Napolitano: Egyptian lawmaker from terrorist group was thoroughly 'vetted'

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told lawmakers on Wednesday that a member of an Egyptian militant group labeled by the United States as a terrorist organization was vetted by three U.S. agencies before visiting the White House.

Napolitano said the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Secret Service all thoroughly examined the Egyptian man, Hani Nour Eldin, before his visit to Washington, D.C., where he met with members of Congress and senior administration officials.

Eldin is a member of the Gama’a al-Islamiyya, or Islamic Group, which has been designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. But Eldin was also recently elected as a member of Egypt’s parliament in the Islamic Group’s political offshoot, the Building and Development Party.

Napolitano, at a hearing on Wednesday, echoed comments made by the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.), who said that as the Arab Spring results in reformed governmental structures in the Middle East, the United States — in an effort to maintain diplomatic ties with the revamped countries — may be forced to talk with groups and individuals that it once labeled terrorists, but which have now been democratically elected to office.

“As we move forward, we are going to continue to have visitors to this country that the State Department and others feel are useful to bring to the country, to have discussions moving forward, who say they're members of a political party that in the past has been so designated,” said Napolitano.

Napolitano stressed that Eldin was thoroughly scrutinized and not deemed a security threat, and that there were no mistakes made in the vetting process.

“He was vetted before he got a visa against all known terrorists and other databases for derogatory information. None was found,” she said. “As he entered the United States, we too, vetted him against all of our holdings, including terrorists and information from a variety of sources [and] no derogatory information was found.”

“Before he entered the White House, he was vetted a third time by the Secret Service. No derogatory information was found. So then we can have some confidence that this was not a security breach in that sense.”

While in the United States, Eldin asked for the release of the Islamic Group’s alleged leader Omar Abdel-Rahman, also known as the “Blind Sheik,” who is currently serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison for allegedly plotting to blow up multiple landmarks in the country. 

Napolitano said she knew “of no such intention” by U.S. officials to release Abdel-Rahman.

King argued that the White House did not follow protocol for granting a waiver to a member of a group listed by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization. He said it appeared that not only was no waiver granted to Eldin, but that members of Congress were not notified before his arrival, as is required by law.

“The administration — whether it's this administration or another administration — may feel that some of these people can be dealt with, can be worked with, but if that's to be done, to me, it would seem it would have to be an open process, a transparent process where Congress and the people would know who was being let into this country,” he said.

Napolitano conceded that King made a “fair point” and that she would look into the whether efforts were taken to notify members of Congress.

King pressed Napolitano further on whether the vetting process may have broken down, saying that because members of Congress were not notified of Eldin ever receiving a visa waiver, it raises concerns that the vetting process may have been incomplete.

“The law does not allow him into the country unless there's a visa waiver,” said King. “It may be a noble purpose, the organization may have evolved, but right now it's on the foreign terrorist organization list. He's a member of it. He should not have been allowed in without a waiver, which would have had your name and Secretary Clinton's name on it giving the reasons why.”

This story was updated at 6:58 p.m.