Immigration Factors That Threaten U.S. National Security:
Specific issues regarding concerns about American and European fighters in Syria
Michael W. Cutler, Senior Special Agent, INS (Ret.)
On May 22, 2014 Reuters published a worrying report:
“U.S. steps up scrutiny of American fighters in Syria”
The bottom line is that citizens of the United States and various european countries have turned up in Syria on both sides of the civil war wrecking havoc on that country.
Here is an important quote from that Reuters article:
U.S. security agencies have expressed growing anxiety for months about a steady stream of Western militants heading to Syria. Most of the foreigners join up with the most extreme factions trying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, including Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
U.S. and allied officials say their main fear is that veteran fighters, radicalized by their Syrian experience, will launch terror attacks once they return home. Authorities in Western Europe say they have uncovered plots by fighters returning from Syria.
There are a few issues not discussed in the report.
While the report identified those individuals who are heading to Syria from the United States and western european countries, there was no mention as to whether they are native-born or naturalized citizens of the United States or other countries. This is significant for a couple of reasons.
First of all, the immigration system including the process by which applications for visas are processed lack integrity. Additionally, the adjudications process including the naturalization process conducted by USCIS lacks adequate integrity. There have been numerous instances where aliens easily gamed the immigration benefits program which includes granting aliens political asylum, lawful immigrant status (as signified by the issuance of a “Green Card” also known as an Alien Registration Receipt Card) and United States citizenship via the naturalization process.
I will provide evidence of this lack of integrity a bit later on, but just bear in mind that our borders and our immigration laws are America’s first line of defense against international terrorists and transnational criminals.
Even as concerns are being voiced by high-ranking members of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Congressman Jeff Denham of California has recently proposed the ill-conceived “Enlist Act” that would enable illegal aliens to be granted a pathway to lawful status and possibly United States citizenship if they join our military. He probably did not get the memo to read the 9/11 Commission Report or the The 9/11 Commission Staff Report on Terrorist Travel. But then, it would appear that nearly every member of Congress, with a few notable exceptions, failed to get that memo as well.
On May 20, 2014 the Wall Street Journal published a report that shows that Denham has company in his quest for political gain at the expense of national security:
“Boehner Leaves Open a Vote on ‘Enlist Act’ Immigration Measure”
To cut to the chase, Denham and those who support his dangerous legislation need to read page 68 of the 9/11 Commission Report. Here is the paragraph they need to pay particular attention to:
The Embassy Bombing- (Page 68 of the 9/11 Commission Report):
As early as December 1993, a team of al Qaeda operatives had begun casing
targets in Nairobi for future attacks. It was led by Ali Mohamed, a former
Egyptian army officer who had moved to the United States in the mid-1980s,
enlisted in the U.S.Army, and became an instructor at Fort Bragg. He had pro-
vided guidance and training to extremists at the Farouq mosque in Brooklyn,
including some who were subsequently convicted in the February 1993 attack
on the World Trade Center. The casing team also included a computer expert
whose write-ups were reviewed by al Qaeda leaders.
It is not just this one case, think about the Fort Hood shooting carried out by Major Nidal Hasan. Consider the consequences of having our military and law enforcement officials train the elite members of Mexican law enforcement agencies and the Mexican military to attempt to have them assist in combatting the drug cartels in Mexico only to watch these individuals form their own cartel- arguably the most pernicious and violent of all of the cartels in Mexico known as “Los Zetas.”
On October 21, 2011 ABC News posted this report:
“FBI Finds Gangs Expanding, Even to U.S. Military”
Here is an important excerpt from that report:
While FBI and law enforcement officials do not have estimates on the number of gang members in the military officials have seen gangs in 100 jurisdictions in the U.S. and overseas with 53 different gangs who are in every branch of the military.
“Gang recruitment of active duty military personnel constitutes a significant criminal threat to the U.S. military,” the threat assessment noted. “NGIC [National Gang Intelligence Center] reporting indicates that law enforcement officials in at least 100 jurisdictions have come into contact with, detained, or arrested an active duty or former military gang member within the past three years.”
