Someone at Homeland Security is trying to kneecap Trump’s new immigration executive order.
Do note: The seven nations listed in his original travel ban were chosen not by the new White House but by the old one. It was the Obama administration that designated them as worthy of extra scrutiny (although not for the purpose of banning visitors outright) and then Team Trump rolled that special status over into its own policy. If Trump was haphazard in perceiving a threat from them, Obama was too.
A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an “unlikely indicator” of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria’s civil war started in 2011…
The three-page report challenges Trump’s core claims. It said that of 82 people the government determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to carry out or try to carry out an attack in the United States, just over half were U.S. citizens born in the United States. The others were from 26 countries, led by Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Of these, only Somalia and Iraq were among the seven nations included in the ban.
Of the other five nations, one person each from Iran, Sudan and Yemen was also involved in those terrorism cases, but none from Syria. It did not say if any were Libyan.
On top of all that, the report noted, terror groups in Iran, Sudan, and Yemen are regionally focused and should pose less of a threat to the United States. You can see the court challenge to the next executive order materializing before your eyes: Is there really any rational basis for this order, opponents will tell the judge, if DHS’s own analysis can’t find one? Or is this just Trump picking a few Muslim countries at random and making a point about “extreme vetting” by directing a temporary ban at them? The thinness of the evidence that the seven countries pose a special threat already sank the first executive order in the Ninth Circuit.
Go take a peek at the report, though. It’s just three pages long and apparently was based on nothing more than unclassified open-source material like news reports and Justice Department press releases. A full departmental analysis involving classified assessments of terror threats is still in the works:
“DHS and DOJ are working on an intelligence report that will demonstrate that the security threat for these seven countries is substantial and that these seven countries have all been exporters of terrorism into the United States,” the senior White House official told CNN. “The situation has gotten more dangerous in recent years, and more broadly, the refugee program has been a major incubator for terrorism.”…
“While DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you’re referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official, robust document with thorough interagency vetting,” [a department spokesman] said.
A Department of Homeland Security source who asked for anonymity since he was not authorized to speak on the record said the report from the I&A officials did not meet the standards of the agency since it relied upon open source material and did not utilize necessary data from the intelligence community, specifically the FBI.
If the report is based on incomplete evidence, if it hasn’t been subject to interagency review, if it’s looking at terror threats only in terms of the number of people killed instead of a variety of terror-related crimes, how and why did the document end up being floated to the media? Under the circumstances, and given the brevity, it … sure smells like it was thrown together to try to undermine Trump as he takes another crack at writing a travel-ban order. It’s not really a report, in other words, by a type of press release by a critic of the policy inside the administration. The critic may have decided to “prepare the battle space” politically before the next order is released by leaking the report in hopes of preemptively convincing the public that Trump’s policy is misguided even according to members of his own DHS. Or at least, that’s the most pro-Trump reading of what happened here.
The most anti-Trump reading, reported by (who else?) CNN last night, is that the evidence of terror threats from these seven countries really is thin — so much so that the White House may be in the process of “shopping” around to several different federal agencies to see if anyone can produce intelligence that would justify cracking down on immigration from those countries. That’s not the way policy should be made: Ideally you’d request a threat assessment from, say, the Director of National Intelligence, let him sift through the numbers, and then have him come back to you with a list of countries that pose special risks to the United States and whose visitors should be barred temporarily or subjected to “extreme vetting.” Instead, CNN claimed, some intel sources are worried that Team Trump is doubling down on the list of seven they’ve already come up with and demanding that natsec people dig something up to justify that decision. In fact, according to one official, the National Counterterrorism Center has been asked to produce its own report on terror risks from the seven countries alongside the one that’s in the works by DHS and the DOJ just in case their material is stronger. (Why not have all three agencies coordinate?) The White House isn’t building a policy based on the facts available, in other words, they’re looking for facts to support a policy they’re already intent on implementing — or so their critics claim. Why, exactly, they’re intent on implementing it will be at the heart of the next court challenge. If Trump loses that one, hoo boy.
Exit question: Does this explain why the new travel-ban order was mysteriously delayed this week? Has Trump’s team simply not marshaled enough facts yet about terror threats from the seven nations listed in the ban for it to survive a court challenge?