Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) are urging for an investigation into the veracity of recent claims made by a Department of Defense whistleblower. The whistleblower has alleged that among the Afghan evacuees released into the U.S. by the Biden administration were 324 individuals on the DOD’s Biometrically Enabled Watchlist.
The BEWL, used for screening purposes, identifies persons whose biometrics have been collected and have been deemed by analysts to be threats or potential threats to national security. The list includes known suspected terrorists.
In their letter to Sean O’Donnell, acting inspector at the DOD, Hawley and Johnson noted they also want investigated the claims that:
- the White House and DOD officials "directed personnel to cut corners and not conduct full fingerprint tests of Afghan evacuees"; and
- Department of Homeland Security staff was authorized to delete old biometric data, possibly "compromis[ing] the integrity of existing databases and undermin[ing] national security."
The Epoch Times reported that the DOD previously admitted that the National Counterterrorism Center did not in fact vet all evacuees "using all DOD data prior to arriving in" the U.S.
A Pentagon report issued February 15, 2022, noted that the National Ground Intelligence Center had "identified 50 Afghan personnel in the United States with information in DOD records that would indicate potentially significant security concerns." Some of the Afghan evacuees flagged as possible security concerns could not be located since, according to the NGIC, "there was an issue with either field representatives or operators failing to upload data or maintain devices properly."
In their letter, Hawley and Johnson said that the figure reflecting the number of persons posing significant security concerns was no longer 50, but rather had risen to at least 65. The senators requested that these 65 individuals be "immediately located, fully vetted, and, if appropriate, deported."
In an August 4 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Hawley pressed FBI Director Christopher Wray about the FBI's knowledge of the presence of the 324 persons named on the BEWL. Wray said, "There are a number of individuals ... that we are actively trying to investigate."
In the exchange, Wray admitted that the strain put on the vetting process by the short period of time set by the Biden administration for the withdrawal and the large number of people who were being evacuated "inevitably raises concerns."
Over 124,000 people, including 6,000 American citizens, were flown out of Afghanistan. Over 76,000 Afghans were evacuated to the U.S. 95% of these individuals were conferred temporary legal status, permitting them to work and reside in the country for two years. Evacuees can apply for asylum, which can lead to permanent legal status.
According to a spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency is "streamlining the processing of requests for work authorization, Green Cards, and associated services."