US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) turned down a request for information from a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, prompting him to demand information from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on the immigration status of a bomb plot suspect targeting the subway system in Washington, DC.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) released his letter to Napolitano to the public Thursday, after USCIS informed his staff Nov. 1 that he would require a privacy release from suspect Farooque Ahmed in order to receive the information.
"This response is unacceptable as a matter of accountability and is in clear conflict with the plain language of the Privacy Act exemption for members of Congress," Grassley stated in his letter, dated Nov. 3.
As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley shares oversight and jurisdiction relating to matters of immigration and agencies dealing with immigration at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Citing his right to receive records relating to Ahmed, Grassley formally requested copies of documents and reports relating to any student visa Ahmed might have held, any subsequent adjustment of his immigration status and additional visas, and his naturalization.
The senator additionally sought any law enforcement reports that may have contained associations Ahmed had with al Qaeda, noting that homeland security officials should have reviewed any such reports in the process of examining his naturalization application.
The FBI arrested Ahmed the morning of Oct. 27 after conducting a 10-month long sting operation where authorities posed as members of al Qaeda interested in collaborating with Ahmed in the bombing of several Metro subway stations in Northern Virginia.
Ahmed, a 34-year-old native of Pakistan, allegedly conducted surveillance of at least four Metro rail stations in Arlington, Va., choosing their locations in an effort to maximize casualties of military personnel during the afternoon DC rush hour. Ahmed also offered to travel overseas to receive training as a terrorist combatant.
The US Justice Department charged Ahmed with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, collecting information for the planning of a terrorist attack against a transportation system, and attempting to provide material support in the bombings of multiple Metro rail stations with the goal of causing mass casualties. Ahmed currently remains in federal custody.
Apparently, Ahmed originally entered the United States on a student visa, obtaining a computer science degree from the College of Staten Island, a school within the City University of New York. He later moved to Ashburn, Va., where he worked for a telecommunications company and took online courses toward a graduate degree in risk management and data security from Aspen University.
Grassley expressed interest in establishing a timeline of Ahmed’s immigration status to include his listings in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), the student visa immigration database maintained by DHS.
The senator asserted he had a right to those records under Section 552a(b)(9) of the Privacy Act, which authorizes disclosures of information to members of Congress acting officially within their areas of jurisdiction. But USCIS responded to Grassley that it was "longstanding executive branch policy" to obtain a waiver from individuals referenced in those records before complying with the congressional exemption.
In airing his ire over that response, Grassley also demanded Napolitano provide him with all DHS legal opinions and policy analysis that support the USCIS position.