Before they can receive asylum, every applicant must undergo a security background check. But what exactly does the government check? And how can they learn about an applicant's background when she spent most of her life outside the United States?

To me, these security background checks have always been a bit of a mystery. I've heard that the checks involve multiple agencies (FBI, State Department, etc.) and multiple data bases, but I did not know much more than that. Now, a recent article has shed some light on at least one type of background check: The FBI's Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center (TEDAC) operates the nation's "bomb library," which keeps data on explosive devices used in terrorist attacks. TEDAC is directed by Greg Carl and operates out of Quantico, Virginia.

Each bomb maker leaves a unique signature.

TEDAC analyzes the "remnants of improvised explosive devices... in hopes of recovering latent prints from the insurgent bomb makers who crafted them." The Center has created a "comprehensive database of known terrorists for all law enforcement, the U.S. intelligence community and the military to share." The Center has received evidence from the "underwear bomber," the Boston Marathon bombing, and from attacks all across the world. The evidence collected by TEDAC comes from "bombings in as many as 25 countries from as far as the Horn of Africa and Southeast Asia, in addition to the United States:"

More than 100,000 boxes of evidence have been collected so far. They contain more than a million fragments fashioned from ordinary objects, which are barcoded and labeled before going through a wide array of forensic examinations, including toolmark identification, which allows matches of fragments to be made. Every scrap is searched for clues to a bomber’s identity.

The Center's work seems to be effective. "According to Mary Kathryn Book, a physical scientist with the lab, 'Approximately 60% of the time, we are able to recover prints from these items through fingerprint processing. And then later these prints are searched in our database and we attempt to identify the individuals who left them.'"

One project that is directly relevant to refugees and asylum seekers is the ongoing examination of IED material from Iraq to determine if "any Iraqi refugees relocated in the United States may be tied to IED attacks, as was the case with two Iraqi refugees based in Kentucky." (I wrote about this issue here).

Unfortunately, our Congress has decided to cut funds from TEDAC (well, "decided" might not be accurate - they simply slashed and burned the budget indiscriminately). For all of us, there is the concern that we will be less safe due to these budget cuts. For asylum seekers fleeing persecution, it likely also means more delays for security background checks. This means longer insecurity and separation from family. In the unlikely event that Congress gets its act together, we can only hope that TEDAC will receive the funds it needs to keep operating effectively.