Testimony of David M. Hardy, Acting Assistant Director,
Record/Information Dissemination Section, Records Management
before the Senate Subcommittee on International Operations
October 23, 2003
FBI Name Check Process"
Mr. Chairman and members of
the Committee, thank you for inviting the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) to testify in this hearing, in which the
Committee is examining the FBI's role in the process of vetting
foreign visa applicants to the United States. My name is David
Hardy and I currently serve as Chief of the Record/Information
Dissemination Section, the section within the FBI's Record
Management Division responsible for the National Name Check
Program. My goal today is inform you of the manner in which
the FBI is an integral part of the cooperative effort of federal
agencies to screen certain visa requests.
FBI Name Check Process
Certain visa applicants require
substantial vetting prior to issuance of a visa. Two of these
categories are Visa Condor, relevant to certain individuals
who are from designated countries and who satisfy additional
criteria which may make them worthy of additional scrutiny,
and Visa Mantis, relevant to certain individuals who will
have access during their visit to American special technologies.
Since June, 2002, the FBI has been able receive visa applications
by automatic uploading of Department of State cables. Visa
request information from the cable is parsed and placed in
a server for transfer to the FBI's National Name Check Program
(NNCP). Parsed information is run against the FBI Universal
Indices (UNI). The searches seek all instances of the individual's
name and approximate date of birth, whether a main file name
or reference. By way of explanation, a main file name is that
of an individual who is the subject of an FBI investigation,
whereas a reference is someone whose name appears in an FBI
investigation. References may be associates, witnesses, co-conspirators,
or victims whose name has been indexed for later retrieval.
The names are searched in a multitude of combinations, switching
the order of first, last, middle names, as well as combinations
with just the first and last, first and middle, and so on.
It also searches different phonetic spelling variations of
the names, especially important considering that many names
in our indices have been transliterated from a language other
If there is a match with a name
in a FBI record, it is designated as a "Hit", meaning
that the system has stopped on a possible match with the name
being checked, but now a human being must review the file
or indices entry to further refine the names "Hit"
on. If the search comes up with a name and birth date match,
it is designated an "Ident." An "Ident"
is usually easier to resolve.
Approximately 85% of name checks
are electronically returned as having "No Record"
within 72 hours. A "No Record" indicates that the
FBI's Central Records System contains no identifiable information
regarding this individual. By agreement with the Department
of State, partially due to our concern about the time factors
in approving most visa requests, a No Record equates to a
No Objection to the issuance of a visa. The substantive investigative
divisions in the FBI, (i.e., Counterterrorism Division (CTD),
Counterintelligence Division (CD), Criminal Investigative
Division (CID) and the Cyber Division (CyD)) do not review
visa requests where there is no record of the individual.
Duplicate submissions (i.e., identically spelled names with
identical dates of birth submitted within the last 120 days)
are not checked and the duplicate findings are returned to
the Department of State.
Because a name and birth date
are not sufficient to positively correlate the file with an
individual, additional review is required. A secondary manual
name search usually identifies an additional 10% of the requests
as having a "No Record", for a 95% overall "No
Record" response rate. The remaining 5% are identified
as possibly being the subject of an FBI record. The FBI record
must now be retrieved and reviewed. If the records were electronically
uploaded into the FBI Automated Case Support (ACS) electronic
record-keeping system, it can be viewed quickly. If not, the
relevant information must be retrieved from the existing paper
record. Review of this information will determine whether
the information is identified with the subject of the request.
If not, the request is closed as a "No Record."
The information in the file
is reviewed for possible derogatory information. Less than
1% of the requests are identified with an individual with
possible derogatory information. These requests are forwarded
to the appropriate FBI investigative division for further
analysis. If the investigative division determines there is
no objection to the visa request, the request is returned
to the name check dissemination desk for forwarding to the
Department of State. If there is an FBI objection to the visa
request, the investigative division will prepare a written
Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) and forward it to the Department
of State. In reviewing these visa requests, the FBI has identified
individuals attempting to enter the United States who are
of serious concern to the FBI.
I want to emphasize to you that
the FBI is sensitive to the impact that delays in visa processing
may have on business, education, tourism, this country's foreign
relations, and worldwide perceptions of the United States.
With these considerations in mind, the FBI is working diligently
with the Department of State toward the common goal of improving
the expediency and efficiency of the visa clearance process.
At the same time, the consequences of the FBI's mission on
homeland security requires that our name check process be
primarily focused on an accurate and thorough result. This
means that there are instances when the FBI's review of a
visa request must require as much time as needed to obtain
an unequivocally correct result.
The FBI's goal is to have all
Mantis and Condor vetting requests completed within 120 days.
Attachment A illustrates the current status of Visa Condor
names checks, and Attachment B illustrates the same for Visa
Mantis name checks. This status was taken on October 1, 2003.
