Vetting Needed to Separate Friend from Foe Among Refugees

The Obama Administration is adamant the 10,000 Syrian refugees it plans to resettle in the U.S. are subject to a tough vetting process. The process is tough and long, but a poll in 2014 found that 13 percent have positive feelings towards ISIS. An ideological vetting process that can separate Islamist from non-Islamist is needed to separate valuable friends from deadly foes.

The vetting process should not just rely on criminal records and databases used to detect terrorists and their associates. Because the threat is ideological in nature, it is very possible we could allow in someone with a radical outlook but has yet to establish the kind of operational connections that would show up in a database.

A new bipartisan congressional terrorism report found there isn’t a global comprehensive database of foreign jihadists who have gone to Syria to fight. It says the U.S. doesn’t even have a national strategy against terrorist travel and “information about foreign fighters is crossing borders less quickly than the extremists themselves.” There’s also the serious problem that there is a more general lack of intelligence about Syria.

Watch Clarion Project National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro and retired INS agent Michael Cutler, who gave testimony to the 9/11 Commission, discuss the vetting process for Syrian refugees:

The U.S. has a vetting process of 18 to 24 months. About 1,800 have come to the U.S. in the past two years and a little bit more than half passed the vetting. Names are checked against databases and there’s an interviewing process to make sure there isn’t information linking them to terrorist or criminal activity and that the biography they provided is truthful.

No news reports or explanations by the administration indicate the process includes evaluating the outlook of the applicant to find signs of Islamist sympathies, anti-American views or other forms of extremism like anti-Semitism.

An ideology-based screening process separating Islamists from non-Islamists (as opposed to simply terrorist from non-terrorist) minimizes the chances of a radical getting through and maximizes the chances of identifying an ally to work with. It is not in our interest or in the Syrians’ interest for an Islamist to take a moderate’s place in line.

By failing to identify anti-Islamist friends among the Syrian refugees, we are hurting our cause and losing a chance to undermine the Islamist extremist cause. For example, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American-Islamic Forum for Democracy, is a powerful voice against Islamism. He is in the U.S. doing his work because his parents sought refuge in America from the Assad regime.

The U.S. needs Muslim activists like Jasser. We need fluent Arabic speakers and those who understand that part of the world. We need voices who can speak first-hand about the horrors of ISIS, other Syrian Islamists and the Iran-backed Assad dictatorship. We need Muslims who are on the lookout for extremism and will not hesitate to report it and even keep tabs on it. These are roles that Syrian refugees who oppose Islamism can help fill.

The debate over the administration’s desire to bring 10,000 refugees into America is fierce and contentious, but a middle ground exists between an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees and trusting the current plan.


Ryan Mauro is’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.


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