Sen. Kirk: Ignoring Gaps Threatens Our Security

Sen. Mark Kirk joins Lauren Cohn and Bill Cameron in studio.

By U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL)

After the recent terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS in Paris, I called on President Barack Obama to suspend our nation’s Syrian refugee program until officials can guarantee 100 percent that ISIS terrorists cannot enter the U.S. by posing as refugees. Given the facts, the need for a pause to protect national security is obvious.

Top officials have expressed worry about our ability to fully vet refugees and block terrorists. In September, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that the U.S. intelligence community has a “huge concern” that ISIS may seek to infiltrate Syrian refugees. In October, FBI Director James Comey cautioned that the gaps in our knowledge of ISIS terrorists in Syria may prevent the U.S. government from thoroughly vetting all Syrian refugees. With these serious doubts about our security systems, we can’t afford to take unnecessary risks with American lives.

At the same time, even after it was clear that ISIS terrorists had used the Syrian refugee crisis to sneak into France, Rep. Tammy Duckworth called for an additional 200,000 Syrian refugees to be admitted to the United States – 20 times more than the Obama administration’s proposal. Duckworth has said that pausing the Syrian refugee program would mean the terrorists won. I think the facts say otherwise.

Look no further than two terrorists linked to a faction of al-Qaeda that is now part of ISIS who were among several dozen suspected terrorists admitted to the U.S. as Iraqi refugees.

In 2011, the FBI arrested Waad Ramadan Alwan and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi in Kentucky after they attempted to ship heavy weapons, including a Russian-made machine gun and a Stinger missile launcher, to ISIS. Alwan’s fingerprints were linked to an improvised explosive device that killed American soldiers, a crime Alwan admitted to in 2006 when arrested in Kirkuk.

After the arrests, the former head of the military’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, asked how terrorists were able to enter the U.S. as refugees: “How did a person who we detained in Iraq — linked to an IED attack, we had his fingerprints in our government system — how did he walk into America in 2009?”

In response to this incident, President Obama took the prudent step of suspending the Iraqi refugee program for six months — which the administration did not disclose to Congress, according to ABC News.

The U.S. has admitted more than 1,800 refugees from Syria’s civil war, and the administration plans to accept another 10,000 by the end of next year. Rep. Duckworth wants to increase that number to 200,000. She calls it “not letting the terrorists win.” I call it reckless and extreme.

Ignoring gaps in our ability to filter out terrorists from refugees – gaps that ISIS will try to take advantage of if given the chance – is not how we protect the American people.

This is another in a series of semi-regular commentaries from people and organizations about what’s important to Chicagoland. If you have questions or wish to respond, feel free to forward your thoughts to WLS Program Director Peter Bolger.