Federal officials are on high alert for threats to the United States following the mass evacuation from Afghanistan and devastating attack in Kabul this week.
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is tracking three primary threats — including whether individuals abroad in Afghanistan, who are associated with ISIS or al Qaeda, could use the relocation process as a way to enter the US, according to a federal government call with law enforcement partners obtained by CNN.
“To counteract that, there’s an extensive screening and vetting process that is in place for those who are being relocated to the United States,” DHS intelligence chief John Cohen said on the call Friday.
An official with the FBI said on the call that though there is no specific intelligence on terrorist organizations using relocation as an opportunity, “we cannot discount that it is a possibility.”
There is “a very small number of individuals who’ve been flagged for concern,” said an official with the National Targeting Center on the call, who appeared to be referring to people at so-called “lily pad” transfer point locations like Doha and Qatar.
CNN reached out to the DHS for comment on the call, including for details on the individuals flagged for concern.
The relocation process: Upon departing Kabul, Afghans are sent to several overseas locations, where they provide biographic and biometric information and are checked against US databases.
Once these subjects are determined to be “green,” meaning there is no derogatory information, they are placed on US-bound flights.
They go through additional screening once arriving in the US. If they fail primary screening, they undergo a secondary screening, which includes FBI support, US Customs and Border Protection official James McCament said on the call.
“Now, those who do pass secondary screening will then of course be pulled into the US. Those who do not, however, we will evaluate this further option,” he added.
It’s unclear what would happen if someone does not pass secondary screening after landing in the US.
Homegrown threat: The second significant security threat is whether people already in the US, who may be inspired by narratives associated with al Qaeda, ISIS or other foreign terrorist groups, “will view the events in Afghanistan as an opportunity to engage in violence here at home,” Cohen said.
The ability to detect threats from homegrown violent extremists represents a challenge for officials because there may not be direct intelligence prior to an act of violence being committed.
White supremacists: The third threat concern is individuals who are inspired or motivated to violence based on their connection with a domestic violent extremist narrative.
Some anti-government and white supremacist groups have expressed concern on online platforms that the arriving Afghans would degrade the control and authority of the white race, Cohen said — which “may incite violent activities directed at immigrant communities, certain faith communities, or even those who are relocated to the United States.”
Additionally, there are narratives framing the activities of the Taliban as a success with commentary focusing on potential acts of violence directed at US government, law enforcement, and others who are symbols of the current government structure.