Conservative Review - The Refugee Vetting Process Will Fail

James Comey

Pictured: James Comey, FBI Director | Photo By: Andrew Harnik | AP Photo

The Refugee Vetting Process Will Fail

By: Dan Bongino | November 24th, 2015

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In a recent interview I did on the Sean Hannity radio show, I challenged liberal talk-radio show host Leslie Marshall on her position supporting the intake of more refugees from Syria, despite the recognized flaws in the U.S. government’s screening process.

While I respect Ms. Marshall’s willingness to take a position on the issue, what I find perplexing is the tendency for Ms. Marshall, and others on her side, to confidently defend that position while having little to no inside knowledge of how the Syrian “vetting” process works. Their overconfidence in the government databases used to screen the Syrian refugees for potential terrorism ties may stem from an ideological blindness to government shortcomings, or it may stem from a misguided belief that opposition to the plan is being guided by xenophobia, rather than common sense.

The Syrian information super-highway, which would contain the information the U.S. government needs to conduct a proper inquiry on a refugee, barely exists.

Throughout my twelve years as a Secret Service agent I conducted a number of financial crimes investigations, one specifically which intersected with an ongoing FBI terror-group investigation. As my fellow agents and I worked these cases, I learned a lot about the investigative capabilities of the U.S. government, as well as its many limitations. As the lengthy and complex financial crimes case with a terror-nexus revealed, the U.S. government’s databases are limited by the information inputs. This may seem obvious to those without ideological blinders on but this simple fact has evaded many supporters of the Syrian refugee intake program. Many of us living in the United States have grown accustomed to our personal information being stored in both private and government databases, but this information infrastructure is not indicative of how information finds its way into public and privately searchable databases in a country such as Syria. As FBI Director James Comey stated in an October congressional hearing, “We can only query against that which we have collected… And so if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there will be nothing show up because we have no record of them.”

I witnessed this first hand when conducting foreign security operations as a Secret Service agent. Our standard protocol on a foreign presidential visit was to work with both our foreign counterparts and U.S. intelligence officials on the ground to determine who could gain access to the secure presidential “bubble.” It’s a laborious process overseas and, as we saw during the infamous sign language interpreter case at the funeral of Nelson Mandela, critical mistakes happen, even with the full resources of both the United States and the foreign government (in this case South Africa) dedicated to the vetting process.

This vetting process is made more difficult by the United States government’s problems with inaccurate data that is entered into our systems and available for a query. A disturbing example of this was the failure to detain and question one of the Boston Bombers because of a spelling error in the database. Compounding the problem further, in my experience using these databases, the input error-rate (when there is data to input in the first place) is far more pronounced when the names are non-Western and can be spelled in a number of different ways.

So let’s sum this all up. The president refuses to slow the Syrian refugee resettlement program in the Unites States, despite the fact that:

  • The FBI Director (who he appointed) has publicly acknowledged the severe limitations of the vetting process.
  • The Syrian information super-highway, which would contain the information the U.S. government needs to conduct a proper inquiry on a refugee, barely exists.
  • The systems we now use to name-check refugees, even when they contain data, contain the wrong data.
  • The systems we now use to name-check refugees, when they contain data, and it is accurate, may be “accurately” checking the wrong people due to rampant Syrian passport fraud.
I doubt this piece, or any other will change this obstinate president’s mind on this issue, but I hope by reading it you understand that by recklessly continuing this program with no significant changes, President Obama is willingly and unnecessarily putting Americans in danger. 

Renegade Republican with Bongino

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