Wall Street Journal
By Shane Harris
February 24, 2017
An intelligence report by the Department of Homeland Security contradicts the White House’s assertion that immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries pose a particular risk of being terrorists and should be blocked from entering the U.S.
The report is the latest volley in a struggle between intelligence officials and the Trump administration that has rippled across several agencies. Some officials have critiqued administration policies, while the president and senior members of his staff have accused officials of leaking information to undermine his administration and the legitimacy of his election.
The report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, came from Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis. It said that its staff “assesses that country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.” The White House on Friday dismissed it as politically motivated and poorly researched.
The compilation and disclosure of an intelligence report so directly at odds with top White House priorities marks an unusually sharp rupture between the administration and career public servants. It also underscores the difficulty President Donald Trump has had in converting his confrontational and bombastic campaign rhetoric into public policy.
The Trump administration is seeking to enforce an executive order blocking immigrants from the seven countries, which it has portrayed as based on nationality and security factors, and not religion. Mr. Trump is expected to issue a new order next week after federal courts blocked his first attempt to temporarily halt immigration and prohibit refugees from entering the country.
The DHS report was prepared in response to the White House request for intelligence assessments of terrorist threats posed by migration. Current and former officials with direct knowledge of the Homeland Security report said it was compiled on short notice, but that it relied on information that analysts routinely collect and examine in order to guide counterterrorism policies. The report was shared with agencies outside DHS.
Trump administration officials said the assessment ignored available information that supports the immigration ban and the report they requested has yet to be presented.
“The president asked for an intelligence assessment. This is not the intelligence assessment the president asked for,” a senior administration official said. The official said intelligence is already available on the countries included in Mr. Trump’s ban and just needs to be compiled.
“The intelligence community is combining resources to put together a comprehensive report using all available sources which is driven by data and intelligence and not politics," said White House spokesman Michael Short.
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security also took issue with the quality of the report, describing it as “commentary” based on public sources rather than “an official, robust document with thorough interagency sourcing.”
“It is clear on its face that it is an incomplete product that fails to find evidence of terrorism by simply refusing to look at all the available evidence,” said Gillian M. Christensen, the department’s acting press secretary.
“Any suggestion by opponents of the president’s policies that senior [homeland security] intelligence officials would politicize this process or a report’s final conclusions is absurd and not factually accurate. The dispute with this product was over sources and quality, not politics,” Ms. Christensen said.
It was not the first time this week that DHS officials were at odds with White House policies and statements. On Thursday, DHS Secretary John Kelly, on a trip to Mexico, assured officials there that the U.S. would not undertake “mass deportations” of illegal immigrants and that the U.S. military would not play a role in immigration enforcement.
The reassurance on military involvement apparently contradicted a statement by Mr. Trump earlier that day, in which he described enforcement as a “military operation.” White House officials later clarified that Mr. Trump was referring to “military precision,” not actual military actions.
The new DHS report, which is not classified, states that its findings are based on public statistics and reports from the Department of Justice and the State Department as well as an annual report on global threats produced by U.S. intelligence agencies. CNN reported Thursday that the intelligence office had compiled a report that was at odds with the administration’s views.
Mr. Trump has defended the immigration ban, noting that the seven countries were identified by the Obama administration as “sources of terror,” and that two of them, Iraq and Syria, are home bases to members of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, who conceivably could enter the U.S. posing as immigrants or refugees.
But the Homeland Security report found that in the past six years, foreign-born people in the United States who were “inspired” to participate in terrorist acts came from 26 different countries.
In all, analysts found 82 individuals who were “primarily” based in the U.S. who had either died trying to engage in terrorism or were convicted on charges. Of those, “slightly more than half” were native born U.S. citizens, the report found.
Only two of the seven countries targeted by Mr. Trump—Iraq and Somalia—are among the top origins countries for foreign-born individuals who engaged in terrorism in the United States, the report found. Those countries, in order, are Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan.
The findings track similar studies by think tanks and news organization. The Wall Street Journal in January found that of 180 people charged with jihadist terrorism-related crimes or who died before being charged, 11 were identified as being from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Yemen, Sudan or Somalia, the countries specified in Mr. Trump’s order. No Americans were killed in any of the attacks by those 11 individuals.
The DHS report found that countries targeted in Mr. Trump’s immigration order already accounted for a small portion of total visas issued in the fiscal year 2015, with no country accounting for more than 7% of visas granted in the Middle East, North Africa or Sub Saharan Africa, the report found. The country accounting for the largest percentage of visas issued in those regions was Iran, the report found, which the U.S. designated a state sponsor of terrorism in 1984.
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