Red Flags for Immigrant Recruits: Calling Parents, Not Laughing at Jokes

But recruits who are American citizens are generally not screened nearly as intensively as Mavni recruits are. And when an immigrant recruit spots mistakes in a security report, there is no official channel for correcting them.

“I didn’t even recognize what I was reading,” said Suraj Adhikari, a recruit from Nepal who is serving in the Army Reserves and recently obtained the results of his counterintelligence assessment. It labeled him a “potential risk.”

Mr. Adhikari, the son of a sanitation worker and a schoolteacher, came to the United States on a student visa to study for a master’s degree in agricultural science. He is now working on a second degree in data analytics. He enlisted in the Army in 2016, attracted by the promise of American citizenship, and drills regularly with his reserve unit in Omaha, where he is a supply chain specialist.

“It makes me very proud,” he said.

His counterintelligence report said he was a security risk because the Nepali government had paid for his undergraduate education and may have influence over him. But he said he had paid his own way through college.

“It’s completely baseless,” he said. “I can’t even understand where they got that information.”

The Mavni program, short for Military Accessions Vital to National Interest, was created during the George W. Bush administration. More than 10,000 troops have enlisted through the program, almost all of them in the Army. In 2016, the Defense Department began requiring all Mavni recruits, even those in nonsensitive jobs like supply clerks and fuel pumpers, to go through the lengthy interviews and background checks typically required only for troops needing top-secret clearance. Now, Mavni troops are often more thoroughly investigated than the security staff who vet them.

The more intense scrutiny quickly led to a backlog of thousands of recruits awaiting clearance. Facing a lawsuit over the backlog in 2017, the Defense Department contracted to have newly trained interviewers rush through counterintelligence evaluations, according to Margaret D. Stock, a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the Mavni program. She is now an immigration lawyer who represents a number of the program’s recruits.

“They were under the gun to get it done quickly,” Ms. Stock said of the interviewers. “The management was shoddy, the training was poor. They made a lot of mistakes that have ruined people’s lives.”

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