By The Numbers: State Department Congressional Response 2015

Posted: 1:39  am EDT

 

This past January, Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Julia Frifield appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (HOGR) to testify on the State Department’s response to Congressional requests for documents in 2015. Below is extracted from her prepared testimony (PDF):

160,000 pages: provided to the Committee for its investigation of embassy construction

6,000 pages: provided to the Committee on the Jakarta New Embassy Compound

5,000 constituent cases: response provided to members of Congress – everything from lost passports to missing constituents overseas to helping with visas for constituents’ family members.

2,500 briefings: provided to the Hill on foreign policy issues

2,137 Consular Notifications pages: provided to the Committee on overseas construction

1,700 Congressional letters: provided response to congressional inquiries

536: Congressional Member and staff delegation trips abroad.

168 Hearings: Congressional hearings where State Department officials appeared in 2015

21 staffers:  people dedicated to processing documents with support from new legal and information technology personnel for the Congressional Document Production Branch.

9 Investigations: currently with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the State Department is working on

1 Congressional Document Production Branch: new unit created at the State Department to “enabling us to respond to more committees simultaneously than ever before.”

 

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@StateDept Launches Center for the Study of the Conduct of Diplomacy at FSI

Posted: 1:35 am EDT

 

Excerpt from D/Secretary Antony J. Blinken on “American Diplomacy: Preparing for the Challenges of Tomorrow,” February 2, 2016:

Every day, our team here at State works towards big goals like this that benefit from the leadership and creativity of the innovation community.

And every day, our team tackles issues at the intersection of technology and foreign policy—from modernizing arms control agreements to negotiating norms of behavior in cyberspace or outer space.

Despite this focus, we need to create more bridges that allow our diplomats to tap into the energy and ingenuity of American education, innovation, and entrepreneurship—and enable our foreign policy priorities to spark or accelerate new ideas.

Developed under Deputy Secretary Burns’ leadership, the Foreign Service Institute’s Center for the Study of the Conduct of Diplomacy is one such bridge—ensuring that we apply the lessons of the past to our conduct and actions in the future.

We are also developing a new core curriculum at FSI, to ensure that everyone starts their careers with foundational knowledge and skills relevant to this century. Through new and experiential training, we will prepare our officers to better understand unstated assumptions that shape conflict and collaboration, apply future forecasting to the geopolitical world of tomorrow, and tap into unconscious drivers of behavior that will help us effectively conduct and advance our foreign policy.

To help build another of these bridges, Secretary Kerry recently established the Innovation Forum in order to enable our foreign policy leaders to be able to see around the innovation corner—to ask important questions like: “What does the revolution in robotics mean for warfighting? What do advances in artificial intelligence mean for our labor markets? What does the advent of digital currency mean for the dollar?”

Read in full here.

 

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US Embassy Beirut: A Form Letter Response, Please, That’s Cold

Posted: 2:50 am EDT

 

The US Embassy in Damascus, Syria suspended its operations on February 6, 2012, and is not open for normal consular services.  The Travel Warning for Syria was last updated on August 27, 2015. Yes, these folks should have left Syria when it was still a possibility, but they probably knew that already, and blaming them now is not going to help. For folks interested in learning what the U.S. Government can and cannot do in a crisis overseas, please click here.

Look, we understand that there is not much that the USG can do in terms of consular services in an active war zone.  But. While it may not be much, forwarding the inquiry in this case to the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus might have, at a minimum, alerted the Section of this family’s existence.  Two, when one is in a life and death situation, receiving a form letter from the U.S. government is probably one of the coldest manifestation of the bureaucracy.

The Government of the Czech Republic serves as the protecting power for U.S. interests in Syria. U.S. citizens in Syria who seek consular services should contact the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Damascus at USIS_damascus@embassy.mzv.cz. U.S. citizens in Syria who are in need of emergency assistance in Syria and are unable to reach the U.S. Interests Section of the Embassy of the Czech Republic or must make contact outside business hours, should contact the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan: AmmanACS@state.gov; +(962) (6) 590-6500.

