The Obama administration is concerned that terrorists may use the flow of refugees from Syria to infiltrate Europe or the U.S., spurring more careful screening, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said.
“We don’t put it past the likes of ISIL to infiltrate operatives among these refugees,” Clapper said Wednesday in Washington, using the acronym for the self-described Islamic State. “That is a huge concern of ours.”
Refugees of civil strife and war in northern Africa and the Middle East, particularly Syria, are overwhelming Europe, prompting calls for the 28 governments of the European Commission to share the burden. Germany took in 218,000 refugees in the first seven months and expects as many as 800,000 for the full year.
Secretary of State John Kerry briefed members of the House and Senate judiciary committees and afterward said that the U.S. is committed to accepting more refugees.
While Kerry didn’t offer a number publicly, lawmakers were told the administration will seek to raise the U.S. refugee ceiling to 75,000 from 70,000 currently, according to a House Judiciary Committee aide. The increase would apply globally, not just those fleeing the civil war in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East.
White House deputy press secretary Eric Schultz said any refugees would be “subject to the highest level of security checks.” The administration would outline its plans “in short order,” he said.
“We do understand the urgency of this situation,” he told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama.
Some lawmakers said they were wary of letting in more refugees. Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the administration “must prove to the American people that it will take the necessary precautions to ensure that national security is a top priority, especially at a time when ruthless terrorist groups like ISIS are committed to finding ways to enter the United States and harm Americans.”
Clapper, speaking at a conference of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, said European nations grappling with the stream of refugees may lack the tools available at the U.S. border to identify potential terrorists.
“I’m not as uniformly confident about each European country that is going to be faced with welcoming and allowing refugees into their country,” Clapper said. “This is a huge issue for all kinds of reasons.”