FBI Director Admits U.S. Will Have No Basis to Vet Some Syrian Refugees

By Melanie Arter | October 21, 2015 | 12:40 PM EDT

FBI Director James Comey (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – FBI Director James Comey, flanked by the nation’s top intelligence officials, admitted to the House Homeland Security Committee Wednesday that for some of the 10,000 Syrian refugees the administration has agreed to allow into the U.S., there will be no basis to vet them through the databases it uses to determine if they have ties to terrorism.

“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 interests reflected in our database, we can query our database til the cows come home, but … there’ll be nothing show up, because we have no record on that person,” said Comey.

 



As CNSNews.com reported earlier, the White House has agreed to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States over the next year. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson also admitted last week that the U.S. won’t “know a whole lot” about the refugees it allows into the U.S.

Ranking member Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked Comey, “Mr. Director, before this committee, [FBI] Assistant Director [Michael] Steinbach said that the concerns in Syria is that we don’t have the systems in place on the ground to collect the information to vet. That would be the concern. Databases don’t hold the information on these individuals. Is that still the position of the department?”

“Yes, I think that’s the challenge we’re all talking about, is that 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 interests reflected in our database, we can query our database til the cows come home, but we’re not gonna—there’ll be nothing show up, because we have no record on that person,” said Comey.

“That’s what Assistant Director Steinbach was talking about,” he added.

Comey said the U.S. had a decade’s worth of information with which to vet Iraqi refugees because of the United States’ work there.

“You can only query what you’ve collected, and with respect to Iraqi refugees, we had far more in our databases because of our country’s work there for a decade. This is a different situation,” he said.

Earlier in the hearing, Thompson asked Comey, Johnson, and Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Nicholas Rasmussen to explain their agencies’ position on the vetting process.

“A lot of us are concerned about whether you have enough information available to you to do an accurate vetting,” said Thompson.

“You can’t account for what you don’t know, and that goes to the intelligence deficit that I think is embedded in your question. What we can do though is understand where the potential vulnerabilities are so that we’re asking in the screening and vetting process the right kinds of questions to give our screeners and vetters the best possible opportunity to make an informed judgment,” said Rasmussen.

“It is not a perfect process. There is a degree of risk attached to any screening and vetting process. We look to manage that risk as best we can,” Rasmussen added.

“We may have somebody who comes to us and is simply not on our radar for any discernible reason, and there may also be the possibility that somebody decides to do something bad after being admitted through the process, but we do have a good system in place for the undertaking that we have made,” Johnson said.