To find additional information about gangs check out this FBI report:
2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends
While certainly not all gang members are aliens, many thousands of gang members are indeed citizens of other countries including Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and other countries.
As an INS agent, in the late 1970’s, I worked closely with the NYPD, ATF and ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence)- currently known as NIS (Naval Investigative Service) to track down and arrest aliens, predominantly from the Caribbean, who had used false ID to enter the U.S. Marine Corps to acquire tactical training and firearms training with high-powered weapons. Their goal was to use that traininig and weapons they stole, to carry out a series of extremely violent, commando-style bank robberies in the New York City area. We literally followed a trail of blood and bodies.
It is vital that anyone who undergoes tactical military training and who is given access to our military bases be well screened.
It is important to also note that it is a felony for an illegal alien to possess firearms or ammunition.
Representative Jeff Denham and Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner are apparently willing to ignore all of the foregoing, even as new concerns are being raised about Americans who may head off to war in Syria and what they may do when they ultimately return to the United States.
When illegal aliens evade the inspections process they are disingenuously referred to as being undocumented. In point of fact, they are un-inspected. When I was an INS agent the term used by the INS to describe aliens who entered the United States covertly was EWI (Entry Without Inspection).
Aliens who enter without inspection obviously have something to conceal. Perhaps it is a criminal history or an affiliation with a terrorist organization. There is no record of their entry and there is no easy way to determine who they truly are- that is, after all what undocumented means- they lack official identity documents. Therefore there is no easy way to determine their true country of citizenship let alone their true names.
No sensible person would willingly board an airliner if he saw several passengers sneak onto an airliner, evading the TSA inspectors, he was preparing to travel on. Yet the administration and members of Congress have created a situation where we now live among unknown millions of foreign nationals who evaded a similar inspections process that is supposed to prevent terrorists, criminals, fugitives, mentally ill individuals and aliens who suffer from dangerous communicable diseases from entering the United States.
Next you should know that when an alien naturalizes he (she) may change his name on the day of naturalization. The idea, apparently, is to truly enable newly minted United States citizens to begin their lives anew. However what you likely don’t know is that when a naturalized citizen applies for an receives a U.S. passport, that passport will only contain the new name taken by that new citizen. In effect enabling the new U.S. citizen to place himself into his own “witness protection program.”
I have raised this issue at Congressional hearings and during a meeting I had with former Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff. Nevertheless this obvious vulnerability persists and other countries such as Canada have similar policies in place. In my judgement, this is nothing short of a self-inflicted wound.
Next we come to the issue of dual-nationals. When an alien naturalizes but retains citizenship in his original country he may well have two passports- possibly not even in the same name- consider the issues I raised previously. This enables such an individual to travel around the world covering his tracks. Consider this scenario:
A naturalized American citizen books a flight to a country such as England, Germany or even Canada under the name contained in his U.S. passport. Shortly after arriving in that country this traveler books a flight to another country- for argument sake in the Middle East, under the name contained in the passport from his country of birth. He flies to the Middle East and makes his way to Syria or some other country under his original name. He then remains there for how ever long he needs to conduct meetings with terrorists, engage in a terrorist operation or some other such activity- perhaps travelilng to Syria to engage in combat. He may remain in that country for as long as he wishes.
When he is ready to return to the United States, he flies to the country to which he first traveled when he began his journey. Upon arriving in that country he books a flight to the United States using the name on his United States passport and conceals the passport issued by his country of birth. It would be entirely possible that he could successfully claim to have visited that intermediate country for his entire trip, concealing his travels and activities in other countries around the world.
Naturalized citizens of european countries may well use a similar ploy.
