WASHINGTON — The FBI does not have a way to properly vet incoming Syrian refugees and the Federal Bureau of Investigation said so at a House Homeland Security committee hearing in February.
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) told committee members that an intelligence gap exists about terrorists who joined the fight in the civil war happening in Syria and that more than 20,000 foreign fighters have joined the conflict.
“We don’t have it under control,” Mr. Michael Steinback, Assistant Director for the FBI told the committee. “Absolutely, we’re doing the best we can. If I were to say that we had it under control, then I would say I know of every single individual traveling. I don’t. And I don’t know every person there and I don’t know everyone coming back. So it’s not even close to being under control.”
Members also asked about the Obama administration’s proposal to accept thousands of Syrian refugees into the United States by the end of 2016 through an expedited refugee program.
Texas Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the Homeland Security committee, asked if the agencies present concurred that “bringing in Syrian refugees pose a greater risk to Americans?”
“Yes, I’m concerned,” said Steinback. “We’ll have to go take a look at those lists and go through all of those intelligence holdings and be very careful to try and identify connections to foreign terrorist groups.”
McCaul, along with Subcommittee Chairmen Peter King, R-N.Y., and Candice Miller, R-Mich., previously sent a letter to the White House on the Syrian refugee plan.
“Screening these refugees is not a task to be taken lightly,” McCaul and others wrote to the president at the time. “As we saw with previous Iraqi refugees…the lack of a thorough security screening process can result in individuals with terrorist ties exploiting the refugee program to resettle in the U.S. homeland.”
Not all Republicans are siding with McCaul and Republicans on his committee. Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham as well as Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain both wants Syrian refugees to come to the United States as refugees.
When asked about the shallow vetting the refugees receive, Graham told The Daily Caller Thursday, “All I can tell you is one thing I won’t do is turn my back on these people. There’s risk to anything you do. At the end of the day I’m not worried about radical Islam coming here. They’re already here.”
He added, “I’m not gonna turn my back on people who are in desperate straits because it’s possible that somebody could get through. Yes, it’s possible. We could turn our back on everybody. That’s exactly what happened to the Jews. We’re not gonna do that again.”
However, McCaul warned Thursday, that ISIS wants to use the refugee crisis as a method to sneak into western countries.
“The Ppresident wants to surge thousands of Syrian refugees into the United States, in spite of consistent intelligence community and federal law enforcement warnings that we do not have the intelligence needed to vet individuals from the conflict zone. We also know that ISIS wants to use refugee routes as cover to sneak operatives into the West,” he said in a statement.
“I implore the president to consult with Congress before taking any drastic action and to level with the American people about the very real security challenges we face.”