National Security

Government Program Highlights Vetting Concerns, Possible Security Breaches

“Investigators at the Defense Department have found ‘potential security risks’ in the Pentagon program, even though it has had its successes.”

The news is full of stories of those with less than stellar backgrounds but are placed into positions of trust because they had skills the US needed. Somewhere along the way we got off track and started valuing teachable skills more important than background, loyalty, and risk evaluation. If this policy was a calculated risk, we calculated wrong.

We accepted people into positions of trust because they had IT skills or they could speak languages we needed. Wishing that it would all turn out ok but of course didn’t. Reality Winner, Bradley (Chelsea) Manning, Edward Snowden, and many, many others were accepted into positions they should not have had access to. It was expedient and it served an immediate goal, but it cost dearly in the end.

Remember the failed program started under President Obama to train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State? The program spent $500 million in training. It began in the spring of 2015, with talk of fielding a force of 5,000 rebels by the end of the year to return to Syria and fight, hopefully for the goals we saw as vital to both our, and their interest. But due to desertions, defections, and attacks by other rebel groups the 500 million dollar program produced five trained fighters before being shut down in October. That means we spent $100 million per fighter. The program was expanded, and 50 trainees crossed into Syria but were ambushed by the al Qaeda affiliate, Nusra Front. The fighters mostly scattered and the U.S. military was unable to account for their whereabouts or their equipment.

This current issue does not deal with those fighters. But it does suffer from some of the same issues. The government under Obama authorized a program to allow more than 10,000 foreign-born people to be introduced into the US Armed Forces. Created in the final weeks of the Bush-Cheney administration and launched under then-President Barack Obama, Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) was designed to recruit individuals with foreign-language and other skills the Pentagon deems useful and in short supply and provides immigrants and non-immigrant aliens with an expedited path to citizenship in exchange for military service.

Investigators at the Defense Department have found “potential security risks” in the Pentagon program, even though it has had its successes. After more than a year of investigation, the Pentagon’s inspector general recently issued a report identifying serious problems with MAVNI. Defense Department officials said the program is still active but acknowledged that new applications have been suspended.

The DOD has enrolled more than 10,000 foreign-born individuals into the U.S. armed forces since 2009, and as with the program to train foreign fighters for Syria, the Pentagon is expressing alarm over “foreign infiltration” and enrollees whose whereabouts cannot be determined.

Obviously, not everyone who entered the program was a risk. Many people come to the US from foreign nations and fully embrace our values and way of life. The issue is those that did not or those that were not correctly vetted in the government’s haste to fill the shortages in language and other skills.

Sources said MAVNI’s problems included a vetting backlog. That backlog led to the enrollment of many soldiers before completion of their background checks. It also allowed a “drift” in the program’s criteria, with MAVNI being used as a vehicle for the hiring of workers like cooks, drivers, and mechanics who did not possess the specialized skills the program was created to take advantage of.

“The lack of discipline in the implementation of this program has created problems elsewhere,” said Representative Steve Russell (R-Oklahoma), a retired Army officer who sits on the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel. Rep. Russell was the first to publicly sound alarms about the program.

During the markup of the latest defense authorization bill, on June 28, Russell noted: “The program has been replete with problems, to include foreign infiltration so much so that the Department of Defense is seeking to suspend the program due to those concerns.”

Fox News reported that another lawmaker (whose committee does not enjoy jurisdiction over MAVNI but whose panel could well come to focus on these problems, depending on their severity) stated that the program had been “compromised” and that DOD officials have not presented answers to his questions about missing enrollees: “Where are they? What do they know? Where are they serving? What are their numbers?”

Defense Secretary James Mattis, has his own concerns about MAVNI. In fact, he was named as the sole defendant in a lawsuit filed in February by seven foreign-born MAVNI enrollees. The lawsuit alleged that a decision by top brass in September to tighten up access to security clearances issued through MAVNI had had the effect of “crippling their military careers.”

My opinion in the matter of this law suit is very simple. If you can pass the background check, just as I had to do, then fine, you should be able to advance as I did, but do not ask for special privileges.

The title “Evaluation of Military Services’ Compliance with Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest Program Security Reviews and Monitoring Programs” from the inspector general’s classified report about this is about all we know, since it is classified. Yet, the title alone points to the problems, with its references to “security reviews” and “monitoring” of enrolled individuals.

“ISIS has always had the desire to use migration as a way to penetrate into countries,” said retired U.S. Army General Jack Keane, a Fox News military analyst. “They have done that successfully in Europe because of open borders, mass immigration with no vetting. In the U.S., we haven’t had any record of their penetration. And certainly, if this program is compromised and there’s a possibility of that kind of penetration, it’s got to be thoroughly investigated.”

Jon Harris

Jon Harris is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and former Army NCO, Sergeant Morales Club member, civilian law enforcement officer, and defense contractor with over 30 years in the law enforcement community. He is published in Army Trainer Magazine, authored regular columns in several newspapers, and is the author of the Cold War novel Breakpoint. His adventures as a security contractor in Afghanistan and Iraq can be found on www.dispatchfromdownrange.com. He holds a B.S. in Government and Politics and an M.S. in Criminal Justice and is currently completing his Juris Doctor degree.

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