European countries and other such countries which participate in the Visa Waiver Program make it far easier for aliens to enter the United States because they do not need to first apply for and obtain a U.S. visa. The 9/11 Commission identified laxity in the process by which visas are issued to foreign visitors as a threat to national security. On September 11, 2001 the United States permitted aliens from 26 countries to enter the United States without first applying for a visa. Several weeks ago Chile became the 38th country to participate in the Visa Waiver Program- a dangerous and wrong-headed program being pushed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and CEOs of the hotel, hospitality, travel, tourism and manufacturing industries.
Give this a bit of thought- national security decisions are being made by hotel executives who (hopefully) know how to provide hotel patrons with clean linens and room service. What could possibly go wrong?
Our government is apparently responding to the extreme pressure to expand the Visa Waiver Program being brought to bear by the Chamber of Commerce and executives of the travel, hospitality and related industries under the auspices of a program known as the Discover America Partnership.
On July 12, 2011 Californians for Population Stabilization posted my commentary:
“Visa Waiver Program Endangers our Safety and Security”
My commentary contained a list of six ways that an effectively administered visa program protects America and Americans. Under the ill-conceived Visa Waiver Program all of these benefits are eliminated, thus undermining national security and public safety.
Here is an excerpt of my commentary that contains that list:
1. By requiring visas of aliens who seek to enter the United States, this process helps to screen potential passengers on airliners that are destined to the United States.
2. The CBP inspectors are supposed to make a decision in one minute or less as to the admissibility of an alien seeking to enter the United States. The visa requirement helps them to do a more effective job. There’s is a tough job I can certainly relate to, I began my career at the former INS as an immigration inspector at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and worked there for four years before I became a special agent.
3. The application for a nonimmigrant visa contains roughly 40 questions that could provide invaluable information to law enforcement officials should that alien become the target of a criminal or terrorist investigation. The information could provide invaluable intelligence as well as investigative leads.
4. If an alien applicant lies on the application for a visa that lie is called “visa fraud.” The maximum penalty for visa fraud starts out at 10 years in jail for those who commit this crime simply in order to come to the United States, ostensibly to seek unlawful employment or other such purpose. The penalty increases to 15 years in jail for those aliens who obtain a visa to commit a felony. For aliens who engage in visa fraud to traffic in narcotics or commit another narcotics-related crime, the maximum jail sentence that can be imposes rises to 20 years. Finally, when an alien can be proven to have engaged in visa fraud in furtherance of terrorism, the maximum penalty climbs to 25 years in prison. It is important to note that while it may be difficult to prove that an individual is a terrorist, it is usually relatively simple to prove that the alien has committed visa fraud when there is fraud involved in the visa application. Indeed, terror suspects are often charged with visa fraud.
5. The charge of visa fraud can also be extremely helpful to law enforcement authorities who want to take a bad guy off the street without tipping their hand to the other members of a criminal conspiracy or terrorism conspiracy that the individual arrested was being arrested for his involvement in terrorism or a criminal organization. You can arrest the alien who commits visa fraud for that violation of law and not for other charges that might make it clear that the investigation underway is targeting a criminal or terrorist organization.
6. Even when an alien applies for a visa and his application is denied, the application he filed remains available for law enforcement and intelligence personnel to review to seek to glean intelligence and investigative leads from that application.
Let us now revisit the evidence that the administration and all too many members of congress from both parties are ignoring in this particularly perilous era.
The first paragraph of the preface of the The 9/11 Commission Staff Report on Terrorist Travel begins with the following paragraph:
It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United
States if they are unable to enter the country. Yet prior to September 11, while there were
efforts to enhance border security, no agency of the U.S. government thought of border
security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Indeed, even after 19 hijackers
demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the
United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security
policy. We believe, for reasons we discuss in the following pages, that it must be made
The 9/11 Commission Staff Report on Terrorist travel went on to detail numerous examples of instances where terrorists not only made use of visa and immigration benefit fraud to enter the United States but to also embed themselves in the United States. Page 47 of this report noted:
Once terrorists had entered the United States, their next challenge was to find a way to remain here. Their primary method was immigration fraud. For example, Yousef and Ajaj concocted bogus political asylum stories when they arrived in the United States. Mahmoud Abouhalima, involved in both the World Trade Center and landmarks plots, received temporary residence under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers (SAW) program, after falsely claiming that he picked beans in Florida.
