Home News Testimony The FBI Name Check Process
  • David M. Hardy
  • Acting Assistant Director, Record/Information Dissemination Section Records Management Division
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Before the Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorist
  • Washington DC
  • October 23, 2003

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 than English.

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.

Processing Times

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.

Process Improvement

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.

Decentralized Recordkeeping System

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.

Conclusion

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.

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 than English.

 

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.

 

Processing Times

 

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.

 

Process Improvement

 

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.

 

Decentralized Recordkeeping System

 

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.

 

Conclusion

 

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.

 
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