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Vetting Immigrants and Refugees: Stopping the Terrorist Operative

Even before the Paris attack on 13 November 2015, and later the San Bernardino attack on 2 December 2015, America was voicing its concern towards taking on Syrian refugees, understandably deterred by its fear of terrorism.[4],[5],[6] The current American backlash against accepting Syrian refugees is based largely on the fear that another San Bernardino or Paris-style attack could be replicated in America if the US began to accept Syrian refugees.[7]

In the November 2015 issue of The Atlantic, the question was raised “Can Terrorists Really Infiltrate the Syrian Refugee Program?” Though the author presented a good argument towards the risk being small that an ISIS operative could sneak into America through the current immigrant system, the risk still exists.[8]

Vetting, or what is more commonly known as screening, has been a pragmatic solution to processing legitimate immigrants and refugees seeking asylum in America, but what about those who have ulterior motives, i.e. Al Qaeda or ISIS, just to mention two? The current process used by the U.S. Government to vet immigrants or refugees has served the American people well, but only when it comes to verifying documented and accessible information.[9]

How do you determine someone is who they say they are, and/or determine whether they might be connected to a hostile entity? One solution to this problem set could be something that is already being done elsewhere. The U.S. Government and police agencies across America currently vet their employees by submitting the applicant to a psychophysiological detection of deception (PDD) examination.[10] For this examination the U.S. Government limits itself to what is commonly known as the polygraph.[11] Police departments however, use both the polygraph and what is known as Voice Stress Analysis (VSA).

Both the polygraph and the VSA work on the principal that when someone lies in response to a question wherein the consequence of jeopardy is significant, they will have a detectable emotional response to the question. It is these emotional responses that identify areas of concern to the examiner, and can then be followed up on during a post exam interview. Though neither polygraph nor VSA are normally admitted into court as evidence, they have been shown to be effective tools in determining the truth and guiding the focus of an interview.[12]
Given the very concept that Al Qaeda, ISIS or that any radical group plans to use the refugee plight to infiltrate a country, is it not time to apply the very tools used to vet government professionals and police to those seeking admittance?


[1] What you need to know about the Syria crisis. (2016). Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[2] (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[3] Brown, A. (n.d.). 'Just wait…' Islamic State reveals it has smuggled THOUSANDS of extremists into Europe. Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[4] (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[5] (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[6] Why America does not take in more Syrian refugees. (2015). Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[7] Gambino, L., Kingsley, P., & Nardelli, A. (2015). Syrian refugees in America: Separating fact from fiction in the debate. Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[8] (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[9] Refugee Processing and Security Screening. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[10] Background Investigations Can Break You. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[11] (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2016, from
[12] (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2016, 2016, from



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