 

Related items:

 

 

 

@StateDept to Join @White House’s #BigBlockOfCheeseDay — Have Your Policy Qs and Bad Cheese Puns Ready!

Posted: 1:44 am EDT

 

 

This is the third year in a row that the White House is hosting the Big Block of Cheese Day. The Obama Administration has adopted the story of Big Block of Cheese Day from the popular political drama, The West Wing. Inspired by President Andrew Jackson’s 1837 open house featuring a 1,400 pound block of cheese, see the WH’s video from last year below.  As in the other BBCD, dozens of White House officials will take to social media for a day long ‘open house’ answering questions in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and via Google+ Hangout.  Check out these cheese puns to go!

 

 

See the list of those participating on January 13.  Think your questions Caerphilly and use the #BigBlockOfCheeseDay hashtag. We hope you’ll have a Gouda time!

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@StateDept Gears Up For Counterterrorism Messaging in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa

Posted: 12:45 am EDT

 

Last year, the State Department told us that the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) remains a stand-alone office reporting to the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R), and has expanded to include a new counter-ISIL cell to the Center’s operation.  Following the departure of Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, the State Department appointed Rashad Hussain as United States Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) in February 2015. Mr. Hussain previously served as U.S. Special Envoy to the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Less than a year into his tenure as CSCC coordinator, Mr. Hussain left State to join the Department of Justice (see Another Coordinator Gone, What’s Next For the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications?).

Last week, the State Department announced the revamping of its counter-violent-extremist communications efforts (see @StateDept Announces Michael D. Lumpkin as Head of New Global Engagement Center).

A section of the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes the following items on countering foreign fighters and violent extremist organizations. It provides 1) funding to counter the flow of foreign fighters to countries in which violent extremists or violent extremist organizations operate including partnership with governments and multilateral organizations; and 2) reduction of public support for violent extremists or violent extremist organizations by addressing the specific drivers of radicalization through engagement and public messaging campaigns.

SEC . 7073.
(a) COUNTERING  FOREIGN  FIGHTERS AND  VIOLENT EXTREMIST  ORGANIZATIONS .—Funds appropriated under titles III and IV of this Act shall be made available for programs to—

(1) counter the flow of foreign fighters to countries in which violent extremists or violent extremist organizations operate, including those entities designated as foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) pursuant to section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Public Law 82–814), including through programs with partner governments and multilateral organizations to—

(A) counter recruitment campaigns by such entities;
(B) detect and disrupt foreign fighter travel, particularly at points of origin;
(C) implement antiterrorism programs;
(D) secure borders, including points of infiltration and exfiltration by such entities;
(E) implement and establish criminal laws and policies to counter foreign fighters; and
(F) arrest, investigate, prosecute, and incarcerate terrorist suspects, facilitators, and financiers; and

(2) reduce public support for violent extremists or violent extremist organizations, including FTOs, by addressing the specific drivers of radicalization, including through such activities as—

(A) public messaging campaigns to damage their appeal;
(B) programs to engage communities and populations at risk of violent extremist radicalization and recruitment;
(C) counter-radicalization and de-radicalization activities for potential and former violent extremists and returning foreign fighters, including in prisons;
(D) law enforcement training programs; and
(E) capacity building for civil society organizations to combat radicalization in local communities.

