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Written testimony of Office of Intelligence and Analysis Deputy Under Secretary Dawn Scalici for a House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence hearing titled “Terrorist Exploitation of Refugee Programs”

Release Date: 
December 4, 2012

311 Cannon House Office Building

Chairman Meehan, Ranking Member Higgins, distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today about the role of the Intelligence Community in the screening of Iraqi refugee applicants overseas seeking resettlement to the United States. As the Deputy Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis/Analysis, my office provides intelligence support to USCIS to help them leverage the full capabilities of the intelligence community (IC). We have worked closely with the Refugee Affairs Division to ensure all relevant intelligence is available and considered when screening applicants for refugee resettlement to the United States.

The integrity and security of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), as well as other available immigration avenues, is of paramount importance to the Department of Homeland Security. We recognize that terrorists or other illicit actors could seek to use the refugee program to gain admission to the United States. To address this threat, the Department has taken significant steps to enhance the security checks conducted on refugee applicants. DHS and other interagency partners have conducted a number of classified briefings for committee staff on each of these topics and I would be happy to follow up with a classified briefing after today’s hearing if needed.

When large scale processing of Iraqi refugee applicants was launched in 2007, DHS recognized the potential risks involved with administering such a program. To that end, at USCIS’s request, my office has worked closely with key IC partners to develop more robust security screening processes—first for Iraqi refugee applicants and then expanding these security checks to all refugee applicant age 14 to 65. Each agency involved in this process is committed to minimizing the burden to the thousands of refugees who seek our protection and assistance while still conducting the most thorough security checks.

As a result of our interagency efforts, the vetting regime in place for Iraqi refugee resettlement applicants in 2007 was strong, but not impervious. We have worked to strengthen existing protocols over the last five years, including facilitating collaboration among IC partners and USCIS to identify where additional intelligence-based screening may be possible and effective. The mechanisms we have designed seek to ensure relevant intelligence is reviewed by analysts before an applicant is approved for resettlement. Today, this process is a robust mechanism that enhances our ability to deter and detect individuals seeking to exploit the refugee program.

Over the past five years, DHS has prevented the travel to the U.S. of a number of individuals who would have posed a threat as a result of the security regime we have in place. For example, we have identified and denied refugee resettlement to the United States to applicants who were:

  • Detained for several years by the U.S. military on terrorism-related grounds in Iraq;
  • Involved in terrorist or insurgent attacks against U.S., Iraqi, or Coalition forces;
  • Linked to fingerprints found on unexploded improvised explosive devices; and
  • Fired from employment with the U.S. Government in Iraq on the grounds that they were linked to terrorism.

I&A has worked with the FBI, NCTC, and other agencies to identify areas where intelligence information can be used to further strengthen existing security vetting procedures, and worked with partner agencies to develop solutions. Since instituting the additional checks in the summer of 2011, there has been an appreciable increase in our ability to identify derogatory information on Iraqi refugee applicants. Indeed, the robust security screening employed in the refugee context—and in the SIV screening mechanisms, which are modeled on it—has allowed the Department to leverage lessons learned to strengthen our collaboration with law enforcement, national security, and intelligence communities.

When we instituted the new security checks we ensured that high-risk refugee applicants were screened, and we now require these additional checks of all refugee and SIV applicants aged 14-65. In addition, we took steps to re-examine individuals that were already admitted to the United States. We are providing the results of the re-screening to the appropriate law enforcement and intelligence parties and while I cannot go into details in an open setting due to the sensitive nature of this effort, I can tell you that these “retroactive” checks continue.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I would be happy to answer your questions.

Review Date: 
December 3, 2012
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