This paragraph is found on page 98 under the title “Immigration Benefits:”
“Terrorists in the 1990s, as well as the September 11 hijackers, needed to find a way to stay in or embed themselves in the United States if their operational plans were to come to fruition. As already discussed, this could be accomplished legally by marrying an American citizen, achieving temporary worker status, or applying for asylum after entering. In many cases, the act of filing for an immigration benefit sufficed to permit the alien to remain in the country until the petition was adjudicated. Terrorists were free to conduct surveillance, coordinate operations, obtain and receive funding, go to school and learn English, make contacts in the United States, acquire necessary materials, and execute an attack.”
On July 20, 2013 the Washington Times published a truly disturbing report:
Homeland Security loses track of 1 million foreigners; report could hurt immigration deal
Here is how this important report begins:
The Homeland Security Department has lost track of more than 1 million people who it knows arrived in the U.S. but who it cannot prove left the country, according to an audit Tuesday that also found the department probably won’t meet its own goals for deploying an entry-exit system.
The findings were revealed as Congress debates an immigration bill, and the Government Accountability Office’s report could throw up another hurdle because lawmakers in the House and Senate have said that any final deal must include a workable system to track entries and exits and cut down on so-called visa overstays.
The government does track arrivals, but is years overdue in setting up a system to track departures — a goal set in a 1996 immigration law and reaffirmed in 2004, but which has eluded Republican and Democratic administrations.
On May 20, 1997, more than four years before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I participated in my first Congressional hearing. That hearing was conducted by the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims and was entitled:
“VISA FRAUD AND IMMIGRATION BENEFITS APPLICATION FRAUD”
This important hearing was predicated on two terrorist attacks that were carried out more than four years earlier, in 1993 by aliens from the Middle East who, as was determined, gamed the visa process and/or the immigration benefits program.
In January 1993 a Pakistani national by the name of Mir Kansi stood outside CIA Headquarters with an AK-47 and opened fire on the vehicles of CIA officials reporting for work on that cold January morning in Virginia. When the smoke dissipated, two CIA officer lay dead and three other were seriously wounded. Kansi fled the United States and was ultimately brought back to stand trial. He was found guilty and executed for his crimes. He had also been granted political asylum and had been subsequently found to have lied on his application, thereby committing a felony, fraud. Had the fraud been detected and had he been deported from the United States, those who were killed and wounded would not have been harmed.
Just one month later, on February 26, 1993 a bomb-laden truck was parked in the garage under the World Trade Center complex and detonated. The blast nearly brought one of the 110 story towers down sideways. As a result of the explosion, 6 innocent people were killed, hundreds were injured and an estimated one half billion dollars in damages were inflicted on that iconic complex of buildings located just blocks from Wall Street. That attack was also carried out by alien terrorists who managed to not only game the visa process in order to enter the United States but the immigration benefits program that enabled them to remain in the United States and embed themselves as they went about their preparations to carry out that attack.
On March 21, 2012, the Huffington Post published an extremely disturbing article that was entitled:
Peter King: Iran May Have ‘Hundreds’ Of Hezbollah Agents In U.S.
The basis for the Huffington Post article was a hearing that was conducted that day by the House Committee on Homeland Security that is chaired by Congressman Peter King of New York, the topic of the hearing was:
“Iran, Hezbollah, and the Threat to the Homeland”
Here is how the Huffington Post article began:
WASHINGTON — Iranian-backed Hezbollah agents, not al Qaeda operatives, may pose the greatest threat on U.S. soil as tensions over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program ratchet up, according to the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
“As Iran moves closer to nuclear weapons and there is increasing concern over war between Iran and Israel, we must also focus on Iran’s secret operatives and their number one terrorist proxy force, Hezbollah, which we know is in America,” said New York Rep. Peter King at a Wednesday hearing of his committee.