Below is the State Department’s FY2016 request (PDF) which includes an Overseas Contingency Operations Request for International Information Programs (IIP) for $6 million. Here is part of the request and justification:

The Department faces unprecedented and unanticipated Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program requirements, including countering the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The FY 2016 OCO Request for IIP activities supports increased organizational capacity to expand counterterrorism messaging in the key languages of Arabic, Urdu, Somali and English during hours of peak activity in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

  • Dedicated ISIL Content Group ($700,000): The request includes $700,000 for editorial content to produce and translate content specifically addressing ISIL. Resources will support production and translation of new content for Anti-ISIL efforts without sacrificing production on other enduring priorities.
  • U.S. Speakers Office ($400,000): The request includes $400,000 to dispatch U.S. speakers on short notice to engage key foreign audiences in specific target countries on emergent issues. IIP would partner closely with the relevant regional or functional bureau(s) to identify both the target countries and key audiences for each issue. In addition, IIP would leverage the expertise of these speakers through other types of programs, particularly virtual interactive discussions.
  • Digital “special forces” platform development team ($600,000): The request includes $600,000 to support formation of a team that has the capacity and ability to rapidly execute time-sensitive projects. This team of five, including one designer, two front-end developers, one back-end developer/engineer, and one production manager, would have the capacity to handle three to four concurrent projects.
  • Outreach Program ($750,000): The request includes $750,000 for outreach programs targeting non-governmental international partners in order to extend the reach of the Anti-ISIL campaign with a broader range of messages and messengers. Some of these would reach new audiences; others might have greater credibility with existing audiences. The Department currently lacks the capacity to perform the outreach necessary for such an effort. Funding would also support training to staff at posts in order to boost their capacity to conduct counter-messaging and outreach to foreign partners and contacts.
  • Digital Products ($1 million): The Department has several in-house audiovisual producers, but lacks the technical resources to produce original footage, complex animation, or mobile- phone/tablet applications. Extremist adversaries, including ISIL, exploit all of these techniques to garner recruits and support their operations. The request of $1.0 million supports augmentation of existing in-house production of mash-up videos and stand-alone banners with original films, animated clips and mobile apps. Because each of these genres would require significant up-front investment in production facilities and professional expertise, the funding will support commissioned products from proven leaders in the field.
  • Social Media Analytics ($650,000): Social media analytics can inform and shape content to make it relevant and engaging to target audiences. This new and evolving business practice can make the Department’s public diplomacy materials more effective and improve the Department’s ability to create policy content that is informed by data. The Department currently has access to only the most minimal tools for surveying and analyzing the social media environment. The Request includes $650,000 for a competitive suite of tools that would add value across the various platforms where the Department is active.
  • Liaisons ($600,000): The Department coordinates broadly across the interagency and with international partners. The request includes $600,000 for 3 dedicated positions (FTEs or equivalent), possibly in the form of reimbursable detailees, with the sole purpose of synchronizing and optimizing operations for maximum effect against the adversary.
  • Integrated Analysis ($1.3 million): The Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Integrated Analysis section (CSCC/IA) is currently minimally staffed by two Intelligence Community officers and two Department of State civil servants. The request includes $1.3 million to ensure CSCC work is informed by intelligence and coordinated with the work of the rest of the Interagency; measuring effectiveness; and managing research into emerging counter-radicalization and messaging trends and best practices. CSCC’s increased operational tempo related to the President’s 3-year plan against ISIL and the effort against violent extremism in general, necessitates additional personnel and resources. Three reimbursable detailee billets are needed to be filled by intelligence analysts from National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and Defense of National Intelligence Open Source Center, to ensure the highest-quality all-source intelligence support to CSCC planners and Digital Outreach Team operations. Additional funds are needed to research operations-applicable best practices and emerging technologies in the areas of counter-radicalization and target audience messaging.

 

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House Judiciary Committee Unable to Make a Distinction Between a Fiance(e) Petition and a Fiance(e) Visa

Posted: 4:15 am EDT

 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said in December that immigration officials did a poor job reviewing the financée visa application of Tashfeen Malik, one of the shooters in the San Bernardino, Calif., rampage that left 14 dead.  Goodlatte said he reviewed the application and found there was insufficient evidence to prove Malik and U.S. citizen Syed Rizwan Farook, had met in person — a requirement for a foreign national seeking a K-1 financée visa before being allowed entry into the U.S.

