By Naveen Athrappully
The Department of Defense (DoD) Office of Inspector General (OIG) is all set to investigate whistleblower allegations that hundreds of Afghan refugees were allowed into the United States despite appearing on the department’s Biometrically Enabled Watchlist (BEWL).
“As part of our ongoing body of work on Afghan evacuees, we are initiating an evaluation, to commence in the first quarter of FY 2023, to address your questions pertaining to the DoD’s role in reviewing DoD databases for information on Afghan evacuees when requested by other agencies,” said a Sept. 6 letter by DoD Acting Inspector General Sean W. O’Donnell to Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).
The letter was in response to an Aug. 4 letter sent by Johnson and Hawley to O’Donnell which brought attention to the whistleblower allegations.
The senators had highlighted O’Donnell’s previous report titled “Evaluation of the Screening of Displaced Persons from Afghanistan” which said that Afghan evacuees were not vetted by the National Counter-Terrorism Center using DoD data prior to their arrival in the United States.
O’Donnell’s report also revealed that DoD personnel had identified 50 Afghans in the United States with DoD records indicating them as “potentially significant security concerns.” This number had risen to 65 by the time the senators wrote the letter.
The whistleblower revealed “an even darker picture,” claiming that 324 Afghan evacuees were allowed into the country despite being listed on the BEWL. This was in addition to the 65 individuals.
“The BEWL—commonly known as ‘the watch list’—identifies individuals whose biometrics have been collected and determined by analysts to be threats or potential threats to national security, including known suspected terrorists,” the letter pointed out.
The defense department did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publishing.
Afghan Migrant Security Issue
The GOP senators’ letter also highlighted lax security protocols followed by departments responsible for allowing Afghan evacuees into the United States.
Political appointees at the National Security Council and DoD are alleged to have asked personnel to “cut corners” when processing evacuees.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), tasked with vetting Afghan evacuees, deleted old biometric data, something which the lawmakers called a “troubling development” for national security.
A recent report issued by the DHS OIG said that the department failed to fully vet around 80,000 Afghans brought into the United States. Many of them did not have full names. Over 11,000 had noted birth dates as Jan. 1.
In a February report, the Pentagon’s National Ground Intelligence Center had identified 50 Afghans admitted into the country with information in DoD records that indicate them to be potentially significant security concerns.
The Afghan population in the United States has risen rapidly over the decades. At the beginning of the Afghanistan war in 2001, there were around 44,000 Afghans living in the United States. This number jumped to 133,000 in 2019.