The suspected foreign agent, whose name has not been released, oversaw at least 180 different asylum applications while he worked at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency (USCIS). The agency issues green cards, approves citizenship applications and provides other benefits to immigrant applicants.
Michael J. Maxwell, former head of the Office of Security and Investigations at USCIS, told the Washington Times that his investigation "turned up national security questions in about nearly two dozen" of the case handled by the suspect.
That was just one of many failures Maxwell described at USCIS.
In testimony about operations at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees USCIS, Maxwell told the House subcommittee on international terrorism that the agency was rife with fraud, abuse, and even espionage.
"If we look at the system itself, it's been broken for decades," the whistle-blower said. "Absolutely and with conviction I will tell you that our system is being used against us." He said that border security, immigration and counter-terrorism cannot be treated separately, but must be considered a single issue. "They are tied together inherently," he said.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA, chairman of the subcommitee, agreed that USCIS is "deeply flawed" and concentrates too much on granting immigration benefits and too little on security.
Maxwell said the agency recklessly rewards employees with "benefit parties" and cash, movie tickets, and extra vacation time for granting immigration benefits quickly, which he said threatens national security.
He testified that one agency employee told him her supervisors pressured staff to process 16 cases per hour, an average of less than four minutes per application.
"The system has been designed to allow for the benefits adjudications to go through the system with very little quality assurance," he testified. "The employees are tempted to grant benefits in order to receive cash and time off."
He said parties were given for those employees who processed the most applications each month as a reward to speed up processing.
The revelations came while the Senate was considering creation of a guestworker/amnesty plan for some 11 million to 15 million illegal aliens. If the plan passes Congress, USCIS would handle the guestworker/amnesty applications.
Maxwell and another witness, Janice Kephart, who worked on the September 11 Commission, said the agency is not capable of handling the millions of amnesty applications that a guestworker program would generate.
Maxwell, who now works as a consultant on security issues, said the case of the suspected Iraqi agent was not an isolated case.
"We know the asylum process is in shambles," he said. Alarmingly, he added that documents show top officials are aware of the problem but refuse to do anything about it.
"There are indicators throughout this entire case [of the suspected Iraqi] that I saw, professionals within the FBI and the intelligence community saw, that all pointed one way - we were dealing with an individual who was a member of a foreign intelligence agency that had been working within CIS," he said.
"The danger was that he was granting asylum to anybody that he wanted to, with impunity, at a time of his choosing. Who was he letting into this country?"
The suspect was in demand at the agency because of his language skills. He was able to interview Middle Eastern applicants without the need for a translator. Maxwell said the man was hired by USCIS even though there was "negative security information" in his background that caused other federal agencies not to hire him.
The agency's current director, Emilio Gonzalez, told reporters that rewards for speedy processing would not be allowed during his tenure.