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Investigation by James Varney originally published by RealClearInvestigations and RealClearWire
Hundreds of people on the FBI’s terrorist watchlist have almost certainly slipped into the United States amid millions of other illegal immigrants during the last three years, according to former federal officials and experts.
“You have to be extremely naïve to not be significantly concerned about this,” said Rodney Scott, former chief of U.S. Border Patrol from 2020 to 2021. “Regardless of what the Biden administration may claim, what it said during the campaign and the executive orders taken in January 2021 have been interpreted around the world as the border is open. You’re insane if you don’t think terrorists will use that to their advantage.”
In the aftermath of Hamas’ terrorist attack against Israel on Oct. 7, President Biden, without mentioning the border, told “60 Minutes” that the threat the U.S. could face from terrorists in the country had escalated.
Although the terrorist threat linked to the border crisis is impossible to quantify, some experts find the available numbers alarming. During Biden’s first three years, a record-shattering 6.5 million-plus immigrants have been “encountered” by border authorities. That pace is increasing: The most recent monthly figures, September’s, showed another record number of monthly encounters – 269,735.
At the same time, federal officials have seen an alarming increase in border crossers listed on the U.S. Terror Screening Dataset, the official name for what is commonly called the “terrorist watchlist.”
In fiscal 2023, which ends this month, Border Patrol agents have apprehended 172 such people, all but three of them along the southwest border. When all U.S. places of entry are added – by land, sea and air – another 564 people on the watchlist were caught, bringing the total to 736.
By way of comparison, between fiscal 2017 and 2019, Border Patrol agents apprehended a total of 11 people on the terrorist watchlist. Scott sounded an alarm to Congress in the 2021 period when the total jumped to 16. “When a number doubles it gets your attention, and we’ve moved way beyond that,” he says now.
Yet the “known unknowns,” to use Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s famous phrase, indicate the problem is even worse, according to experts. For one, the “terrorist watchlist” is only as good as the information that has been entered into it.
“Not everybody’s on the watchlist,” said Todd Bensman, who has tracked Central American immigration routes and the southern border for years with the Center for Immigration Studies and is the author of “Overrun: How Joe Biden Unleashed the Greatest Border Crisis in U.S. History.”
“There have been thousands and thousands – tens of thousands – of people from the Middle East who have entered and it’s completely reasonable, even the president has acknowledged it, to worry that some of those could be, or could become, terrorist threats,” Bensman said.
Scott, who spent a half decade in counterterrorism at the Department of Homeland Security before moving to Customs and Border Patrol, said that as legal immigration channels dried up, criminals and terrorists began to seek people who would not appear on any intelligence agency’s datasheet.
“They’re looking for what they call ‘clean skins,’” Scott told RealClearInvestigations. “People with no type of record who can operate freely. They are continuously looking for new channels they can exploit, and they’ve shifted their ports of entry and increased those coming with no prior record.”
Mark Morgan, a former chief operating officer and commissioner with Customs and Border Patrol, echoed that point, telling RCI that “the fact someone isn’t on that list could just mean they haven’t dipped their toe in the pond yet.”
Read the entire investigation here.
By James Varney – This article was originally published by RealClearInvestigations and made available via RealClearWire.