Portman, Grassley, Inhofe Seek Transparency on Flagged Afghan Evacuees Amid Ongoing Concerns of Vetting, Security Failures

WASHINGTON, DC – Leading senators on key oversight committees sent a letter to Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Director Chris Wray calling for additional transparency about Afghan evacuees who’ve been flagged as potential security threats after arriving in the United States following insufficient security screenings. U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the respective ranking members of the Senate Committees on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Judiciary, and Armed Services, are calling on the FBI to provide additional information on these evacuees. Specifically, they are seeking a follow-up briefing on the FBI’s role in further evaluating flagged evacuees as well as the justification for pairing categories of new information that are usually unclassified with classified material, given the significant public interest.

“The American people deserve answers about President Biden’s decision to parole individuals into the country without adequate screening and to understand the FBI’s role in assessing and investigating these security concerns,” the senators wrote in an unclassified cover letter accompanying a classified inquiry to FBI Director Chris Wray.

The senators previously raised concerns about the government’s failure to use all vetting tools available to prevent potential security threats from exploiting the Biden Administration’s resettlement program. As a result, at least 50 evacuees who’ve arrived in the United States were later identified as having potentially significant security concerns. Since then, the senators’ committee staffs received a classified briefing that revealed new information beyond the previously reported scope of evacuees flagged by the National Ground Intelligence Center. However, it remains unclear whether the vetting breakdowns have been resolved and what the FBI is doing to further assess flagged evacuees to make sure Americans are protected.

The full unclassified letter can be found below and here.

Dear Director Wray:

On May 26, 2022, we wrote to you regarding Afghan evacuees, which number at least 50, who were flagged for the FBI by the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) as “potentially significant security concerns.”  On July 14, 2022, the FBI participated in a classified multi-agency briefing to congressional staff regarding this matter and shared new information beyond the more than 50 individuals initially flagged by NGIC.  While administration officials asserted that the relevant information provided at that staff briefing was classified, similar information in other contexts is unclassified.  The American people deserve answers about President Biden’s decision to parole individuals into the country without adequate screening and to understand the FBI’s role in assessing and investigating these security concerns. 

During the August 4, 2022, Senate Judiciary Committee FBI Oversight Hearing, you were asked by Ranking Member Grassley whether the FBI knows where certain flagged evacuees are located.  You responded,

We have a lot of information about where people are located. I can’t sit here right now and tell you that we know where all are located at any given time.  That’s probably true.

Your response does not inspire confidence that the FBI knows the exact location of at least 50 Afghan evacuees with significant security concerns.

Based on the information provided at the July 14 briefing, we request an in-person briefing and information from you regarding the FBI’s activity with respect to those evacuees and an explanation of the rationale behind the classification decisions.   

Finally, administration officials have been unable to confirm the status of an enduring agreement between DHS and NGIC to share the tactical database used by NGIC to flag Afghan evacuees with security concerns.  As a result, we request that the briefing also address steps the FBI is taking to assess any concerns posed by Afghan evacuees who are still in process for being admitted into the United States.

Accordingly, please review the attached classified letter and clarify whether information provided by the FBI to Congress is in fact classified and, if it is, provide a rationale for the classification of the material given the strong public interest and the different classification treatment of similar information in other contexts.  We request that you make yourself available to brief us in person no later than September 15, 2022.