ICE's Inability to Account for 10 Libyans It Caught and Released in U.S. ‘Cause for Alarm,’ Say Security Experts

By Penny Starr | April 26, 2011 | 6:56 PM EDT

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in L’Aquila, Italy, on July 9, 2009. (AP photo/Michael Gottschalk)

( – That the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security cannot account for 10 Libyan men it caught and released inside the United States is cause for alarm, say two national security experts. first reported on the 10 Libyans ICE cannot account for in a story published last week.

The initial information about the matter was unearthed through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed with ICE by and then follow-up questions to the agency by

Ben Lerner, vice president for government relations at the Center for Security Policy, a conservative group, said the current instability in Libya and U.S.-backed efforts to unseat Moammar Gaddafi raise concerns about terrorism, which makes the issue of the missing Libyan nationals troubling.

“Our government has said that there are ‘flickers’ of al Qaeda amongst the opposition in Libya, and that Gaddafi could resort to terrorism in response to the military pressure being brought to bear on his regime,” Lerner said. “The fact that ICE cannot account for the whereabouts of 10 Libyan nationals previously in its custody should be cause for alarm, particularly in light of these circumstances.”

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said it is “impossible” to know whether the unaccounted for Libyans are actually a threat but “in a sense, that's the point--DHS isn't willfully doing anything wrong, but their inability to track all the information in their system is a serious vulnerability.”

“Those Libyans may have been deported in the end, or maybe they were ordered deported but ran off and are still here. We don't know,” Krikorian said. “And they're probably all just regular illegal aliens. But again, we don't know, and that's why it's so dangerous.”

Lerner said ICE’s inability to answer basic questions about the 10 men is indicative of a larger problem: “The administration’s dangerously lax approach to border security.”

Supporters of a Pakistani religious party rally against the military attack on Libya by international coalition forces, in Karachi, Pakistan, on Thursday, March, 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

“When border security generally is not a high priority, it should come as no surprise that potentially dangerous individuals are slipping through some very large cracks,” said Lerner. filed its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with ICE on Dec. 1, 2010. This request asked for records about non-Mexican foreign nationals processed by ICE in fiscal years 2009 and 2010. ICE released to two Excel spreadsheets listing more than 280,000 non-Mexican nationals it processed over the two fiscal years. Among them were 10 Libyan men who were detained and released by ICE. But the spreadsheets left blank spaces for the "case status" and "case category" of these men, and ICE could not say what had happened to them.

After two weeks of inquiries from about these 10 Libyans, ICE finally responded on Thursday afternoon that it had already released to all the information that is “available” on them and that the agency had “nothing more to add on the matter.”

ICE describes itself as “the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the second largest investigative agency in the federal government.” It says its “primary mission is to promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade, and immigration.”

Eight of the 10 Libyan men that ICE could not account for had been "booked in" by ICE in states that border Canada or Mexico: two in Seattle, Wash.; two in San Diego, Calif., two in Houston, Texas; one in Detroit, Mich.; and one in Phoenix, Ariz.

The other two were detained in cities that are home to major international airports—one in Newark, N.J. and the other in Miami, Fla.

Between April 7 and April 21, repeatedly asked ICE in writing and by telephone to fill in the blanks on these 10 Libyans. Could ICE say what had happened to them?

In an April 21 e-mail, ICE Spokesperson Ernestine Fobbs responded for the agency, saying: “What we released in our FOIA is what is available. We have nothing more to add on the matter.”