WASHINGTON – As Europe is being flooded with hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and Turkey is issuing new demands for visa-free travel for its citizens, under the threat of pushing more refugees onto the continent, there’s concern that many countries who agreed to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program are simply not providing required information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on potential terrorists, a new report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin reveals.
As a consequence, a terrorist now living in one of the 38 countries in the program could slip into the United States and disappear before being detected.
Of those 38 VWP countries, more than one-third have neither shared terrorist identity information nor shared criminal history information with DHS as required by U.S. law, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report.
The 38 countries that belong to the VWP are primarily in West and East Europe and East and South Asia. All had agreed to provisions of U.S. law to report the necessary information in a timely fashion as a condition to join the VWP.
U.S. law allows nationals from the 38 VWP countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa. To help prevent terrorists and others who present a threat from traveling to the U.S., DHS requires them to enter into information-sharing agreements.
The threat has become so severe U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., has proposed requiring that anyone who has traveled to Iraq or Syria within five years is excluded from the program.
The study was classified Secret/Noforn – meaning no foreign national access – but GAO has issued for public use an unclassified version. However, the unclassified version doesn’t identify those countries which are in non-compliance with the agreements required to belong to the VWP.
Those three agreements require the VWP countries to report lost or stolen passports, share the identity information of known or suspected terrorists and share criminal history information.
All the countries were in compliance with the first agreement – reporting lost or stolen passports.
But a third were in non-compliance with sharing in a timely fashion the identity of known or suspected terrorists, and a third were in non-compliance with sharing criminal history information. Because the report wouldn’t identify the countries in non-compliance, it couldn’t be determined whether those countries were in non-compliance with one or both requirements at the same time.
“As of December 2015, about a third of VWP countries were not sharing identity information about known or suspected terrorists through HSPD-6 (Homeland Security Presidential Directive 6) arrangements,” the report said. “Also about a third of VWP countries had not yet shared criminal history information through PCSC (Preventing and Combating Serious Crime) agreements.
“Although U.S. agencies receive law enforcement and national security information from VWP countries through other means, such as multilateral entities, the U.S. government identified the information-sharing agreements as critical for protecting the United States from nationals of VWP countries who might present a threat,” the report said.
Since December 2015, U.S. law has required that VWP countries fully implement these agreements. The Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, or TSC, negotiate HSPD-6 arrangements between the U.S. government and VWP countries.
VWP countries share information directly with the TSC, which then integrates the information into the U.S. terrorist watch list.
Despite U.S. law, most VWP countries as of December 2015 have not been exchanging information directly with the TSC even though they had agreed to reveal details about known or suspected terrorists with the TSC through HSPD-6 arrangements.