A new book by Pulitzer-Prize winner Kai Bird claims that the Iranian intelligence officer behind the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut--and many other terrorist attacks--received asylum in the United States. Among those killed in the 1983 attack were the CIA's top Middle East analyst, a "good spy" named Robert Ames, who purportedly cultivated friendly relations with Arab leaders. Mr. Bird speculates that had Robert Ames lived, the U.S. would have had a different, better relationship with the Arab World.

Use of correct terminology is always appreciated.

According to The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames, the CIA and President Bush brought Ali Reza Asgari, the terrorist responsible for the 1983 attack, to the United States in 2007. He came here in exchange for information about Iran, Hezbollah, and other U.S. rivals in the Middle East. This intelligence supposedly led to the assassination of Hezbollah's number two man and the bombing of a secret Syrian nuclear facility, among other things.

Like many people who review books, I have not actually read The Good Spy (though it certainly sounds delightful). In my defense, I don't really plan to review the book. I just want to talk about one word used by Mr. Bird: Asylum. Mr. Bird writes (and here I quote the book):
The decision to give Asgari political asylum under the CIA's Public Law 110 program was probably opposed by veteran CIA officers who have some knowledge of Asgari's alleged responsibility for Roberts Ames’s murder.... But they and the agency were reportedly overruled by the George W. Bush administration's National Security Council.

The emphasis is mine. If Mr. Asgari did, in fact, come to the U.S. under the Public Law 110 program, he did not receive political asylum. Aliens in the United States who fear persecution in their home countries can apply for asylum under INA § 208 (also known as 8 U.S.C. § 1158). Public Law 110, on the other hand, appears at 50 U.S.C. § 403h:
Whenever the Director [of the CIA], the Attorney General, and the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization shall determine that the entry of a particular alien into the United States for permanent residence is in the interest of national security or essential to the furtherance of the national intelligence mission, such alien and his immediate family shall be given entry into the United States for permanent residence without regard to their inadmissibility under the immigration or any other laws and regulations, or to the failure to comply with such laws and regulations pertaining to admissibility.

In other words, if certain high-ranking leaders in the U.S. determine that a terrorist should be allowed to live in the U.S., the terrorist will be allowed to live in the U.S. But this is usually a quid pro quo and has nothing to do with asylum or the asylum system. Indeed, given his terrorist activities, Mr. Asgari would not be eligible for asylum, as he would be subject to numerous bars under INA § 208(b)(2).

Maybe this is a small point, but I think it is important. Mr. Bird's book is attracting widespread attention--everyone from Newsweek to Glen Beck's blog, the Blaze is carrying the story--and it is unfortunate that these outlets are repeating Mr. Bird's error. The asylum system is already under assault by those who claim it is an entryway for terrorists and criminals, and so Mr. Bird's incorrect use of the term has unfairly impugned a system that protects thousands of legitimate refugees and that has been specifically designed to block people like Mr. Asgari.

While colloquially, we might label anyone who fears harm and who is admitted into the United States as having received "asylum," this is simply incorrect, and it damages the asylum system to taint it with association to the likes of Mr. Asgari. I am not saying that Mr. Asgari should not have been brought to the United States. Perhaps the intelligence he provided was worth allowing a mass murderer to resettle in our country. But he came to the United States because our elected officials determined that bringing him here was the best course of action for our country, not because he qualified or was eligible for asylum.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.