Nation’s Top Security Officials’ Concerns on Refugee Vetting

House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul stated yesterday during a pen and pad on H.R. 4038, “It is the Administration’s own officials that were warning us about this program. It’s not me making this up. This came from testimony that came from both F.B.I. and homeland security officials in briefings and in public testimony. I would argue that [the President] can spin it politically anyway he wants to but the fact of the matter is: the threat is real. ISIS has said in their own words that they want to exploit it to infiltrate the West. Again, it is not a threat I am making up, it’s a threat their own officials have warned us about.”  (11/18/15)

Here’s what others are saying:

Gen. (ret.) Jack Keane, Chairman of the Board, Institute for the Study of War: “I’m absolutely convinced that you’re doing the right thing by pausing and making certain that the Congress takes a look at the Executive Branch’s plans and makes certain that it’s reasonable what we’re doing in terms of the vetting process.” (11/18/15)

John Brennan, Director, Central Intelligence Agency: “I think it makes it even more incumbent on the security and intelligence professionals to make sure that we are able to look at individuals who are coming into this country with an eye toward what it is that we might know about individuals or ways that terrorist organizations might try to secret people into these networks, into these refugee flows…[I am determined to] see what we can do to strengthen that system that allows us to have as best insight as possible into the backgrounds of these individuals as well as what their intentions might be.” (11/18/15)

James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Justice: “We can only query against that which we have collected. And so if someone has not made a ripple in the pond in Syria on a way that would get their identity or their interests reflected in our databases, we can query our databases until the cows come home but nothing will show up because we have no record of that person…You can only query what you have collected. And with respect to Iraqi refugees, we had far more in our databases because of our country’s work there for a decade. [The case of vetting Syrian refugees] is a different situation.” (10/21/15)

Jeh C. Johnson, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “It is true that we are not going to know a whole lot about the Syrians that come forth in this process… That is definitely a challenge….We know that organizations like ISIL might like to exploit this [Syrian refugee resettlement] program…The good news is that we are better at [vetting] than we were eight years ago. The bad news is that there is no risk-free process.” (10/21/15)

Nicholas J. Rasmussen, Director, National Counterterrorism Center, Office of the Director of National Intelligence: “The intelligence picture we’ve had of this [Syrian] conflict zone isn’t what we’d like it to be…you can only review [refugees’ submitted background data] against what you have.” (10/8/15)

James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice: “There is risk associated with bringing anybody in from the outside, but especially from a conflict zone like [Syria]… My concern there [about bringing Syrian refugees into the United States] is that there are certain gaps I don’t want to talk about publicly in the data available to us.” (10/8/15)

Jeh C. Johnson, Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security: “But [the Syrian refugees are] a population of people that we’re not going to know a whole lot about.” (10/8/15)

Gen. (ret.) John Allen, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, State Department: “We should be conscious of the potential that [ISIS] may attempt to embed agents within that [Syrian refugee] population.” (9/11/15)

Gen. (ret.) James Clapper, Director, Director of National Intelligence: “As [Syrian refugees] descend on Europe, one of the obvious issues that we worry about, and in turn as we bring refugees into this country, is exactly what’s their background? We don’t obviously put it past the likes of ISIL to infiltrate operatives among these refugees…That is a huge concern of ours.”  (9/9/15)

Michael Steinbach, Assistant Director for the Federal Bureau of Investigation: “Yes, I’m concerned [about bringing Syrian refugees into the United States]…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…in Iraq, we were there on the ground collecting [intelligence], so we had databases to use…You have to have information to vet, so the concern is in Syria is that we don’t have the systems in places on the ground to collect the information.” (2/12/15)

Nicholas J. Rasmussen , Director, National Counterterrorism Center, Office of the Director of National Intelligence: “[The Syrian refugees are] clearly a population of concern…what we want to be able to do is apply the full weight of U.S. intelligence community holdings to the vetting and screening process so that we can unearth any information that we may have in our holdings that gives us concern about particular individuals.” (2/12/15)

Francis X. Taylor, Under Secretary, Intelligence and Analysis, Department of Homeland Security: “We are concerned about any group of people coming to the United States who may be coming to the United States for nefarious purposes…[officials] want to make sure that if we are asked to vet individuals from any part of the world to come to the United States, that we have applied the most rigorous screening that’s available within the U.S. government.” (2/12/15)