Tillerson to embassies: ID groups for tougher screening

Tillerson to embassies: ID groups for tougher screening
© Greg Nash

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Iran with new sanctions Leaked Trump transition vetting documents show numerous officials with 'red flags': Axios Bolton says Russia, China seeking to promote discord in Trump administration MORE has ordered U.S. embassies to identify “populations warranting increased scrutiny,” according to diplomatic cables seen by Reuters.

People in those groups singled out would ultimately face a tougher visa screening process, Reuters reported Thursday.

Tillerson has also reportedly demanded a “mandatory social media check” for all applicants who have ever been to areas controlled by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

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Two former U.S. officials told Reuters the social media checks would be part of a broad, labor-intensive expansion of such vetting methods.

Social media examinations are now done rarely by consular officials, according to one of the news service's two sources.

Reuters reported that Tillerson’s instructions came in four cables he sent during the last two weeks. Those memos provided details about implementing President TrumpDonald John Trump2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate Senate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again MORE’s revised executive order from earlier this month temporarily barring visitors from six Muslim-majority nations. The controversial March 6 directive also paused general refugee admissions and mandated enhanced visa screenings.

Reuters added that some of the guidelines Tillerson demanded have since been retracted in response to several U.S. court rulings challenging aspects of Trump’s measure.

The final March 17 cable seen by Reuters leaves in place an instruction that consular chiefs in each diplomatic mission convene working groups of law enforcement and intelligence officials. Those groups would “develop a list of criteria identifying sets of post applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny,” according to the cable.

The memo said applicants from those groups should be considered for higher-level security screenings, and sources familiar with its details said the groups would likely vary from nation to nation.

Reuters’s sources added the March 17 cable does not explicitly provide for coordination between embassies, explaining possible differences between affected population groups.

Trump has repeatedly called for “extreme vetting” of foreigners and refugees entering the U.S., arguing it would help protect national security.