FBI Director: Gaps Remain in Syrian Refugee Screening Process

FBI Director James Comey testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy" in Washington July 8
FBI Director James Comey testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Going Dark: Encryption, Technology, and the Balance Between Public Safety and Privacy" in Washington July 8 / Reuters

FBI Director James Comey said Thursday that gaps still remain in the process by which the United States screens refugees entering the country.

The Associated Press reported that Comey told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that, though the U.S. has improved the process, there remain risks in accepting refugees from countries experiencing conflict like Syria.

He said the U.S. has "developed an effective way to touch all our databases" and collect information about refugees trying to enter the country.

Comey’s comments come a month after President Obama ordered the government to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016, a number six times the count of Syrian refugees the U.S. has allowed into the country since the civil war began in Syria.

Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry has said that the U.S. will increase the number of refugees it accepts annually from around the world to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017, and many will come from Syria. The figure would mark a more than 40 percent increase in accepted refugees over a two-year period.

Meanwhile, intelligence leaders and lawmakers worry that the flow of refugees will threaten U.S. national security, particularly given the rise of the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper expressed concern last month that IS terrorists will "infiltrate" crowds of Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe and the United States. Approximately 4.1 million refugees are fleeing Syria to escape the civil war there.

Moreover, Rep. Brian Babin (R., Texas) told the Washington Free Beacon in a recent interview that Obama’s "open-door policy" toward refugees will allow IS to enter the U.S. He also labeled the refugee screening process "ineffective."

"It’s already ineffective. And loading tens of thousands more onto an already overloaded system, I think it’s going to be almost a completely useless endeavor to try to screen and vet these refugees," Babin, who has introduced legislation to analyze the costs and national security implications of the refugee resettlement program, said.

The Obama administration has insisted that the increased number of refugees will not hamper the security measures in place to screen them.

A majority of Americans opposes the president’s plan to accept 10,000 more Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016.