The hearing, which featured former government officials and the director of intelligence analysis for the New York Police Department, follows a foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., and testimony by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in late January that Iran’s leaders are “more willing to conduct an attack inside the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.”
Opening the hearing, King said, “We have a duty to prepare for the worst,” warning there may be hundreds of Hezbollah operatives in the United States, including 84 Iranian diplomats at the United Nations and in Washington who, “it must be presumed, are intelligence officers.”
In case you missed what Congressman King said in the quote from the news article, here it is again:
Opening the hearing, King said, “We have a duty to prepare for the worst,” warning there may be hundreds of Hezbollah operatives in the United States, including 84 Iranian diplomats at the United Nations and in Washington who, “it must be presumed, are intelligence officers.”
I have testified before numerous congressional hearings on various aspects of the immigration crisis that confronts the United States today, especially where it undermines national security.
On a number of occasions at those hearings, I raised the issue of so-called “Sleeper Agents.” A sleeper agent is an alien who is engaged in espionage, terrorism or sabotage. Such individuals may enter the United States by evading the inspections process conducted at ports of entry by CBP (Customs and Border Protection) Inspectors or by entering the United States through ports of entry. Either way their goal is to maintain a very low profile while waiting for a phone call or other communication calling him (her) to action.
In the years following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 no less an authority than Robert Mueller, the previous director of the FBI, testified before hearings about his concerns about sleeper cells operating in the United States.
It would certainly seem that his concerns were wholly justified and that most likely sleepers would make use of vulnerabilities in the immigration system.
Yet the president, key members of the administration and political leaders from both political parties are ignoring all of the evidence and warnings provided by a veritable parade of experts who have testified before a succession of hearings conducted in both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.
Here are a few articles that provide still more evidence of the clear nexus between immigration and national security / public safety:
The quarterly publication, “The Social Contract” recently published my article in its Summer, 2013 edition, on how fraud in the political asylum program, a program of which I am a staunch supporter, enables our enemies to see in America’s compassion, weakness. The title of my article was:
“Political Asylum: Where Compassion and National Security Intersect”
The springboard for my piece was the terrorist attacks conducted by the Tsarnaev brothers at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. According to publicly available information, they had been granted political asylum in the United States, apparently claiming “credible fear” that they would face persecution, or perhaps worse, if they were to return to their native Russia. Published reports indicated that subsequent to being granted to political asylum they did, nevertheless, travel to Russia of their own volition, calling into question the bona fides of their claims of credible fear.
On May 2, 2013, I was interviewed by Megyn Kelly of Fox News about the terror bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013:
“Immigration Expert: The System Failed in Boston and Keeps on Failing”
On September 20, 2013 CAPS (Californians for Population Stabilization) posted my article about the failures of the vetting process for alien applicants who apply for immigration benefits:
“Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Background Checks Require a Reality Check”
On July 30, 2012 CAPS (Californians for Population Stabilization) posted my commentary:
“Fraud: The Immigration Vulnerability That Undermines the Immigration System and National Security”
On November 20, 2013 ABC News reported:
“Exclusive: US May Have Let ‘Dozens’ of Terrorists Into Country As Refugees”
This is not a new problem, on July 13, 2011 the Washington Times published a truly disturbing article:
“Visas reviewed to find those who overstayed / Aim is to find any would-be terrorists”
On Friday, May 24, 2013 “The Blaze” and “My San Antonio,” reported on the arrest of Wissam Allouche by the FBI and members of the JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) in San Antonio, Texas, for lying on his application for naturalization to acquire United States citizenship.
