The intelligence community cannot fully vet potential refugees to the U.S. for terrorist connections, says a leading congressman.
“The intelligence community has briefed me that [terrorists] want to exploit the refugees — [that] terrorists want to exploit the refugee program to infiltrate and get in,” Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, told the Daily Caller Tuesday night.
The United States is being pressured to resettle more refugees from areas of conflict like Syria and Somalia, but Republicans on the House Committee on Homeland Security sent a letter to the White House in January, citing their concerns about the State Department’s plan to accept “tens of thousands of Syrian refugees by the end of 2016.”
McCaul’s concerns come as six more Somali men were arrested in Minnesota Monday for attempting to join ISIS. At least nine Minnesotans have now been charged as part of this conspiracy to provide material support to ISIS. The men are allegedly associates and friends, the FBI says. The Star Tribune has confirmed the status of at least two of the men as refugees.
McCaul’s committee held a February hearing about the FBI’s warnings of an intelligence gap on foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, and the administration’s plan to bring thousands of refugees into the U.S.
“When I had a hearing on this, the assistant director of the FBI testified that it’s a major problem, and frankly, I don’t think Homeland Security supports this either. And the FBI, I know they do not — strongly, because you can’t properly vet these individuals, because they don’t have the proper database,” he said Tuesday.
He added, “So they don’t have the proper vetting on who these people are, and if you don’t know who they are and you bring them into the country, that poses a threat.”
During the hearing, an FBI official confirmed that the government does not adequately track foreign fighters who may be returning to the U.S.
Michael Steinback, assistant director for the Federal Bureau of Investigation told McCaul’s committee, “We don’t have it under control.”
“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,” he continued. “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.”
“Would bringing in Syrian refugees pose a greater risk to Americans?” McCaul asked at the time.
“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.”
The Department of State insists that refugees are only allowed into the U.S. after being fully vetted for any terrorist connections, but McCaul says that is nearly impossible to determine.
“You can’t [vet them],” he said Tuesday. “And that’s the problem. We don’t have an intelligence footprint in Syria sufficient to properly know who these individuals are to have databases to run them against properly.”