Travel ban endangers U.S. intelligence gathering?

The ban on the entry of people from seven predominantly Muslim countries means no visa interviews, a source of information and contacts for America’s spies.

President Donald Trump has said his executive order limiting immigration and travel from seven Muslim nations would make the U.S. safer if implemented — but diplomats and former CIA officials warn it would cut off an important source of intelligence for American spies.

That’s because the visa process for the seven targeted countries also happens to be a little-publicized stream of data and human assets for U.S. agencies such as the CIA, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the issue told POLITICO.

Aside from helping U.S. officials learn about trends in various countries—including Iran, the nation the White House just put “on notice” over its moves in the Middle East—visa applications and interviews are a way to recruit local intelligence agents or, in some cases, meet face-to-face with people known to be potential threats to America.

“In case of some of these countries, the visa interviews are an important source of information about what’s going on,” said a former senior State Department official familiar with consular matters. “In a visa interview, you can say, ‘How’s the economy? How’s work? How are things going? Is there food in the stores?’”

Added a State Department source: “It would be hard to find a consular officer who spent any time on a visa line anywhere and did not feel the need to pass information to the CIA on at least one occasion.”