State Department urged to run visa requests by Russian intelligence

A leading congressional critic of the threat from radical Islam says the State Department should run visa requests from the Caucasus by Russian intelligence in the wake of the Boston bombings.

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Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was part of the U.S. delegation that had an unprecedented meeting with Russia's Federal Security Service, the KGB's successor, in Moscow last week. He said Russian officials in the meeting told him that U.S. consular workers never seek out their perspective when considering refugee applications from turbulent Muslim regions such as Chechnya, where the Boston bombing suspects hailed from.

“You would think they would send the inquiry over to the Russians,” King told The Hill. “That doesn't happen.”

Others were skeptical of the Russians' good intentions.

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who was also on the trip, said he was unsure that having U.S. consular officers seek the FSB's guidance would be very useful.

“Maybe they'd say, yeah, these are bad people,” Cohen told The Hill. “But if they're really bad people, they'd want us to take them... Are they going to tell us, oh this is one you don't want, leave him here?”

Counter-terrorism experts said the State Department should welcome the FSB's help, but doubted the offer's sincerity.

“I'd be surprised if the FSB was willing to have a regular working relationship,” said Stewart Baker, the Department of Homeland Security's first assistant Secretary for Policy under President George W. Bush. Baker said he'd be “skeptical” of any information they provided and warned about potential retaliation against refugee applicants, as happened under the old Soviet KGB.

“If they're offering,” he said, “I'm sure DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] and the consular offices would be delighted.”

The State Department says it screens all applicants, but wouldn't go into details. The Russian embassy had no comment.

“The Department of State is committed to ensuring the security of our borders, while facilitating legitimate travel and providing prompt and courteous service,” a State Department official said. “We take seriously that commitment and therefore extensively screen all visa applicants. We have no further comment about this process.”

The U.S.-Russia counter-terrorism relationship is drawing renewed scrutiny after the FSB alleged to the lawmakers that it got no response from the FBI and the CIA after warning the U.S. agencies two years ago about potential links between the Tsarnaev family and Islamist militants. King said the FSB had an interest in being truthful because it's at war with radical Islam, but other lawmakers said they believed the FBI's assertion that it wrote back with follow-up questions and did not hear back.

King said the FSB told the delegation that the suspects' mother was being watched by the Russians before the family got refugee status in 2002. As a result of the new revelations from the FSB, he said, all young men from areas where Islamist militants operate should be flagged.

“We're going to go and look at the number of people who are coming in and getting asylum from nations of interest,” King said. “And then the profile of those persons of interest would just simply be young men coming into the country from nations of interest, and see how many potential terrorists have been imported into the United States under the expectation that there's a background check being done that's not being done.”

Cohen contradicted King's claim that the Russians were watching the Tsarnaevs before they arrived in America.

King went on to say that the FSB told the lawmakers that they had their eye on the Tsarnaevs' mother before the family was granted refugee status in 2002 while living in Kyrgyzstan.

“They were not pods sent here to bomb the Boston marathon,” Cohen said. “That's a movie.”