Parties on various sides of the immigration in the United State have focused mainly on issues surrounding Hispanic immigrants because there are a lot of them and numbers get attention. Human Rights Watch, for example, created a handy-dandy checklist for the Senate version of the immigration bill, including what it calls “Creating immigration law enforcement that… focuses on genuine threats to national security.” [Emphasis added] National security, however, is unmentioned, as the HRW concerns itself with: rules for detaining and imprisoning immigrants; rapid prosecutions on the southern border; preventing the use of excessive force; racial profiling; prosecutions of “immigrants who are particularly vulnerable,” and easing the “difficult process” of obtaining asylum.
The “genuine threat” to national security is inability of the U.S. Government to vet potential immigrants, the lack of transparency in certain countries regarding the activities of people who lived and worked there, and some touchy questions about who comes in and who gets to stay.
Wissam Allouche, for example.
Allouche was born in Lebanon and became an American citizen in 2010 — under what circumstances he arrived in the U.S. is unclear. He was married to Jennifer Allouche, an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, until 2009. His Linked-in page says he is an Army linguist at L-3 Communications; there are no dates for employment, he is “linked” to no one, and he offers no educational or other professional background. Other sources indicate that he was in Iraq for L-3 prior to 2009. He owned a gas station in San Antonio. He was, then, a foreign national with close access to parts of the United States military through his civilian job, married to and then divorced from an American military officer. By itself, that is neither unusual nor particular cause for concern.
However, according to an indictment filed in United States District Court in San Antonio, Allouche was also a member of the Amal Shiite militia and a member of the U.S.-designated terrorist organization Hezb’allah in the 1980s. He denied both on his application for citizenship. Also, according to the indictment, he claimed to be living with his wife when they had, in fact, separated two years earlier. The case is now before U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Bemporad as Allouche faces charges — thus far — of lying on his immigration application and on his application for a security clearance with the Department of Defense for his contracting job.
Allouche, oddly but not uniquely, received security clearances for work and was granted citizenship BEFORE the investigation.
As part of the process of application, Allouche was supposed to be vetted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “No derogatory information was found about his character, loyalty and honesty,” a DHS official wrote of him — maybe it didn’t occur to the official that Allouche might lie on Question 9c, which asks, “Have you ever been a member of or in any was associated (either directly or indirectly) with a terrorist organization?” [Emphasis in original.] And even if DHS was able to ask consular officials in Lebanon about Allouche, it is unlikely that they would have asked Amal and Hezb’allah about his membership status.
But someone did think to pass his name to the FBI Joint Terrorism Taskforce.
According to the San Antonio Express-News, during a three-year investigation ending with the Grand Jury indictment, the Taskforce uncovered Allouche’s ties to Hezb’allah and discovered he had three aliases, including “God of Death.” Allouche was seen by at least two people at Fort Sam Houston dressed in U.S. military uniform displaying the insignias of U.S. Army Special Forces, and he attempted to obtain sensitive information from female soldiers on the base. According to the FBI, Allouche fabricated documents claiming a security clearance and membership in Special Forces and Defense Department intelligence units. Prosecutor Mark Roomberg told Judge Bemporad, “He admitted on tape that he was a member of Amal and that he was a commander of Hezb’allah,” and he admitted on tape to sodomizing and murdering an Israeli prisoner.
Judge Bemporad has ordered Allouche to remain in jail.
Allouche may or may not have acquired sensitive or classified information. He may never have intended to pose a threat to U.S. security. He hasn’t been charged with either — yet. But his case highlights the problem of people who enter the U.S. from countries with terrorist ties and without transparency — Lebanon certainly is one of those — and the difficulty U.S. officials have with the vetting process at home and abroad. Additional problems arise when people come to the U.S. and apply for a change in status — by marrying, for example, or by becoming a linguist for a security contracting company. The more bureaucratic steps there are between activities in a person’s country of origin and the final DHS vetting for citizenship the more opportunities there are for information to be hidden, deliberately as in the case of Allouche, or through missed connections.
There are people for whom access to the United States is access to targets, whether human, material, or information targets. They predominantly come from or come through countries of the Middle East in which terrorists live, train, and operate. Until Congress and NGOs are willing to discuss the Wissam Allouches and the problem they present, American security will be compromised.