“The limited pilot program” was designed “to determine its value in enhancing military readiness,” the DOD MAVNI fact sheet adds.

After the first 1,000 participants were recruited into the program in 2009, the number of annual participants increased to 1,500 in 2012; 3,000 in FY 2015; and a little more than 5,000 in FY 2016. Since its inception, an estimated 10,000 foreign-born members have been recruited into the U.S. Armed Forces.

“[C]oncern over management of the program has grown over recent months,” Fox News reported:

“The lack of discipline in implementation of this program has created problems elsewhere,” said Rep. Steve Russell, R-Okla., a retired Army officer who sits on the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel. It was Russell who first publicly sounded alarms. During the markup of the latest defense authorization bill, on June 28, Russell noted: “The program has been replete with problems, to include foreign infiltration – so much so that the Department of Defense is seeking to suspend the program due to those concerns.”

Another lawmaker, whose committee does not enjoy jurisdiction over MAVNI – but whose panel could well come to focus on these problems, depending on their severity – told Fox News that the program had been “compromised” and that DOD officials have not presented answers to his questions about missing enrollees: “Where are they? What do they know? Where are they serving? What are their numbers?”

Contacted by Fox News, Army Lt. Col. Paul Haverstick, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement: “The Department of Defense is conducting a review of the MAVNI pilot program due to potential security risks associated with the program.” Beyond that, however, Haverstick declined to comment, citing “pending litigation.”

Rep. Russell served as an officer in the U.S. Army for 21 years and was “a member of the military team that captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 2003,” according to the Hill. He retired in 2006 with the rank of Lt. Colonel and was elected to Congress in 2014.

“Sources said MAVNI’s problems included a vetting backlog that led to enrollment of many soldiers prior to completion of their background checks, and an attendant ‘drift’ in the program’s criteria, with MAVNI being used as a vehicle for the hiring of workers – like cooks, drivers and mechanics – who did not possess the specialized skills the program was created to exploit,” Fox News reported:

The title of the inspector general’s classified report – “Evaluation of Military Services’ Compliance with Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest Program Security Reviews and Monitoring Programs” – hints at the problems, with its references to “security reviews” and “monitoring” of enrolled individuals.

Some lawmakers have received classified briefings on the matter. Sources said some of the countries of origin for MAVNI enrollees are “of concern,” but as of yet there is no evidence in the public domain that ISIS, Al Qaeda, or any other terrorist groups have penetrated the MAVNI program. Still, such a development remains an active concern.

The MAVNI program has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months.

In June, the Washington Post reported that “the Pentagon is considering a plan to cancel enlistment contracts for 1,000 foreign-born recruits without legal immigration status”:

Officials have assigned threat level tiers to the nearly 10,000 Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program recruits, both in the service and waiting to serve, based on characteristics like proximity to classified information or how thoroughly they have been vetted.

The Defense Department launched the program in 2009. Since the program’s start, more than 10,400 troops, most of them with service in the Army, have filled medical billets and language specialties — like Russian, Mandarin Chinese and Pashto — which were identified by the Pentagon as vital to the success of military operations, but in short supply among U.S.-born troops.

Last year, officials heightened security screenings specifically for MAVNI recruits, diverting “already constrained Army fiscal and manpower resources,” the memo said.

In an exclusive interview with Breitbart News, Margaret Stock, the former Army lieutenant colonel and immigration lawyer who is credited with creating the program, said, “I created the program in the fall of 2007 in the Bush administration. The first recruits came in April 2009.”

“I didn’t create the screwed-up program it turned into under the Obama administration,” Stock told Breitbart News.

Stock said the program really started to suffer from mismanagement in 2015 when Christopher Arendt and Stephanie Miller, career bureaucrats at the Department of Defense, were put in charge of running it.

“There was never anything negative in the news about the MAVNI program until recently. The mismanagement began around 2015.”

“They have no idea what they’re doing,” Stock said of Arendt and Miller.

“The program has been mismanaged in the last two years—by Christopher Arendt and Stephanie Miller at DOD–also by former Obama administration official Peter Levine, but he’s not there anymore,” according to Stock.

“The true threats are coming from other recruiting programs. But now, the bureaucrats have pinned the tail on this donkey, Congress will chase it around for awhile and ignore the real threats,” Stock added.

“Ending the program cripples U.S. Special Operations forces. They won’t have native language speakers in the ranks anymore,” she noted.

Stock’s advice to members of Congress currently investigating the program is simple: “Fire the people currently in charge of the program at the Department of Defense, and get someone in charge who understands military intelligence,” Stock told Breitbart News.

As for the missing MAVNI participants, Stock said it is most likely a situation where a MAVNI recruit has left the country–against the specifications of the contract they’ve signed with the Army–and cannot get back in because they cannot get a visa to get back in.

Typical participants are able to arrive in the United States under a work or travel visa, are vetted, and then accepted to the program. But once in the Army, they are not even green card holders, so they cannot obtain visas to get back into the country if they leave.

Stock stated that she knows of one MAVNI recruit who went back home to Kenya to visit his dying father. When he tried to get a visa to return to the U.S., he was denied. He is no longer in the program.

Stock also said that at least two MAVNI recruits obtained student visas to enroll in a fake university established by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in New Jersey, which the Obama administration had set up as a kind of sting operation. When the New York Times outed the fake university, DHS was forced to close it down.

In April 2016, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced that “twenty-one brokers, recruiters, and employers from across the United States who allegedly conspired with more than 1,000 foreign nationals to fraudulently maintain student visas and obtain foreign worker visas through a ‘pay to stay’ New Jersey college were arrested … by federal agents.”

But two foreign-born students who had obtained student visas through the fake DHS university had been accepted into the MAVNI program.

DHS sheepishly went to DOD to get those two MAVNI participants kicked out.

Arendt, Stock stated, said the students had committed visa fraud, but, in fact, the fraud had been committed against them by the Department of Homeland Security.

One of the students has been honorably discharged from the MAVNI program, but the second one is still in the program.

Stock vigorously defends the merits of the program as beneficial to the national security of the United States, as it brings quality individuals who possess critical foreign language skills into the American Armed Forces.

Stock provided Breitbart News with a table from a study of “Separation Program Designator” SPD Codes for CFL-MAVNI and Non-MAVNI soldiers through 36 months of Tenure.

The study looked at a sample of approximately 30,000 non MAVNI soldiers and 98 MAVNI soldiers.

A little more than ten percent of the non-MAVNI soldiers in the sample, or 3,124, had “Condition, not a disability” as their SPD, while 29.6 percent of the MAVNI soldiers, or 29, had that same code.

A little more than four percent of the non-MAVNI soldiers, or 1,212, were “dropped from rolls as deserter,” while only 3.1 percent, or three, were “dropped from rolls as deserter.”

Stock currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where she practices immigration law.

She ran for the United States Senate in 2016, finishing third with 13 percent of the vote. Incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was re-elected with 44 percent of the vote. Libertarian candidate Joe Miller finished second with 29 percent of the vote.


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