“One Flight Away: The Threat posed by ISIS Terrorists with Western Passports” DHS Report

The below text is directly from the DHS website The actual link is at the bottom.

311 Cannon House Office Building

Chairwoman Miller, Ranking Member Jackson Lee, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear today to discuss U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) security measures to protect our Nation from the threat of terrorists and terrorist weapons, including threats connected with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. I appreciate the Committee’s leadership and your commitment to helping ensure the security of the American people. This year, CBP celebrates the 225th anniversary of the establishment of the U.S. Customs Service and the important role it played in the history of our Nation. Since its merger into CBP in 2003, Customs has remained a part of CBP’s heritage and a significant presence in the continuation of our mission. Today, CBP serves as the frontline in defending America’s borders against terrorists and instruments of terror and protects our economic security while facilitating lawful international travel and trade. CBP takes a comprehensive approach to border management and control, combining national security, customs, immigration, and agricultural protection into a coordinated whole.

CBP’s Intelligence-Driven Travel Security Operations

As this Committee knows, we live in a world of ever-evolving threats. From this perspective, CBP is now focused on the literally thousands of foreign fighters, including U.S. citizens, who continue to gravitate toward Syria to engage in that protracted civil war. Many of these are fighting alongside violent extremist groups both in Syria and in neighboring Iraq, learning battlefield skills and terrorist tradecraft.

Of the numerous insurgent groups active in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) demonstrated focus on consolidating territory in the Middle East region to establish their own Islamic State is of particular concern. Since June 2014, ISIS (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)) and its allies have gained control of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, captured significant territory across central Iraq, and continue to engage with Iraqi security forces in that region. In early August, the threat to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region increased considerably with the advance of ISIL towards Kurdish areas.

As foreign fighters supporting ISIL’s regional aggression retain the ability to travel to their countries of origin and beyond, they have the potential to threaten the Homeland.1

In response to the potential threat posed by ISIL and other terrorist groups seeking to gain access to the Homeland, CBP, and more broadly the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is continually refining our risk-based strategy and layered approach to security, extending our borders outward, and focusing our resources on the greatest risks to interdict threats before they reach the United States. CBP processes nearly one million travelers each day at our Nation’s ports of entry, and about 30 percent—over 100 million a year—of these travelers arrive via commercial aviation. Given that terrorist organizations primarily seek to use commercial air transportation to move operatives into the United States or as a means to attack the homeland, our testimony will focus on international air travel.

CBP continually evaluates and supplements layered security measures with enhancements to strengthen DHS’s ability to identify and prevent the international travel of those individuals or groups that wish to do us harm. The success of targeted security measures depends on the ability to gather, analyze, share and respond to information in a timely manner – using both strategic intelligence to identify existing and emerging threat streams, and tactical intelligence to perform link analysis and targeted responses.

Our intelligence-driven strategies are integrated into every aspect of our travel security operations. CBP develops and strategically deploys resources to detect, assess and, if necessary, mitigate the risk posed by travelers at every stage along the international travel sequence – including when an individual applies for U.S. travel documents; reserves, books or purchases an airline ticket; checks-in at an airport; while enroute and upon arrival at a U.S. port of entry.

Safeguards for Visas and Travel Authorization 

One of the initial layers of defense in securing international air travel is preventing dangerous persons from obtaining visas, travel authorizations and boarding passes. Before boarding a flight destined for the United States, most foreign nationals must obtain a nonimmigrant visa (NIV) – issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate – or, if they are eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), they must apply for a travel authorization.

For eligible individuals traveling under the VWP, CBP operates the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).2 ESTA, is a web-based system through which individuals must apply for travel authorization prior to boarding an aircraft destined for the United States. Through ESTA, CBP conducts enhanced vetting of VWP applicants in advance of travel to the United States in order to assess whether they are eligible to travel under the VWP or could pose a risk to the United States or the public at large. Through information sharing agreements, CBP provides other U.S. government agencies ESTA application data for the purpose of helping CBP make a determination about an alien’s eligibility to travel without a visa and for law enforcement and administrative purposes. Additionally, CBP requires air carriers to verify that VWP travelers have a valid authorization before boarding an aircraft bound for the United States.

Travelers that require NIVs to travel to the United States must apply to the Department of State (DOS) under specific visa categories depending on the purpose of their travel, including those as visitors for business, pleasure, study, and employment-based purposes. We respectfully refer you to our colleagues in the DOS Bureau of Consular Affairs for additional details about the visa application and adjudication processes.

In an effort to augment and expand traveler targeting operations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has co-located Visa Security Program (VSP) personnel at the National Targeting Center (NTC) – a 24/7 operation where analysts and targeting officers to assess the risk of every international traveler at each stage of the travel continuum, leveraging intelligence materials and law enforcement data. This allows ICE special agents and intelligence analysts to conduct thorough analysis and in-depth investigations of high-risk visa applicants. The focus of the VSP and NTC are complementary: the VSP is focused on identifying terrorists and criminal suspects and preventing them from exploiting the visa process and reaching the United States, while the NTC provides tactical targeting and analytical research in support of preventing terrorist and terrorist weapons from entering the United States. The co-location of VSP personnel at the NTC helps increase both communication and information sharing.

To further enhance traveler screening efforts, ICE, CBP and DOS are collaborating and have begun to implement an automated visa application screening process that expands significantly DHS’ ability to identify serious threats to national security and public safety at the point of inception in an individual’s immigration life-cycle and revolutionizes the way the U.S. Government screens foreign nationals seeking entry to the United States. The program also results in synchronized reviews of information across these agencies and allows for a unified DHS response and recommendation regarding a visa applicant’s eligibility to be issued a visa. The collaborative program leverages the three agencies’ expertise, authorities, and technologies, such as CBP’s Automated Targeting System (ATS), to screen pre-adjudicated (approved) visa applications. It significantly enhances the U.S. Government’s anti-terrorism efforts, improving the existing process by extending our borders outward and denying high risk applicants the ability to travel to the United States.

In March 2010, the NTC implemented a new program to conduct continuous vetting of U.S. NIVs that have been recently issued, revoked and/or denied.3 This recurrent vetting ensures that changes in a traveler’s visa status are identified in near real-time, allowing CBP to immediately determine whether to provide a “no board” recommendation to a carrier or recommend that DOS revoke the visa, or whether additional notification should take place for individuals determined to be within the United States. If a potential visa ineligibility or inadmissibility is discovered for U.S.-bound travelvers, CBP will request that DOS revoke the visa and recommend that the airline not board the passenger. If no imminent travel is identified and derogatory information exists that would render a subject inadmissible, CBP will still coordinate with DOS for a prudential visa revocation. (Note: CBP may recommend that an airline not board a passenger even if the passenger holds a valid visa.) If DOS has revoked, or if CBP has requested revocation of, an individual’s visa and the individual is found to be in the United States, CBP will notify the ICE Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Enforcement Unit for enforcement action. Where applicable, CBP will share any derogatory information with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to ensure denial of benefits. Additionally, the DOS Bureau of Diplomatic Security has over 100 special agents embedded in consular sections at 97 U.S. embassies and consulates. These agents have access to derogatory information uncovered by CBP and can work with host country law enforcement officials to conduct local investigations.



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