Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes say’s the Obama administration has a complete plan to both contain the Islamic State overseas and will keep them out of the U.S. in a way that France was unable to.
The Washington Times Reports:
The White House says it won’t let its plans to bring Syrian refugees to the U.S. be derailed by Friday’s terrorist attack in Paris, with a top official insisting Sunday that American authorities know how to weed out potential problems within the refugee community.
French President Francois Hollande has called the attacks, which killed at least 129 people and wounded more than 350 others, an act of war, and began retaliatory strikes on Islamic State strongholds in Raqqa, Syria.
Mr. Obama was in Turkey for a meeting of the Group of 20 nations, where the attacks were the top order of business.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said the administration has a complete plan to both contain the Islamic State overseas and keep its recruited fighters out of the U.S. in a way that France was unable to.
But top members of Congress are skeptical of those plans, pointing to “gaping holes” in American defenses, and said even top Homeland Security officials have admitted the U.S. does not have access to the kinds of records and databases in the Middle East that would make sure immigration officers could screen out terrorists.
Refugees are the most pointed issue, but far from the only one, for American policymakers grappling with Friday’s devastating terrorist attack in Paris and its implications here at home.
Republican presidential candidates over the weekend demanded President Obama come up with a war plan to confront the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee went the furthest, saying the U.S. should refuse entry to anyone from a country where al Qaeda and the Islamic State have a significant presence.
Democratic presidential hopefuls, meanwhile, struggled with the issue over the weekend, trying to navigate between supporting Mr. Obama’s hazy strategy and coming up with their own ways of promising action on what’s become a global threat.
Officials said two of the attackers in Paris are now believed to have gained entry to Europe through a wave of refugees fleeing Syria. One of them appears to have come as part of a refugee surge in October in Greece, where he had no identification and was issued a Syrian passport, which he then used to travel through Europe, reaching France.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees are making similar journeys, overwhelming immigration officials tasked with screening them.
But Mr. Rhodes, speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” insisted Mr. Obama is sticking by his promise that the U.S. will take some 10,000 refugees in 2016, and even more in 2017.
“We have very robust vetting procedures for those refugees. It involves our intelligence community, our national counterterrorism center, extensive interviews, vetting them against all the available information,” Mr. Rhodes said.
The Obama administration assurances rang hollow on Capitol Hill, where the president has repeatedly underestimated the reach and desire of the Islamic State. He famously called it the “JV” team of terrorists just as it was beginning to advance in the Middle East, gaining a huge amount of territory and declaring a caliphate. And last week he said the movement was “contained” — just ahead of the Paris attack.
Members of Congress said Mr. Rhodes was dead wrong, and pointed to fears among Homeland Security officials who say they don’t, in fact, have access to the kinds of checks back in Syria that would allow them to vet would-be refugees.
Without access to those databases, and without people on the ground who can walk neighborhoods and verify details, there is no way to back-check a refugee’s story to see whether he is who he says he is. That puts enormous pressure on the in-person interview, conducted by Homeland Security officers.