Publicly Released: June 21, 2023
The objective of this evaluation was to determine the extent to which the DoD supported other agencies’ requests for screening Afghan evacuees. In addition, we reviewed DoD guidance for deletion of biometrics information from DoD databases and removal of identities from the DoD Biometrically Enabled Watch List (BEWL) to determine the extent to which the DoD followed the guidance. The DoD OIG initiated this evaluation following receipt of a letter dated August 4, 2022, from two U.S. Senators expressing their concerns based on new allegations raised by a DoD whistleblower.
On July 14, 2021, the President announced Operation Allies Refuge (OAR) to initiate a Department of State-led interagency effort to evacuate and relocate vulnerable Afghans. This evacuation effort was accelerated on August 15, 2021, as the Kabul-based Afghan government fell to Taliban militants. On August 29, 2021, the President directed the Department of Homeland Security to lead Operation Allies Welcome (OAW), a coordinated effort to implement the ongoing U.S. Government initiatives to support displaced persons from Afghanistan. DoD personnel assisted the lead agencies with biometrics enrollments and screening support, as requested, to identify Afghan evacuees who may pose a threat to
U.S. national security.
DoD personnel supported other Federal agencies’ requests for screening Afghan evacuees, conducting biometric enrollments of approximately two-thirds of all Afghans at intermediate staging bases oversees, and conducting counterintelligence screening interviews of Afghans who were identified as a match to the BEWL. In addition, National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) analysts conducted biometric assessments of all watch list encounters and biographic analysis of over 84,000 Afghan evacuee records, and sent out rapid notifications to a wide distribution list to identify evacuees who may pose a threat to national security.
However, NGIC did not consistently follow the BEWL Guide and NGIC standard operating procedures (SOPs) when deciding to retain or remove some Afghan evacuees from the BEWL. For example, NGIC analysts:
- incorrectly applied removal criteria for U.S. persons to Afghan evacuees who had not been confirmed to have U.S. person status;
- removed Afghans from the BEWL for reasons not cited in their SOPs; and
- inconsistently applied the BEWL Guide and SOPs requiring the use of detailed removal justifications that follow analytic tradecraft standards.
These deviations and inconsistencies occurred for the following reasons:
- Early in the evacuation, NGIC analysts incorrectly assumed that Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants should be accorded the same status as U.S. persons.
- NGIC’s BEWL Guide and SOPs did not include standards for removing Afghans from the BEWL based on theater-specific requirements.
- NGIC senior analysts did not always thoroughly review subordinate analysts’ removal justifications and ensure they followed the BEWL guide and SOPs.
As a result, NGIC might have removed from the BEWL some Afghan identities that should have been retained on the list. The Department of Homeland Security used the BEWL as at least one consideration for its screening and vetting analysis of whether Afghan evacuees should be allowed to travel onward and apply for parole into the United States.
Management Actions Taken
The USD(I&S) initiated a program of actions and milestones for development and publication of new DoD policies by August, 2023. OUSD(I&S) officials drafted a DoD Directive on defense identity intelligence and a DoD Instruction on defense watch listing that collectively replace DoD Instruction O-3300.04 and designate the USD(I&S) as the Office of the Secretary of Defense Principal Staff Assistant for DoD identity intelligence and defense watch listing activities.
- We recommend that the NGIC Commander:update BEWL guidance and SOPs to incorporate specific criteria for removal of theater-only requirements; and
- review and correct all Afghan evacuee BEWL removal records based on updated criteria.
We also recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security:
- revise or replace DoD policy to reflect the transition of responsibilities to the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security for the management, support, and requirements of the BEWL; and
- review and approve NGIC’s BEWL guidance and SOPs.
Management Comments and Our Response
The NGIC Commander agreed with the recommendations, and stated that NGIC has revised the BEWL guidance to establish more specific standards and will release it to the USD(I&S) for formal approval by July 31, 2023. The Commander also stated that NGIC will review and correct all justifications related to BEWL removals to include all justifications that cited AR 381-10.
This report is a result of Project No. D2022-DEV0PD-0173.000.