The article published by “My San Antonio” was entitled:
“Alleged member of Hezbollah arrested here”
The article in “The Blaze” was entitled:
“Infiltration? The Alarming Details Surrounding Alleged Hezbollah Member’s Arrest in Texas”
While his application for naturalization was approved and he was arrested and indicted for committing fraud in filing that application years earlier- what no one has pointed out is that in addition to allegedly successfully gaming the naturalization process, he had been a lawful immigrant for years. He had a Green Card for at least three years before he applied for United States citizenship. It is vital to understand that the lack of integrity to the process by which aliens are granted lawful status in the United States- including resident alien status and United States citizenship poses an immediate and direct threat to national security.
Here is an important excerpt from “The Blaze” article:
The federal indictment revealed Allouche had married a U.S. citizen and was going through the naturalization process when he was arrested. When asked by officials if he had ever been associated with a terrorist organization, he replied no. That apparently turned out to be a lie.
According to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, he was a militant with the Amal militia in Lebanon in the early to mid-1980s. He was reportedly captured as a Israeli prisoner of war, but was later released to become a commander of the Amal militia.
“News reports at the time said Hezbollah was formed by religious members of the Amal movement,”
In addition to lying about his terror ties, Allouche is also accused of lying about his relationship with his ex-wife. He falsely claimed on his application forms in 2009 that he and his wife were married and living together for the past three years. In reality, they had no lived together since May 2007 and they filed for divorce in December of 2007.
At the time of his arrest Allouche was applying for a security clearance in order to work for the Department of Defense and had also applied for naturalization. Allegedly he lied by claiming to have never been a member of a terrorist organization when in fact,, according to the FBI, he had been a member of Hezbollah.
Perhaps the highest profile hearing I for which I have been called to testify was conducted on March 19, 2002 by the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, on the topic:
“INS’S MARCH 2002 NOTIFICATION OF APPROVAL OF CHANGE OF STATUS FOR PILOT TRAINING FOR TERRORIST HIJACKERS MOHAMMED ATTA AND MARWAN AL-SHEHHI”
This hearing was covered by C-SPAN and the C-SPAN video every member of Congress should be required to watch it. It is unfathomable how twelve years after that hearing was conducted into one of the most outrageous screw-ups that all of the promises to address the failures of the system continue to plaque the very same system that would be required to adjudicate the applications filed by unknown millions of illegal illegal aliens in the United States under “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”
Instead of simply pushing back against Comprehensive Immigration Reform, all Americans irrespective of political affiliations, should be demanding that the commitments promised by the members of Congress at that hearing be met. Our nation’s immigration laws are utterly blind as to race, religion and ethnicity. Those laws and the entire immigration system that serves as our first line of defense and last line of defense and must be made to operate effectively and with true integrity.
National security is neither a Democrat nor a Republican issue. It is not a “Liberal” or “Conservative” issue! National security should be the primary concern of every American of every race, religion and ethnicity!
On July 27, 2006 I testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims on the topic:
WHETHER THE ATTEMPTED IMPLEMENTATION OF THE REID-KENNEDY IMMIGRATION BILL WILL RESULT IN AN ADMINISTRATIVE AND NATIONAL SECURITY NIGHTMARE
In my testimony back then, I made my opposition to the Senate immigration bill, S.2611 abundantly clear. I noted that any member of Congress who would vote to provide lawful status and identity documents for millions of illegal aliens should be given “The MVP Award by al-Qaeda!” You can see a segment of my testimony at that hearing in a video that has been posted on You Tube.
The lack of integrity to the immigration system imperils the future of our nation and the future of our citizens, undermining national security and the survival of the middle class. The time has come for our elected representatives to live up to their oaths of office and the eloquent promises they made to the citizens they were elected to represent.
The recommendations and finding of the 9/11 Commission and the 9/11 Commission staff must be the starting point for any discussion about immigration.
Most of what is wrong with the immigration system can be solved by COMPILE (COMprehensive Immigration Law Enforcement).
It is time for our leaders to conduct themselves as true leaders, placing the survival of America and Americans above their wrong-headed efforts to curry favor and campaign contributions, from a host of individuals and organizations that are so motivated by greed that they are willing to compromise national security.
This is not a matter of being political “Conservatives” or political “Liberals” but about being Americans.