Mark Twain once said there are lies, damned lies and statistics. We saw all of these from the Obama administration this week as it desperately tried to defend its foolhardy plan to bring Syrian refugees into the United States without adequately vetting them for ISIS terrorists.
To counter demands by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates that President Obama drop his plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, the Obama administration issued statistics and other information to the press this week to reassure the American people that ISIS cannot use this route to infiltrate the U.S. because these refugees will be carefully screened.
Just under 2,200 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the U.S. since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. Most were admitted over the last year. The Obama administration told reporters this week that roughly half of all Syrian refugees admitted to date have been children. It claims around 25% are adults over 60 and only 2% have been single males of “combat age.” Not surprisingly, the mainstream media published these statistics without questioning them.
Obama officials also said there is a robust vetting process for these refugees that includes biometrics, background checks by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, and interviews.
Mr. Obama and his foreign policy team are desperate to admit Syrian refugees and have resorted on too many occasions to defending controversial foreign policy initiatives with claims that are at best questionable and in many cases outright false.
So where did the statistics come from? A U.S. government report? Congressional testimony? No, these numbers were given to the press in a private briefing by three unnamed senior officials. This means there’s no way to check the accuracy of this data or to hold these officials accountable for their claims.
The Obama administration doubled down on its Syrian refugee statistics on Thursday by tweeting a chart that said 23,092 Syrian refugees have been referred by the UN to the U.S. since 2011; 7,014 were interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security; 2,034 have been admitted into the U.S. and zero of those admitted have been arrested or removed on terrorism charges.
It is impossible to evaluate these Syrian refugee statistics without seeing all of the data. For example, what percentage of Syrian refugees applying for admittance to the U.S. were men of military age? And if it is true that only 2% of military-age men were admitted over the last year, are there others still being processed? How many were arrested or deported for non-terrorism charges?
We also should assume that the set of refugees admitted over the last year is different from the recent refugee surge, about 72% of which have been men of military age. How will the composition of this new set of refugees change the future number of Syrian military-age men admitted as refugees?
The administration’s claims about the refugees screening process are also hard to believe. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul has called the president’s plan to bring in Syrian refugees a “federally sanctioned welcome party” to potential terrorists because the screening process is so inadequate. FBI Director James Comey has said the federal government does not have the ability to conduct thorough background checks on Syrian refugees.
The reasons for this are that most Syrian refugees have no documentation, the U.S. has no information on them and there’s no way to consult their records in Syria.
We also should assume ISIS is coaching potential terrorists on how to pass the interview screening process.
Obama officials claim processing refugees for admittance into the U.S. can take 18 to 24 months and that processing Syrian refugees can take longer. I’m skeptical about this claim because President Obama has 14 months left in office and wants to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees next year. I believe this means the clearance process probably will be sped up so these refugees will be admitted on Mr. Obama’s watch and to ensure they cannot be blocked by the next president.
I believe the U.S. should be compassionate and welcoming to refugees fleeing persecution. I support admitting Syrian refugees who are women, children, disabled or elderly. We also should be admitting Syrian Christians and Yazidis who have been systematically targeted with brutal persecution and murder by ISIS. (The president’s claim that giving Syrian Christian refugees priority amounts to bigotry is ridiculous.)
I would like to see an effective vetting process to ensure Syrian military-age men admitted to the U.S. as refugees are not potential terrorists, but I have no confidence the Obama administration will do this. Mr. Obama and his foreign policy team are desperate to admit Syrian refugees and have resorted on too many occasions to defending controversial foreign policy initiatives with claims that are at best questionable and in many cases outright false.
That’s why 31 U.S. governors are opposing letting Syrian refugees into their states. That’s why the House of Representatives on Thursday passed by a veto-proof majority a bill to halt the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. until they undergo a more stringent vetting process. These elected officials don’t trust this president and don’t believe him when he says the 10,000 Syrian refugees he plans to let into the U.S. next year will be adequately vetted for ISIS terrorists.
Donald Trump got it right about this issue when he said in a recent tweet:
“Refugees are pouring into our great country from Syria. We don’t even know who they are. They could be ISIS. They could be anybody. What’s our president doing? Is he insane?”
Mr. Trump, the majority of American governors, the House and most Americans recognize the danger from the President’s determination to bring Syrian refugees to America without vetting them for ISIS terrorists. Americans wants to be safe and are tired of the Obama’s administration’s damn lies on national security.
Fred Fleitz is senior vice president for policy and programs with the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, DC national security think tank. He held U.S. government national security positions for 25 years with the CIA, DIA, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. Fleitz also served as Chief of Staff to John R. Bolton when he was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz specializes in the Iranian nuclear program, terrorism, and intelligence issues. He is the author of "Peacekeeping Fiascos of the 1990s: Causes, Solutions and U.S. Interests" (Praeger, May 30, 2002).