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Hawley to introduce bill to increase Afghan vetting after critical Pentagon IG report

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FIRST ON FOX: Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is introducing legislation to increase and tighten vetting of Afghans who were evacuated as part of the U.S. withdrawal, after a Pentagon report found that not all available data was used during the vetting process, and that some Afghans of concern could not be located. The “Afghanistan Vetting and Accountability Act,” would require the verification of personal and biometric information of all evacuees who were brought to the U.S. as part of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August, and also would require in-person vetting interviews with all evacuees.PENTAGON IG REPORT SAYS 50 AFGHAN EVACUEES BROUGHT TO US HAD ‘POTENTIALLY SIGNIFICANT SECURITY CONCERNS’Additionally, it would require regular reports to Congress on the list of evacuees in the country, including known criminal records or arrests, the current status of the vetting process, as well as an assessment on whether they have received federal benefits.It also would deny welfare to those evacuees who do not complete the required vetting process or withhold information from U.S. officials. Finally, the legislation would declassify all intelligence related to the withdrawal from Afghanistan, including timelines for an anticipated Taliban takeover, the projected ability of the Afghan security forces to prevent a takeover and the willingness of then-President Ashraf Ghani to remain in the country.Hawley has been one of the vocal critics of the way the Biden administration handled the withdrawal from Afghanistan, raising concerns about both the withdrawal itself and the refugee evacuation that accompanied it. He grilled DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the vetting in November.”Joe Biden has admitted tens of THOUSANDS of refugees and other immigrants without interviews or standard vetting,” he tweeted in January. “The contempt of his administration for Americans’ safety is stunning.”The Biden administration planned for almost 100,000 refugees to be resettled in the U.S. in the first year since the withdrawal. CNBC News recently reported that so far more than 65,000 refugees have been moved off military bases and permanently resettled.The Biden administration has repeatedly stressed that vetting is secure, multi-layered and involves screening by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals. However, Republicans have continued to raise red flags about vetting, especially after a number of allegations of crimes by evacuees.Those concerns were fueled by a Pentagon inspector general report published last week that found U.S. agencies “did not use all available data” when vetting evacuees. STATE DEPARTMENT ON AFGHAN REFUGEES IN US: ‘WE’RE DOING ACCOUNTINGS ON THE BACK END’The National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) later expanded its review to fill the gaps in screening, the report said, and as of November had identified 50 Afghan personnel in the U.S. with information that would “indicate potentially significant security concerns.”According to a footnote assigned to that section of the report, “significant security concerns include individuals whose latent fingerprints have been found on improvised explosive devices and known or suspected terrorists and for which the NGIC sends derogatory information notifications to appropriate DoD personnel.”The report also found that Defense Department personnel “stated that they could not locate some Afghan evacuees when attempting to report derogatory information to the DoD and U.S. government agencies supporting [Continental United States] safe havens.”The report stated that as of Dec. 13, 2021, NGIC personnel “have reviewed approximately 58,455 of the 80,404 Afghan evacuee identities received and have assessed that it will take until approximately March 2022 to finish this analytic review.”Responding to the report, a DHS spokesperson said that evacuees”undergo a multi-layered, rigorous screening and vetting process that begins overseas and is conducted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals from the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and State, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center and additional Intelligence Community partners.””The federal government is leveraging every tool available to ensure that no individuals who pose a threat to public safety or national security are permitted to enter the United States,” the spokesperson said.CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APPThe agency said that evacuees are brought to international transit points where officials review their biometric and biographical information before being allowed to travel to the U.S., and that information is screened against multiple databases. They are also inspected on arrival at the airport by Customs and Border Protection (CBP).Axios reported this week that the U.S. has deported its first Afghan evacuee back to Afghanistan due to a criminal record which was only discovered after their arrival. An official told the outlet that there was no connection to terrorist networks or national security concerns and that the deportation was an example of the vetting system working.Fox News’ Brooke Singman contributed to this report.

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