My Turn: Risk of Syrian refugees is unacceptably high

  • By PETER S. GOLDBERG
  • Friday, November 20, 2015 1:03am
  • Opinion

While I am the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, the views I am expressing are my own. I believe that they closely reflect the views of the majority of the officers of the Party, but until a more formal document is ready for release, the contents of this commentary can only be attributed to me.

I am strongly opposed to the federal government bringing any number of “Syrian refugees” to our nation’s shores, and to Alaska in particular. I put “Syrian refugees” in quotes because they’re not always coming from Syria. People without paperwork can say they come from anywhere. While there are a lot of dedicated people in several federal agencies working hard to screen refugee applicants, a process that can take up to two years, I am not convinced that our methods are adequate. Having had a top secret security clearance for 37 years and having worked as a counterintelligence agent to conduct and review the results of background investigations, I know what it takes to properly check the background of an individual.

“Biometrics” like photographing and fingerprinting, medical screening, security checks and rigorous interviews, and an additional security process for Syrian refugees — all of which are part of the federal administration’s methodology — are an inadequate method of ensuring that these people will not be a threat to America. For example, fingerprinting is a useless tool unless we have access to a fingerprint database that had an historical record of that applicant having been fingerprinted. The likelihood of finding a fingerprint record of a jihadist applying for refugee status probably approaches zero.

While I’m sure we provide extensive training to those who interview and vet refugee applicants, there is a limit to what they can corroborate. If we wanted to conduct a really thorough background investigation of people wanting to come here from the Middle East, we could not. That would require what is called human intelligence, but there is no mechanism for us to send investigators to interview people who have known the “refugees” in the past.

So I agree with FBI Director James Comey, who admitted in October at a congressional hearing that it’s currently impossible to have a record of everyone in every country. “We can only query against that which we have collected, and so if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interest reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but … nothing will show up, because we have no record of that person,” he said.

Our country has already suffered from the attacks of 9/11 and numerous other small attacks inside and outside our borders. The likelihood that persons who wish to commit terrorist acts within our borders might enter as “refugees” is unacceptably high. One of the purposes of our Constitution is to “provide for the common defence.” The President has sworn to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” Any action on the part of the executive that raises the risk to the citizens of the United States is an action contrary to that oath.

Let me be perfectly clear: I am not saying that all Muslims are bad people. To say that would be absurd. In my last overseas assignment, I was the senior intelligence officer for NATO in Kosovo, a (now independent) country that was approximately 90 percent Muslim. I had several Muslim subordinates from Turkey working for me, all good men.

The ethnically Albanian Muslim people of Kosovo were very appreciative of the United States for stopping the genocide perpetrated by their then-Serbian-controlled government. It seemed to me that there were more American flags per square mile flying in Kosovo than in the United States. I have also interacted with Muslims in Indonesia, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Israel, and never felt threatened. I do feel, however, that I would rather risk offending these “refugees” than risk allowing into the United States anyone who would murder my countrymen.

I agree with those who would have our government work with other predominantly Muslim countries throughout the Middle East and other places, such as Indonesia, to establish safe zones where these predominantly Muslim refugees would go. As part of our agreement to establish these safe zones, we could offer to the receiving governments food, shelters, sanitary facilities, medical care and physical security.

If those countries choose to allow the refugees to stay long term, integration into their societies would be easier because of their common religion. This approach is compassionate, but without risk to America.

• Peter S. Goldberg is the chairman of the Alaska Republican Party.

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