The top Republican on the House Defense Appropriations Committee is raising questions on whether biometric data was collected on the thousands of now-released terrorists from Bagram Air Base prison in Afghanistan, and pressing the White House on whether the location of these individuals is known.
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., told Fox News that he sent a list of questions to the White House, demanding they provide information on the exact number of prisoners released from Bagram by the Taliban, and how the administration is tracking them — after the Taliban released them in August.
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Calvert said collection of that data is a “matter of normal procedure in theater,” telling Fox News it would be “surprising” if the administration did not have that information available to “identify and track these terrorists.”
“Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. You can’t deny that these people were released, and you can’t deny they’re out there,” Calvert told Fox News. “It would be a deadly mistake not to confront that issue seriously and hunt these people down — especially if they got into the United States.”
But a senior administration official told Fox News that, broadly, the U.S. military has intelligence collection procedures in any area they have a long-term presence. The U.S. had a presence in Afghanistan for 20 years.
The official told Fox News that if an individual was housed in a U.S. military facility, their information would be in the shared interagency intelligence databases.
Calvert first told Fox News in September that the suicide bomber that killed 13 U.S. service members outside Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in August was one of the roughly 7,000 prisoners who had been housed at Bagram prison, and released by the Taliban.
The Aug. 26 suicide bombing took the lives of 13 U.S. service members – 11 Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier. Eighteen other U.S. service members were wounded. The bombing also left more than 150 civilians dead.
All U.S. forces were removed from Bagram, the largest military base in Afghanistan, in July.
The Pentagon said on Aug. 27 “thousands” of ISIS-K prisoners were freed by the Taliban during their takeover of Afghanistan in the days leading up to the bombing near the Kabul airport.
Calvert is also questioning the administration’s process in vetting the more than 120,000 Afghans who were evacuated from Kabul in the final days of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, saying “we have no idea who they are after the chaotic exit.”
“It would not surprise me if some of these individuals from the prison got on airplanes and got to the U.S.,” Calvert said.
But senior administration officials told Fox News that “every single” Afghan has had biometric data collected from them at Lily Pad bases in Europe and Asia, and again during an additional layer of screening upon arrival to U.S. bases.
“Intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals are coordinating a rigorous process for screening and security vetting, including reviewing fingerprints, photos, biometric and biographic data for every single Afghan before they are permitted entry into the United States,” an official told Fox News, noting that the information is then run through a series of databases shared by the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI, and other intelligence community agencies.
“The screening and vetting process is multi-layered and we have surged resources to evaluate each case and are working around the clock to process these reviews as efficiently as possible to protect homeland security,” the official explained.
The official told Fox News that DHS has deployed approximately 400 personnel from Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Transportation Security Administration, United States Coast Guard, and United States Secret Service to Bahrain, Germany, Kuwait, Italy, Qatar, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates to conduct processing, screening, and vetting in coordination with the Departments of Defense and State and other federal agencies while Afghans are still overseas.
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If an individual fails the checks while they are still overseas at a Lily Pad base, the official told Fox News that individual “will not be permitted to board a flight to the United States.”
The official said additional inspection is conducted when each Afghan does arrive at a U.S. port of entry, and said a secondary inspection is conducted.
“If, upon landing in the United States, further security vetting at the Port of Entry raises a concern about a person, CBP has the authority to not grant them entry into the United States,” the official told Fox News, adding, though, that “those cases are rare, and they demonstrate that our robust vetting system is working to protect the homeland.”
The official added that the president “takes no responsibility more seriously than keeping Americans safe,” and said the administration “will use every tool we have to ensure that no known or suspected terrorists enter the United States.”
Meanwhile, Calvert also warned that individuals released from Bagram could enter the U.S. along the southern border.
“I hope that doesn’t happen, but, as my old man used to say, hope isn’t a planning strategy,” Calvert said. “We need to track these people and find out where they are at.”
He added: “Unfortunately, they never should have been released.”