Let’s say that the couple did not meet, 8 U.S. Code § 1184 – admission of nonimmigrants provides for that exception. Below is the relevant section of the immigration law that our U.S. Congress passed:

(d) Issuance of visa to fiancée or fiancé of citizen

A visa shall not be issued under the provisions of section 1101(a)(15)(K)(i) of this title until the consular officer has received a petition filed in the United States by the fiancée and fiancé of the applying alien and approved by the Secretary of Homeland Security. The petition shall be in such form and contain such information as the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, by regulation, prescribe. Such information shall include information on any criminal convictions of the petitioner for any specified crime described in paragraph (3)(B) and information on any permanent protection or restraining order issued against the petitioner related to any specified crime described in paragraph (3)(B)(i). It shall be approved only after satisfactory evidence is submitted by the petitioner to establish that the parties have previously met in person within 2 years before the date of filing the petition, have a bona fide intention to marry, and are legally able and actually willing to conclude a valid marriage in the United States within a period of ninety days after the alien’s arrival, except that the Secretary of Homeland Security in his discretion may waive the requirement that the parties have previously met in person. In the event the marriage with the petitioner does not occur within three months after the admission of the said alien and minor children, they shall be required to depart from the United States and upon failure to do so shall be removed in accordance with sections 1229a and 1231 of this title.

 

The American citizen petitioner is asked to submit evidence that he/she or his/her fiancé(e) have met in person during the 2 years preceding the filing of the I-129F petition. Such evidence may include a written statement from the petitioner and/or the beneficiary stating the exact date(s) on which the parties have met in person, copy of airline tickets, passport pages, or other evidence showing the U.S. citizen petitioner and the beneficiary have met in person during the requisite time period.

There are two exceptions to the “meet in person within 2 years before filing a fiance(e) petition” that DHS allows. The applicants must establish (PDF) that:

(1) The requirement to meet the fiancé(e) in person would violate strict and long-established customs of the the petitioner or fiancé(e)’s foreign culture or social practice; or

(2) The requirement to meet the fiancé(e) in person would result in extreme hardship to the American citizen petitioner.

In any case, it doesn’t look like the petitioner requested an exemption to the personal meeting requirement.  On December 19, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) released a copy of of what he says is “Malik’s K-1 Visa application” (see pdf).  What Mr. Goodlatte actually released is not/not a copy of  Malik’s K-1 visa application but U.S. citizen Farook’s Fiancee Visa Petition (I-129F) on behalf of Pakistani national, Tashfeen Malik.

It looks from the petition that Farook made an Intention to Marry Statement indicating that they were both in Saudi Arabia in October 2013.  If there is a question here, it might possibly be that the Farook submitted copies of passport pages that show the ID pages and admission stamps without the English translation. The I-129F notes that “The petitioner must submit the English translation of the admission/exit stamps.” We don’t know if he ever did, but the petition was presumably approved, or she would not have been issued a visa.

Screen Shot

But man, oh, man, the congressional folks looking into this could not even make the distinction between a petition and a visa?

The U.S. citizen petitioner, in this case, Syed Farook submitted the I-129F Fiance(e) Visa petition to DHS. That’s the document that Mr. Goodlatte released online. The alien beneficiary of the petition, in this case, Tashfeen Malik, then applied for a fiancee visa at a consular post overseas. According to the State Department’s deputy spox, she did that at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. She would have been required, among other things, to fill out a DS-160 form, an Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application form,  for temporary travel to the United States, and for K (fiancé(e)) visas. Form DS-160 is submitted electronically to the Department of State website via the Internet. Consular Officers use the information entered on the DS-160 to process the visa application and, combined with a personal interview, determine an applicant’s eligibility for a nonimmigrant visa.

The DS-160 form is not available to fill out as a PDF but information asked in that form is available in an unofficial sample form here (PDF).

