One Defense Department official revealed that the department's Automated Biometric Identification System has flagged up to 100 of the 7,000 Afghans evacuated as prospected recipients of Special Immigrant Visas as potential matches to intelligence agency watch lists.
Meanwhile, security screeners at Al Udeid Air Base, one of the stops where evacuees are screened, detected that at least one of the Afghans evacuated from Kabul Airport had potential ties to ISIS.
The U.S. has evacuated at least 6,000 fleeing Afghans to Al Udeid and thousands more have been flown to other temporary bases in the Middle East and Europe. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) screeners check the IDs and biometric data against law enforcement databases.
Thousands of those Afghans will eventually make their way to the U.S. Here, they'll initially be housed at military bases, such as Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Lee in Virginia.
Some of those Afghans, however, are raising flags during the screening process, requiring agents to pull them aside for further screening. But in most cases, those Afghans – many of whom were already vetted through the Special Immigrant Visa process – were eventually cleared by follow-on screening.
But there has been at least one case where an evacuee looked like "a potential member of ISIS" one official said. "They're still working that through."
On Tuesday, August 24, during a call with reporters, one senior Biden administration official said that Afghans evacuated to third-party countries are being put through "robust security processing" before being flown into the United States.
"That process involves biometric and biographic security screenings conducted by our intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals who are working quite literally around the clock to vet all these Afghans before they’re allowed into the United States," they said.
Despite this, the sheer number of evacuees has posed a challenge. During the first few days after Kabul fell, there was only a limited number of American screeners at Haid Karzai International Airport working to vet thousands of evacuees. To date, more than 63,000 Americans, Afghans and allied partners have been flown out of Afghanistan in one of the fastest and largest air evacuation operations in history. (Related: Countries in Central Asia and Europe are worried Afghanistan chaos will spread.)
The sheer number of evacuees isn't the only challenge CBP screeners face. According to another official familiar with the vetting process, screeners are also struggling with old vetting systems that aren't able to integrate all the information needed, such as the Defense Department's biometric database information.
"CBP on the ground has old tech and they don’t know how to use it, integrate it," the official said.
The official confirmed that it can take up to an hour for the system to tell a screener whether someone is cleared, or if they're a potential security risk.
These issues make fraud much more attractive to Afghans looking to quickly get into the U.S. State Department officials have confirmed that there have been five cases where Afghans attempted to use fraudulent American passports to get on flights bound for the U.S. The officials confirmed that the passports used did not belong to the Afghans.
"The U.S. mission team reported at least five cases of Afghans who presented U.S. passports that didn’t belong to them, according to the Sunday dispatch from the Afghanistan Task Force, highlighting fraud concerns and complicating the process of screening people to enter the airport," stated a State Department report.
Now, as the August 31 deadline to get all American troops out of Afghanistan looms, the evacuation operations are gaining even more pace, flying out 21,600 people on Tuesday alone. But this increased pace raises the specter of more fraud and more potential security risks making it through.
So far, most of the security alerts have occurred at Al Udeid. But the airlift operation has expanded to the extent that the possibility of other Afghans with terror ties getting flagged at other bases can't be ruled out
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