Syrian Refugees: The Untapped Intelligence Bonanza

There’s an excellent story out today from Defense One’s Molly O’Toole that highlights the idiocy — and cruelty — of the U.S. government’s…

There’s an excellent story out today from Defense One’s Molly O’Toole that highlights the idiocy — and cruelty — of the U.S. government’s handling of the Syrian refugee crisis. The opening paragraph says it all:

The United States, which accepts more refugees per year than any other country, has all but closed its door to the millions of Syrians who are part of the world’s largest refugee crisis since World War II. A recent decision to admit more Syrian refugees this year opened that door a crack, but the Obama administration insists that national security concerns constrain it from going further. Yet officials at more than a dozen agencies could not point to any specific or credible case, data, or intelligence assessment indicating that Syrian refugees pose a threat.

O’Toole’s piece is filled with good, if depressing, information about the current crisis. Missing from any discussion of this issue is the incredible opportunity that is being lost by failing to address the crisis in a truly “whole of government” manner. In fact, our failure to mobilize the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, State and the U.S. Intelligence Community to help and screen these refugees is denying the U.S. and Western governments an intelligence bonanza on life in the so-called “caliphate.”

It used to be that our government at least recognized the importance of defectors. America even occasionally profited from the information political defectors provided us. That’s what these refugees really are — they’ve elected to flee (i.e., defect) from a ruthless religious dictatorship in search of freedom and safety. Each of them has a story to tell about ISIS, and in those stories are details that are exploitable for multiple purposes — the creation of a public counter-narrative about the “caliphate”, detailed information on the numbers, locations, equipment, and tactics of ISIS military units, governmental entities, etc. In other words, information that could be used to do real damage to ISIS — political or physical.

Obama spokesman Josh Earnest offered this excuse for not taking bolder, concerted action to help and utilize the refugees:

The security of the United States homeland comes first,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “And that’s what’s going to guide our decision-making process, and that’s why — that, frankly, is why it’s not possible for the United States to, overnight, ramp up the number of refugees that are admitted to this country.

The ramp up should’ve started over three years ago, using USAID and U.S. Guard and Reserve Civil Affairs units to help process, screen, and resettle the growing number of refugees, in concert with our European partners. But that would have required the vision to see the possibilities helping these people would offer the West in the struggle against salafist terror groups like ISIS. And because of that lack of vision, people are indeed perishing and suffering. It didn’t have to be this way.