Former President Barack Obama’s top intelligence officials both agreed that Syrian refugees could pose a national security threat to the U.S. in congressional testimony more than year ago.
Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he would not “put it past the likes of ISIL to infiltrate operatives among these refugees,” at a press conference in September, 2015. He further added that it’s a “huge concern of ours,” carefully noting that the vetting procedures were “pretty aggressive.”
FBI Director James Comey similarly said that “a number of people who were of serious concern” slipped into the U.S. through refugee programs. Comey reiterated that while the current program is robust, that it is difficult to vet incoming refugees if there is highly limited information about them. “I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with this,” Comey told Congress.
Clapper and Comey’s concerns underscore the reasoning behind President Donald Trump’s executive order Friday ordering a 90-day travel suspension from countries rife with terrorism, geographical areas with relatively limited security infrastructure. The order also indefinitely suspended the Syrian refugee program to the U.S., and put a 120-day suspension on refugees from other countries so that new vetting procedures can be put into place.
Even Jordanian Prince Faisal bin Hussein told GOP North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker that the Jordanian government could not vet Syrian refugees in a visit by Walker to the country. The U.S. Department of State reportedly tried to tell Walker that the vetting process was thorough, just hours before Hussein told him, “We can’t vet these people.”
Trump’s suspension also came just days after news broke that the FBI is re-vetting Syrian refugees previously allowed into the U.S. with possible red flags.
The lapse in vetting reportedly stems from a 2015 glitch that prevented U.S. authorities from gleaning possible “derogatory” information about refugees at the time. The glitch prevented relevant personnel from searching CIA databases, which included potentially compromising information on refugees.
New investigations encompass several dozen Syrian refugees, and began before President Donald Trump took office. Federal agents speaking to The Los Angeles Times elaborated that one of the admitted refugees may have been in contact with an Islamic State operative, and another failed a polygraph test.
Former President Barack Obama’s administration repeatedly emphasized the rigorous nature of the refugee vetting process. Former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in August that the administration was able to increase Syrian refugees in 2015 “without cutting any corners when it comes to security.” Earnest continued, claiming that “significant screening was put in place to ensure that these individuals don’t pose an undue threat to our national security.”
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