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FIRST ON FOX: Top Republican senators are requesting an update from the FBI about the vetting and screening of Afghan evacuees, after the Pentagon’s inspector general raised a number of issues with the vetting of those being evacuated out of Afghanistan.
Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Rob Portman, R-Ohio and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray seeking information on the vetting of those brought into the country in the wake of the withdrawal from Afghanistan last year. The senators are the ranking members of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, Homeland Security Committee and Armed Services Committees respectively.
The request comes after a critical Pentagon inspector general report in February that found that officials identified at least 50 Afghan evacuees who were brought to the U.S. whose information indicated “potentially significant security concerns” — and were unable to locate dozens of those who it said had “derogatory information” that would make them ineligible for parole.
The report found that U.S. agencies “did not use all available data when vetting Afghan evacuees.” The National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) later expanded its review to fill the gaps in screening, the report said.
“As of November 2, 2021, NGIC personnel had identified 50 Afghan personnel in the United States with information in DOD [Department of Defense] records that would indicate potentially significant security concerns,” the report stated.
According to a footnote assigned to that section of the report, “significant security concerns include individuals whose latent fingerprints have been found on improvised explosive devices and known or suspected terrorists and for which the NGIC sends derogatory information notifications to appropriate DoD personnel.”
In the letter, the Republican senators say that Pentagon officials told them on May 4 that they have provided the FBI “with a spreadsheet containing information on all the Afghan evacuees flagged as potentially significant security concerns.”
“DOD also indicated that, while DHS continues to parole additional Afghans into the United States, DHS is still not using DOD’s tactical database to screen Afghans for derogatory information,” they said in the letter to Wray. “Since Afghan parolees are no longer being housed on military bases, DOD no longer has a force protection mandate to carry out the additional screening that would better protect our homeland security.”
The lawmakers say that the alleged lack of screening has “caused a serious breach of homeland security.”
As a result, they request information from the FBI about the evacuees that were flagged by the Pentagon, “and steps the FBI has taken to adjudicate their derogatory information, including locating individuals within the United States.” The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital.
“In addition, we would like to know how the FBI is addressing the counterterrorism threat posed by Afghan parolees that have not been screened by DHS against the tactical database,” they say.
The Biden administration has repeatedly defended its approach to vetting of Afghan nationals.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson said in response to the publication of the report in February: “Afghan evacuees undergo a multi-layered, rigorous screening and vetting process that begins overseas and is conducted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals from the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and State, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center and additional Intelligence Community partners.”
“The federal government is leveraging every tool available to ensure that no individuals who pose a threat to public safety or national security are permitted to enter the United States,” a spokesperson said, before stressing that biometric and biographic information is run against databases from multiple agencies.
Fox News reported last month that a plan to exempt some Taliban-era Afghan civil servants from terror-related restrictions on entering the United States is still being worked on, and could soon find its way to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ desk.
The administration is looking to allow exemptions for those who were employed as a civil servant in Afghanistan due to Taliban rule between 1996-2001, or after August 15, 2021. The memo also outlines exemptions for those who have “participated in resistance movements against the Taliban and the Soviet Army,” including those who have fought under the direction of the U.S. government. It does not include those who have targeted non-combatants, U.S. interests, engaged in torture or human rights violations.