There’s a notion that if only the K visa was not issued to Malik or if only she were “fully” vetted, perhaps San Bernardino would not have happened. But the other half of the shooters was one of our fellow citizens! Yes, maybe Farook wouldn’t have done it without her. Or maybe Farook would have found someone else and still kill all those people.  We don’t effing know. All we know right now is it happened.  Sure, we can focus on whether there was enough evidence of a personal meeting or not, but is that going to help us understand the whys and hows behind this attack.

Beyond the question of whether these two have personally meet or not prior to coming to the United States, the larger issue seems to be: how do you determine the intent of a person coming to the United States if he/she has a clean record? The fact is anyone can change one’s intent between the time a visa is issued/entry is allowed into our borders and when action occurs at some later date. It need not have to be a K-1 visa; it can be any kind of visa. It need not have to be a one entry, 90-day visa, it can be a multiple entry, 60 months visa. And it can be a U.S.  citizen born, raised, radicalized within our borders, coming back to this country, or already living here.  Absent a glass ball, or a pre-cognition system, there is no “full vetting” able to predict a hundred percent an individual’s intent or behavior into future.

And then there’s this: researchers at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law (CNS) analyzed 59 individuals in their ISIS Cases in the United States study (PDF) in 2015.  Of the 59 individuals, 17 are domestic plotters, and 100% U.S. citizens. The study notes that “overall, the accused are diverse and difficult to profile, racially or ethnically. They belong to a wide swath of ethnic backgrounds including African, African American, Caucasian, Asian, Eastern European, and South Asian.  Few are of Middle Eastern Arab descent.” 

Among the characteristics of the foreign fighter and domestic plotter groups in that study?  The vast majority, 81% are U.S. citizens, their median age is 24 years.  At least one third are converts to Islam and 14% have previous felony convictions. Some food for thought for folks who bother to think this through.

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Congress Mandates Limits on @StateDept’s Records Management After Hillary Clinton’s Email Flap

Posted: 12:44 am EDT

 

In 1976, Henry Kissinger apparently left the State Department with records of his telcons, along with his memcons and office files, at the conclusion of his tenure as the 56th Secretary of State.  The National Security Archive in 2001 filed a legal complaint directed at the State Department and the National Archives “for abdicating their duty under the Federal Records Act to recover the Kissinger documents, which were produced on government time with government resources.” In March 2015, the National Security Archive again filed suit against the State Department under the Freedom of Information Act to force the release of the last 700 transcripts of Kissinger’s telephone calls (telcons). The Archive’s appeal of State’s withholding dates back to 2007. State has apparently claimed they were “pre-decisional” or covered by executive privilege — claims that the Archive says “should long since have expired in the case of 40-year-old records.”

In 2013, 67th did not have to removed her record emails since they were not even in the State Department systems. Meanwhile, the State Department will be tied up in multiple civil litigations related to these damn emails until 2055.

In any case, Congress is on it! No one will be able to do this ever again. No one, that is, until the next secretary of state maybe in 2028 … and it’ll be for something similar to the telephones, or emails, but different; perhaps out of a new technology that is yet to be invented… records retention for lifelogging or mindprinting, anyone?

Well, here is what Congress did for now.  A section of the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes the following item on Records Management with funding restrictions on the use of email accounts and email servers created outside the .gov domain, a requirement for records management reports from both the State Department and USAID within 30 days, and a provision for  withholding $10,000,000 from the “Capital Investment Fund” until the reports required are submitted to Congress.

(1) LIMITATION AND DIRECTIVES.—

(A) None of the funds appropriated by this Act under the headings “Diplomatic and Consular Programs” and “Capital Investment Fund” in title I, and “Operating Expenses” in title II that are made available to the Department of State and USAID may be made available to support the use or establishment of email accounts or email servers created outside the .gov domain or not fitted for automated records management as part of a Federal government records management program in contravention of the Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014 (Public Law 113–187).

