- The Washington Times - Friday, January 22, 2021

The State Department announced an emergency 90-day halt on admitting refugees from Iraq who helped the U.S. war effort after authorities revealed Friday that the program had been breached in a brazen conspiracy to steal refugees’ files.

Acting Secretary of State Daniel B. Smith said they need to study the Iraqi program’s “vulnerabilities,” but insisted the broader refugee program is still safe.

His announcement came just hours after federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment charging three people, including two Homeland Security employees accused of selling secret files on refugee applicants.

Prosecutors said the secret information, including applicants’ employment records, security checks, military history and their very personal accounts of persecution, were all able to be breached by the employees.

That information could then be used to help Iraqis shape their applications and try to get approvals when they might otherwise have been denied, prosecutors said. Those people may also have pushed some deserving refugees out of the queue, prosecutors said.

“It is important to hold accountable those who would seek to defraud such programs, particularly when the crimes compromise our national security and public safety, when they impose such high costs on taxpayers, and when they negatively impact the prospects of qualified refugee applicants,” said Michael R. Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. 

The special Iraqi refugee program was created in the Bush years and was intended to reward Iraqis who served as guides or translators for U.S. troops during the war there. They often took great personal risks and became targets for reprisals for helping Americans.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been processed through the program over the years.

Prosecutors say the scam to steal information ran from 2016 to 2019, and was run by Aws Muwafaq Abduljabbar, an Iraqi living in Jordan who’d previously been rejected for refugee status in the U.S.

The other two persons involved were employees at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, one in Jordan and the other in Russia. They accessed hundreds of records and turned them over to Mr. Abduljabbar, who paid them more than a thousand dollars each time, according to the indictment.

President Trump, who left office this week, dramatically cut the size of the refugee program, calling it a security risk.

His successor, Joseph R. Biden, has vowed to expand it again.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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