Several top Obama administration officials warned of the potential risks of accepting Syrian refugees before the Islamic State's terrorist attacks on Paris, France last Friday.
Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson, according to CNS News, said Oct. 13 that the U.S. wouldn't know a "whole lot" about potential refugees.
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"One of the challenges we will have is that we’re not going to know a whole lot about the individual refugees that come forward from the UN High Commission on Refugees for Resettlement and Vetting," he said.
At a security industry conference on Sept. 9, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the potential for Islamic State to "infiltrate" the refugees was a major concern.
"I don’t, obviously, put it past the likes of ISIL to infiltrate operatives among these refugees, so that’s a huge concern of ours," Clapper said.
FBI director James Comey also acknowledged at a congressional hearing on Oct. 22 that Iraq War refugees who evaded screening in the U.S. were later arrested on terrorism charges, and that even less would be known of Syrian refugees. The Washington Post reported:
Comey added in congressional testimony last month that "a number of people who were of serious concern" slipped through the screening of Iraq War refugees, including two arrested on terrorism-related charges. "There’s no doubt that was the product of a less than excellent vetting," he said.
Although Comey said the process has since "improved dramatically," Syrian refugees will be even harder to check because, unlike in Iraq, U.S. soldiers have not been on the ground collecting information on the local population. "If we don’t know much about somebody, there won’t be anything in our data," he said. "I can’t sit here and offer anybody an absolute assurance that there’s no risk associated with this."
"It is not a perfect process," counterterrorism official Nicholas Rasmussen said Oct. 21. "There is a degree of risk attached to any screening and vetting process. We look to manage that risk as best we can."
President Obama wants to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. over the next year. A Bloomberg poll published Wednesday showed 53 percent of Americans opposed accepting Syrian refugees into the United States.