(B) The Secretary of State and USAID Administrator shall—

(i) update the policies, directives, and oversight necessary to comply with Federal statutes, regulations, and presidential executive orders and memoranda concerning the preservation of all records made or received in the conduct of official business, including record emails, instant messaging, and other online tools;
(ii) use funds appropriated by this Act under the headings “Diplomatic and Consular Programs” and “Capital Investment Fund” in title I, and “Operating Expenses” in title II, as appropriate, to improve Federal records management pursuant to the Federal Records Act (44 U.S.C. Chapters 21, 29, 31, and 33) and other applicable Federal records management statutes, regulations, or policies for the Department of State and USAID;
(iii) direct departing employees that all Federal records generated by such employees, including senior officials, belong to the Federal Government; and
(iv) measurably improve the response time for identifying and retrieving Federal records.

(2) REPORT.—Not later than 30 days after enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State and USAID Administrator shall each submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations and to the National Archives and Records Administration detailing, as appropriate and where applicable—
(A) the policy of each agency regarding the use or the establishment of email accounts or email servers created outside the .gov domain or not fitted for automated records management as part of a Federal government records management program;
(B) the extent to which each agency is in compliance with applicable Federal records management statutes, regulations, and policies; and
(C) the steps required, including steps already taken, and the associated costs, to—

(i) comply with paragraph (1)(B) of this subsection;
(ii) ensure that all employees at every level have been instructed in procedures and processes to ensure that the documentation of their official duties is captured, preserved, managed, protected, and accessible in official Government systems of the Department of State and USAID;
(iii) implement the recommendations of the Office of Inspector General, United States Department of State (OIG), in the March 2015 Review of State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset and Record Email (ISP–1–15–15) and any recommendations from the OIG review of the records management practices of the Department of State requested by the Secretary on March 25, 2015, if completed;
(iv) reduce the backlog of Freedom of Information Act and Congressional oversight requests, and measurably improve the response time for answering such requests;
(v) strengthen cyber security measures to mitigate vulnerabilities, including those resulting from the use of personal email accounts or servers outside the .gov domain; and
(vi) codify in the Foreign Affairs Manual and Automated Directives System the updates referenced in paragraph (1)(B) of this subsection, where appropriate.

(3) REPORT ASSESSMENT.—Not later than 180 days after the submission of the reports required by paragraph (2), the Comptroller General of the United States, in consultation with National Archives and Records Administration, as appropriate, shall conduct an assessment of such reports, and shall consult with the Committees on Appropriations on the scope and requirements of such assessment.
(4) FUNDING.—Of funds appropriated by this Act under the heading “Capital Investment Fund” in title I, $10,000,000 shall be withheld from obligation until the Secretary submits the report required by paragraph (2).

You gotta do what you gotta do, now for some laughs via SNL:

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Photo of the Day: Ambassador Barzun Visits Global Entry Sign-Up Booth at Google UK

Posted: 12:02 pm EDT

 

Via US Embassy London/FB:

23528561881_b5a392b3b6_z

Ambassador Barzun visits the Global Entry Sign-Up Booth at Google UK

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the U.S. Members can enter the country through the automatic kiosks at airports. Membership also includes TSA Pre✓® which provides trusted travelers with expedited security screening so travelers do not need to remove shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets. More details can be found here.

 

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Three Senior Administration Officials Conduct Briefing on K-1 Visa Screening Process

Posted: 4:27 am EDT

 

We previously blogged about the State Department’s inadequate public response to inquiries about the K-1 visa process (see @StateDept Spox Talks About K-Visas Again … C’mon Folks, This Is Not Fun to WatchDear @StateDept, You Need Bond. Michele Bond at the Daily Press Briefing). On December 17, the State Department conducted an on-background overview of the current K-1 visa screening process and security screening process for U.S. visas. The special briefing via teleconference preceded President Obama’s remarks at the National Counterterrorism Center today. The briefing did not get into the specifics of the San Bernardino attackers and the senior officials only answered four questions from three reporters from the AP, CBS News and the Christian Science Monitor.

