Are Foreign-Born U.S. Citizens a Threat to National Security?
Everyday immigrants from all over the world legally enter the United States to live and work as permanent resident aliens. Eventually, after meeting residency requirements, they apply for and are granted U.S. citizenship. This now opens the door to becoming eligible for a security clearance and many who work on contracts or directly for the government undergo a background investigation, are cleared, and then granted access to classified/sensitive information or facilities. There is no problem here, right? They are, after all, now U.S. citizens.
The Egyptian-Born Electrician and the Security Clearance
Highlighting a loophole that has long been exploited by foreign intelligence operatives, a story posted by the Virginian Pilot Online website describes how an Egyptian born electrical engineer, Mostafa Awwad, was granted a security clearance and given access to the Gerald A. Ford, a new $13 billion U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. The story goes on to say that the FBI had been monitoring Awwad, and finally decided to arrest him on December 5th for attempting to sell the design plans. During his meetings with an FBI agent posing as Egyptian Intelligence Officer, Awwad was cited as ridiculing the U.S. government for giving people like him a clearance. The U.S. cleared community includes naturalized citizens from Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iraq, and even Iran just to name a few.
As far as anyone knows, no one tracks how many foreign-born U.S. citizens have security clearances, but one can be sure that the total number is quite significant. Another issue is those who hold dual citizenship, and the fact that the only way to really know if someone retains citizenship with another country is through self-disclosure. Are these issues a threat to national security? Should the current background investigation process be changed somehow to add extra vetting for these naturalized U.S. citizens? Keep in mind that the majority of them are true blue loyal patriots who would defend the U.S. just as vigorously. if not more, than their American born neighbor. How would you avoid ostracizing these loyal Americans while at the same time trying to ferret out the isolated few who would try to do damage to the United States? Therein lies the challenge, and with politics and budgetary constraints to consider, there really is no easy answer.