Oversight Report: Foreign Nations Still Not Sharing Info on Terrorists With U.S.

DHS failing to report security gaps to Congress

Pedestrians crossing from Mexico into the United States at the Otay Mesa Port of Entry wait in line / AP
June 6, 2016

More than a third of foreign nations participating in the U.S. visa waiver program are failing to share the identity of potential terrorists with the U.S. government, according to a new government report, which disclosed that the Department of Homeland Security is also failing to provide Congress with timely information about these security flaws.

The information sharing agreements with 38 foreign governments, which U.S. officials have dubbed "essential for national security," are not being properly upheld in many cases, according to the Government Accountability Office, which disclosed in a recent report that terrorist identity information is not being delivered to U.S. authorities.

The disclosure comes as lawmakers warn that critical flaws in the U.S. screening process are preventing the Obama administration from properly vetting and tracking foreign individuals who use the visa waiver program to enter America.

The report determined that "more than a third of [visa waiver participant] countries are not sharing terrorist identity information" and that "more than a third of the countries have not yet shared criminal history information."

A similar number "were not sharing identity information about known or suspected terrorists" required by current agreements.

This failure is partly because DHS has failed to put in place a congressionally mandated timeline by which these foreign nations must comply with U.S. laws governing the visa program.

"Contrary to standard program management practices, DHS did not establish time frames for instituting the amended requirements," the report found, noting that a December 2015 law requires such a timeline.

"Time frames for working with [visa waiver] countries to implement their agreements could help DHS enforce U.S. legal requirements and could strengthen DHS’s ability to protect the United States and its citizens," according to the report.

The Obama administration has additionally failed to provide Congress with required information about the visa waiver program and potential security gaps, according the report.

"About a quarter of DHS’s most recent" reports to Congress "were submitted, or remained outstanding, [for] five or more months past the statutory deadlines," according to the report.

"As a result, Congress may lack timely information needed to conduct oversight of the VWP and assess whether further modifications are necessary to prevent terrorists from exploiting the program," the report warned.

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While every country participating in the U.S. visa waiver program has signed agreements to pass along information about "known or suspected terrorists," the report found that "not all countries" are actually "sharing information through these arrangements."

From 2008 to 2015, these agreements provided U.S. authorities with information about "approximately 9,000 known or suspected terrorists, including approximately 3,500 who were previously unidentified," according to FBI documents cited in the report.

The report concluded that critical security flaws remain in the U.S. waiver program.

"Because many [visa waiver] countries have not yet provided information through the agreements—possibly including information about known or suspected terrorists—agencies’ access to this critical information may be limited," according to the report.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R., Va.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, recently disclosed to the Washington Free Beacon that the Obama administration is pressuring authorities to green light visas, despite gaps in the screening process.

"What most Americans don’t realize is that just last year alone we issued about 10 million visas for people to come into the United States," Forbes said in an interview. "That’s a pretty large number and we really don’t have the processes of completely vetting those individuals, nor do we have processes often times of keeping up with them once they get here. So in addition to just driving or walking across the border, or sneaking across the border, on the Southern border, we have 10 million that just come in because we stamped a visa and allowed them to come in."

Published under: Terrorism