So here’s the K-1 process and vetting described by the senior administration officials:

US Citizen file the K1 petition (DHS/USCIS) – SAO #1

I thought it would be helpful to sort of tee off this call by sort of giving the – sort of the overarching view of how a K-1 visa application sort of moves through the process. And the first step is with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, where a U.S. citizen spouse will petition USCIS – it’s a I-129F petition, which is a petition to permit a foreign national fiance(e) who is living overseas to potentially come to the United States and get married to a U.S. citizen here.

So the process is that the U.S. citizen spouse files a petition with USCIS, and USCIS does some background checks with systems within the Department of Homeland Security, as well as some interagency systems, and then evaluates whether or not a – this petition should be granted. And when the petition is granted, then the next step in the process – so there’s one sort of initial set of background checks, at least the watch list checks, et cetera.

Foreign fiance(e) apply for a visa (State/NVC/Embassy) – SAO #2

Once the I-129F petition is approved by the Department of Homeland Security, the package of the appropriate information is forwarded to our National Visa Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and sent out to the post at which the fiance(e)s have determined that they would like to have their visa interviews and clearance conducted. And so once the scheduling is done and the interview date is decided, at that time we conduct our first – our interview with the visa applicants as well as our suite of clearance procedures that we follow.

And the first point I want to make about this – these clearances and security clearances that we do is that they apply, obviously, to the K-1 visa application category, but they apply as well across the board to all immigrant and non-immigrant visa categories. We strive to have the most rigorous security and background vetting for all people who apply for visas to enter the United States.

And so as stated a second ago, the first thing that we do is a interview. Nearly all visa applicants, non-immigrant and immigrant visa applicants, are interviewed by a consular officer. And all immigrants and fiance(e) visa petitioners are interviewed by a consular officer. We also conduct a series of background checks. As a matter of standard procedure, all visa applicants’ data are reviewed through our online database, which contains nearly 36 million records of persons found ineligible for visas in the past or against whom potentially derogatory information exists. And these records in our database are drawn from sources and records throughout the U.S. Government.

We also run all visa applicants’ information against our online visa record system called the Consular Consolidated Database to detect and to respond to any derogatory information regarding visa applicants as well as current visa holders. And this database contains more than 181 million immigrant and non-immigrant visa records. We collect 10 fingerprints from nearly all visa applicants – and again, including all immigrant and fiance(e) visa applicants. And these fingerprints are screened against two key databases. The first of those is the Department of Homeland Security’s IDENT database, which contains a watch list of available fingerprints of known or suspected terrorists, wanted persons, and immigration law violators. We also run these 10 prints against the FBI’s Next Generation Identification System, which contains, among other records, more than 75.5 million criminal history records.

All visa applicants are screened against a watch list of photos of known or suspected terrorists, which we have obtained the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, as well as the entire gallery of visa applicant photos that are contained in our database systems.

In 2013, the State Department, in coordination with multiple interagency partners, launched the Kingfisher Expansion counterterrorism visa vetting system, which supports a complicated – I’m sorry, a sophisticated comparison of multiple fields of information drawn from applicants’ visa applications. And we run them against information in U.S. Government terrorist identity holdings. I will let the third Administration official describe that system in more detail.

And finally, we also coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security’s PATRIOT and Visa Security Program. This program is active currently at more than 20 of the identified high-threat posts around the world. The PATRIOT is a pre-adjudication screening system and vetting initiative that employs resources from both DHS/ICE, as well as Customs and Border Protection. It was established to identify national security, public safety, and other eligibility concerns relating to visa applicants prior to visa issuances. And finally, PATRIOT works in concert with the Visa Security Program – again, located at over 20 high-threat posts. ICE special agents assigned to these Visa Security Program posts provide on-site vetting of visa applications as well as other law enforcement support to our consular officers abroad.

