U.S. Officials Can’t Ask Syrian Refugees Key Questions

U.S. Officials Can’t Ask Syrian Refugees Key Questions

The Obama administration appears to have taken yet another terrorism-fighting tool away from U.S. law enforcement trying to screen Syrian refugees.

U.S. law enforcement officials involved in screening Syrian refugees are forbidden from asking key questions about individuals’ religious affiliations or beliefs based on policy guidance created by the Obama administration, according to a recent report published at The Daily Caller.

The piece notes that both Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) policies have increasingly restricted the ability of law enforcement to query individuals about their religious behaviors or associations.

“These gradual but severe restrictions were coupled with a simultaneous reduction in accurate, fact-based training to address the nature of the threat we face, leaving us inadequately prepared for the challenges we face today,” The Daily Caller cites a “government source familiar with national security” as saying.

That means DHS officers screening for Syrian refugees are likely prohibited from asking questions like, “Are you a member or supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood or Tablighi Jamaat?”

These Are Dangerous Buddies to Have

The Muslim Brotherhood is the oldest global Islamist group in the world. Muslim Brotherhood thinkers formed the core ideology of al-Qaeda, and former FBI Director Robert Mueller testified in 2011 that “elements of the Muslim Brotherhood both here and overseas have supported terrorism.” Tablighi Jamaat is an Islamic proselyting group that al-Qaeda has used as a cover to facilitate moving across borders, and which U.S. intelligence has described as “willingly supporting terrorists.”

A 2005 report on the Pakistan-based group noted:

Tablighi Jamaat has also facilitated other terrorists’ missions. The group has provided logistical support and helped procure travel documents. Many take advantage of Tablighi Jamaat’s benign reputation. Moroccan authorities say that leaflets circulated by the terrorist group Al-Salafiyah al-Jihadiyah urged their members to join Islamic organizations that operate openly, such as Tablighi Jamaat, in order ‘to hide their identity on the one hand and influence these groups and their policies on the other.’

It would also prohibit law enforcement from asking key questions about how an individual views jihadist ideologues, such as Anwar Awlaki, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, or Yusuf al Qaradawi. That’s vital when such jihadi scholars have played roles in influencing terror attacks.

For example, support and admiration for Awlaki was key to terror cases including the Christmas Day underwear bomber, the Fort Hood shooter, the Charlie Hebdo killers, and the more recent Chattanooga Recruiting Center shooter.

Yet during an investigation into Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hassan before his attack, the FBI described email correspondence from Hassan to Awlaki as “not pertinent” to the investigation.

Islamist Sympathizers Place Pressure

In 2011, the Civil Rights Civil Liberties division of DHS launched an investigation into multiple Customs and Border Protection agents, because of complaints by groups like Hamas-linked Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) that agents were asking individuals questions about their affiliation with Islamic organizations (including those linked to the Muslim Brotherhood), or attendance at conferences where pro-jihadist ideologues are known to have spoken.

One officer was being investigated because he had asked for an individual’s view of Anwar al-Awlaki.

According to DHS authorities, one officer was being investigated because he had asked for an individual’s view of Anwar al-Awlaki. In another, FBI agents referenced the underwear bombing plot. Even that much was considered offensive.

The CRCL investigation was motivated by pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, CAIR, and Muslim Advocates, a group closely linked with U.S. Muslim Brotherhood groups and with a long history of opposing U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

In response to lawsuits related to the issue of questioning by CBP officers, the DHS established a “hands-off” list of known individuals with terror ties, which included Muslim Brotherhood leader Jamal Badawi, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation Hamas finance trial. These individuals were given a green light to enter the country, and were not to be referred to secondary questioning. Sen. Chuck Grassley investigated the matter in 2014, calling it “disturbing.”

If U.S. law enforcement agents are no longer able to question individuals who are already known to have terror affiliations about their ideological views or the organizations with which they associate, how much more pressure will there be to avoid pertinent questions to Syrian refugees, a hot-button issue upon which the Obama administration has taken a strong public position?

Kyle Shideler is the director of the Threat Information Office at the Center for Security Policy. Kyle has worked for several organizations involved with Middle East and terrorism policy since 2006. He is a contributing author to “Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network: America and the West’s Fatal Embrace,” and has written for numerous publications and briefed legislative aides, intelligence, and law enforcement officials and the general public on national security issues.
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