For example, for Visas Condor, the FBI received 7,986 requests
during the month of September 2003. By October 1, 2003, the
FBI had resolved all but 521 of these requests, for a 93%
resolution rate. (See Attachment A) In the month of August
2003, the FBI received 7,381 Visas Condor requests and by
October 1, 2003, had resolved all but 257 of these requests
for a 97% resolution rate. For Visas Mantis, the FBI received
1029 requests in the month of September 2003 and by October
1, 2003, had resolved 832, or 80% of them (See Attachment
B). In the month of August 2003, the FBI received 1,122 Visa
Mantis requests and by October 1, 2003, had resolved all but
116 of these requests for a 90% resolution rate. The percentages
continue to rise over time, 97% of Visas Condor and 95% of
Visas Mantis were resolved within 90 days. Visas Mantis are
particularly difficult to resolve due to the predominance
of requests from China and the commonality of Asian names.
A common question we receive
is, How long does it take to complete a visa request name
check? As shown on these graphs, 80 to 93% are completed in
30 days. For both types of visa requests, 97-98% of the requests
are resolved in 120 days. Most name check requests that are
over 30 days old are the result of the time required to retrieve
and review field office record information. Some delay occurs
at substantive analysts' desks, but this is to be expected.
These analysts are assigned to the investigative divisions
and are primarily assigned to the analysis of intelligence
reports from around the world in order to support on-going
investigations, or to support the flow of intelligence to
policy makers. Despite these significant and voluminous responsibilities,
these are the best professionals to review information in
our records and to then make an informed decision on whether
a requester of a visa represents a threat to our homeland,
or is interested in illegally acquiring our targeted technology.
Nevertheless, as I stated earlier, the FBI's resolves 98%
of all types of visa requests within 120 days.
These efforts are not without
substantial challenges. Prior to September 11, 2001, the FBI
name check system processed approximately 2.5 million name
check requests per year. In FY 2002, that number increased
to 3.2 million. For FY 2003, the number of requests reached
over 6.3 million requests. (At earlier Congressional hearings
the FBI estimated that the number would reach 9.8 million
requests. The rate of growth decreased over the summer months.
It should also be noted that while over all name check submissions
decreased over the summer, the number of visa request name
checks showed no decrease.) Attachment C illustrates this
explosive increase. With the advent of new visa screening
requirements in late 2001, specifically the Visa Condor program,
the FBI was overwhelmed by the increase in names to be checked.
We did experience a backlog, some visa requests were lost
between the Department of State and the FBI, and visas requested
in the spring and summer of 2002 were delayed beyond the time
period travelers had anticipated. We have all but eliminated
the backlog, and are working together with the Department
of State to ensure that any old visa requests have been accounted
for and processed. This was accomplished through clarification
of the FBI name check database, software modifications that
allowed development of detailed metrics, the development of
an internal FBI tracking system for SAO opinions, and improvement
in the coordination of visa name check processing.
We closely monitored student
visa submissions for this school year and believe that we
were able to meet this seasonal demand. We are using National
Academy of Sciences' data to assist us in monitoring our response
time for both students and visiting scholars. Again, we have
not seen any systematic problems associated with our review
process. However, the FBI recognizes that the explosion in
numbers of requests necessitates development of even more
efficient processes in order to sustain the current pace of
processing name check requests. The FBI is in the process
of implementing a number of interim improvements to minimize
manual submissions by all agencies and increase efficiency
within the name check process. The FBI has developed high-level
functional requirements for a new name check application compatible
with the new FBI information systems in development. These
new information systems, over time, will eliminate dependence
on the retrieval of paper files. The development of this new
name check application is now undergoing review within the
FBI's Investment Management Process.
I have touched upon our IT systems
challenges, but now I want to discuss another factor in delays
in the FBI responding to a visa name check. FBI files are
currently stored at one of approximately 265 locations, including
the FBI's Headquarters facility, several warehouses around
the Washington Metropolitan area, in records centers either
operated by the NARA or commercial concerns, four large Information
Technology Center facilities on the east and west coast, at
each of the 56 field offices, many of the larger of our 400
resident agencies, and at legal attaché offices worldwide.
Delays result from NNCP personnel identifying a file's location
then requesting file information from a field office. Time
delays mount as field office staffs search file rooms and
then ship needed information or a prepared summary to FBI
Headquarters. This process - repeated for many tasks, not
only dilutes the FBI's responsiveness, but also limits information
sharing - a critical success factor in working counterintelligence
and counterterrorism cases.
One possible solution to these
problems the FBI is exploring would be a central records repository
where all of our closed paper files could be located, and
our active files stored electronically. Our frequently requested
closed files could be scanned and uploaded into our electronic
record-keeping system, so that Agents and analysts world wide
would have instant, electronic access to the information they
need to do their jobs.
Again, the FBI recognizes the
importance of accurate and timely name check processing. I
want to emphasize to you, this issue has the full attention
of Director Mueller. The FBI appreciates the interest of the
Committee in this matter. I am prepared to answer any questions
the Committee may have.