And finally, I’ll just close by letting everybody know that our security vetting of visa applicants is not a one-time look at these people. Once we have these records and other information available from other databases, we constantly review and look at the records of these individuals as new information is made aware of us. And if information becomes available, that would perhaps support the revocation of that visa, the appropriate messages are sent to the State Department, and we will consider visas for revocation due to derogatory information. Since 9/11 we have revoked over 122,000 visas, including 9,500 visas for potential ties for terrorist activity.

Foreign fiance(e) with a visa apply to enter the United States (DHS/CBP) – SAO #1

Because CBP has independent authority whether or not to allow somebody to come into the United States and determine whether somebody is admissible or inadmissible, and those checks include interagency watch list checks. But also the National Targeting Center that’s run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection also does screening of individuals and runs not only against watch lists, but also data analytics on, say, airline data that – data that we get from the airlines: advanced passenger information as well as passenger name record information to determine and to guide the decision making by U.S. CBP officers at ports of entry as well as some overseas, depending on when they – where they’re coming in through, determine whether or not this person could present a threat to the United States or is inadmissible for any other reason.

After marriage, foreign fiance(e) now spouse adjust status in the United States to become a Permanent Resident (DHS/CIS) – SAO #1

Then – so once the person then comes into the United States, then within 90 days, under the K-1 visa or under the I-129 petition – the I-129F petition, they have 90 days to get married. And then the next step would be an adjustment of status for the fiance(e), or now the married partner, to get LPR status, so a green card status. And at that point, USCIS – there’s another round of checks to determine whether or not somebody should be adjusted of status and become a green card holder, and at that point there are background checks. There are interagency watch list checks. And then also importantly, there is an interview at that point of both the fiance(e) – or both partners, both the husband and wife or the married partners – to determine whether or not LPR status should also be granted. And that’s obviously looking at not only for national security reasons, but also for fraud reasons, to make sure that this is not a sham marriage and – or any of – other circumstances where LPR status would not be granted.

Note: Foreign spouse actually gets a Conditional Permanent Status issued by DHS/CIS valid for two years. In order to remain a permanent resident, a conditional permanent resident must then file a petition to remove the condition during the 90 days before the card expires if he/she is still married to the same U.S. citizen after two years. Spouses of U.S. citizens may apply for naturalization if a permanent resident for at least 3 years and meet all other eligibility requirements.

Vetting Process via Kingfisher Expansion – SAO #3

I will describe the visa vetting process that takes place through the Kingfisher Expansion tool. The Kingfisher Expansion is a system for conducting interagency counterterrorism screening for all visa applicants, which includes the K-1 visa applicants. As previously stated, the Department of State launched the KFE system in 2013 in partnership with the National Counterterrorism Center, and DHS, FBI, and the Terrorist Screening Center.

KFE checks are initiated when a U.S. embassy or consulate submits a vetting package, which consists of all visa applicant information as well as any additional information from post. And that is submitted to NCTC. In an automated process, NCTC compares the applicant data against its holdings. The automated review process takes place in a highly classified environment and responds to post within minutes with a red light or green light response. Any KFE red light response triggers a Washington-based interagency review of the case in which NCTC analysts along with FBI, DHS/ICE, and the Terrorist Screening Center review the application. All visa cases are continuously screened at NCTC during the validity period of the visa to identify any new derogatory CT information that arises on an applicant post issuance. NCTC alerts State, DHS, FBI, and TSC of any applicants who match the new terrorism information.  And with that, that is our NCTC screening process.

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CSCC: Think Again. Or #StepAwayFromTheTweets Sez El Snarkistani (Updated)

Posted: 1:44 am EDT
Updated: Dec 16, 1:31 am EDT

 

Update:

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