Two U.S. senators are demanding answers from the Department of Homeland Security after they discovered data breaches that alllowed the immigration system to be “gamed.”
Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C., are pressing DHS to explain the breach as well as a fraud case involving foreign nationals employed at U.S. embassies in Jordan and Russia.
The suspects apparently were stealing refugee case information and selling it for profit.
The senators explained the employees had been hired as “foreign service nationals” by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to process asylum requests.
“For years, these individuals flew beneath the radar of federal authorities, accessing, stealing and selling hundreds of case files involving applicants for U.S. refugee status,” the senators said. “The stolen material was then used to help other potential refugee applicants game the application system.”
The actions were concealed because they used an “older, less secure version of a State Department database that was not removed when newer systems with enhanced security features were installed,” the senators said.
Grassley and Tillis, in a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, have asked what steps have been taken to prevent a reoccurrence.
In the letter, the senators note that the Department of Justice has revealed that Haitham Sad, a Jordanian citizen who worked at the embassy in Jordan, admitted to conspiracy to steal U.S. government records. He said his crimes “were part of a broader fraud scheme that involved Aws Abduljabbar, an Iraqi living in Amman, and Olesya Krasilova, a Russian citizen formerly employed as an Immigration Assistant at the USCIS field office in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.”
“Both used their employment to access the Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System to steal highly confidential information about U.S. refugee applicants. Then they sent the information to Abduljabbar in Jordan, who used the information to assist applicants who were seeking admission to the United States under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” they said.
The scheme operated for years, the letter explained, and Sad “admitted that he was able to access information on at least 270 Iraq cases after his employment by USCIS ended.”
“As members of the Judiciary Committee, we are responsible for ensuring that U.S. immigration laws, including U.S. refugee laws, are properly enforced. We must also ensure that proper safeguards are in place to prevent foreign adversaries from obtaining access to confidential government records,” the senators wrote.
The questions they want answered include the “steps DHS has taken to identify individuals with ties to Mr. Aws Abduljabbar who have also applied for U.S. refugee status” and what was done with the applications.
Also, the senators want to know what DHS has done to notify people whose information was accessed and what reviews such employees need to go through.
Also, why wasn’t the original system deactivated when the new one was installed? And has USCIS “undertaken an investigation to determine how Mr. Sad was able to continue to access the WRAPS system after he was no longer associated with USCIS?”
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