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'Huge hole': Congressman says feds aren't vetting social media posts of Afghan refugees

"That is a terrible way to handle national security," Rep. Tom Tiffany said of the Biden administration's screening processes.

Updated: September 9, 2021 - 10:33pm

A congressman from Wisconsin, where thousands of Afghan evacuees are being temporarily resettled, says the Biden administration is creating a significant security risk by failing to aggressively vet refugees' social media before allowing then to reach U.S. destinations.

Rep. Tom Tiffany, a Republican, told Just the News that the failure to vet social media posts for possible extremism is just one of several byproducts of a chaotic Biden administration exit strategy that has moved immigrants to U.S. installations in third countries before adequate security checks could be completed.

"They said, get them on the planes, and we'll sort the immigration status out later," Tiffany said during a wide-ranging interview on the John Solomon Reports podcast. "And Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken acknowledged that this last weekend, on the Sunday news shows that that's exactly what they did. That is a terrible way to handle national security." 

Tiffany said veterans of the Afghan war told him one of the most effective tools the military had for early identification of people who pose terrorism risks or were radicalized was through social media surveillance.

"It appears that the Biden administration, the State Department, is not doing any checks on social media," he said. "And that's one of the No. 1 places you can find at this point what people's true beliefs are. I mean, employers across the United States, they check social media all the time when they're interviewing people. ... And that is not happening here in this vetting process, which is a huge hole."

A spokeswoman for Homeland Security did not immediately return a call Wednesday seeking comment.

But a senior U.S. official directly involved in vetting Afghan refugees told Just the News that the databases used by U.S. screeners sometimes include social media handles in the identification but only those individuals who have prior security flags get social media screening. "Are we checking the posts of everyone, especially those without red flags? No," said the official. "We're not resourced for that."

Tiffany said the recent diagnosis of an Afghan refugee brought to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, where up to 10,000 evacuees are being brought, highlighted another shortfall in the screening process: disease monitoring. Fort McCoy confirmed this week one refugee was being isolated after coming down with measles, a highly contagious and dangerous disease that often infects young people.

"We're hearing that there's a communicable disease outbreak going on in Fort McCoy at this point," he said.

A spokesman for Fort McCoy did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

The congressman's comment were echoed elsewhere in the country, including in Northern Virginia, where the executive director of the Northern Virginia Emergency Response System blamed the Biden administration's poor planning for overrunning hospital emergency rooms in her state with Afghan patients.

"This was terrible for the refugees who have already traveled for days, who have been awake for days, who have children who, often, haven't eaten in days," Kristin Nickerson told The Washington Post.

Tiffany cited a Just the News article from earlier in the week as a third example of the problems with weak screening: an Afghan refugee heading onto a U.S.-bound flight Tuesday from a U.S. military base in Germany was found to have five blasting caps, a detonator wire and a blasting tube in his possession. While officials don't suspect terrorism — saying the materials were related to the man's work as a U.S. contractor — he has been denied entry to the United States.

Tiffany said the incident was being dismissed too nonchalantly.

"Some people are waving aside that a person is bringing blasting caps and detonator wire on a plane," he said, "and they're like, 'You know, that's kind of normal practice.' How many people do that? I mean, that should absolutely set off alarm bells about the vetting process that we're doing. But it really proves that the vetting process is not working."

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas defended the administration's vetting when asked whether he could be sure a ISIS sleeper agent would not accidentally be cleared into the United States.

"We have no information to suggest that ISIS has come to the United States through the Afghan national population that we've admitted under our legal authorities," he said. "And we have a multilayer, multiagency screening and vetting process to make sure that doesn't happen. We screen and vet individuals before they board planes to travel to the United States, and that screening and vetting process is an ongoing one and multi-layered."

But Tiffany said with an estimated 100,000 refugees going through an uneven screening process, the risks are high, especially because the evacuees are coming from a "country that is the number one purveyor of terrorism in the world, with the Taliban running the operation.

"Of those 134,000 people currently, you can't be wrong on one. Because if one is that sleeper cell that ultimately commits the next most heinous act of terror, I mean, that's harming Americans. That's our safety and security."

The congressman said he is so concerned by the government's laissez-fare security screening that he has asked the resettlement charities like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services that are aiding the evacuees to do their own vetting.

"In the letter I sent to them, I said the federal government is falling down on this vetting process, and it is now up to you to make sure that you're not bringing harm to your local communities," he said.