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AP Exclusive: Analysts downplay threat from 7 nations in ban

VIVIAN SALAMA and ALICIA A. CALDWELL
FILE - In this June 5, 2015 file photo, a view of the Homeland Security Department headquarters in Washington. Analysts at the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump’s travel ban pose a terror threat to the U.S. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Analysts at the Homeland Security Department's intelligence arm found insufficient evidence that citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries included in President Donald Trump's travel ban pose a terror threat to the United States.

A draft document obtained by The Associated Press concludes that citizenship is an "unlikely indicator" of terrorism threats to the United States and that few people from the countries Trump listed in his travel ban have carried out attacks or been involved in terrorism-related activities in the U.S. since Syria's civil war started in 2011.

Trump cited terrorism concerns as the primary reason he signed the sweeping temporary travel ban in late January, which also halted the U.S. refugee program. A federal judge in Washington state blocked the government from carrying out the order earlier this month. Trump said Friday a new edict would be announced soon. The administration has been working on a new version that could withstand legal challenges.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen on Friday did not dispute the report's authenticity, but said it was not a final comprehensive review of the government's intelligence.

"While DHS was asked to draft a comprehensive report on this issue, the document you're referencing was commentary from a single intelligence source versus an official, robust document with thorough interagency sourcing," Christensen said. "The ... report does not include data from other intelligence community sources. It is incomplete."

The Homeland Security report is based on unclassified information from Justice Department press releases on terrorism-related convictions and attackers killed in the act, State Department visa statistics, the 2016 Worldwide Threat Assessment from the U.S. intelligence community and the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2015.

The three-page report challenges Trump's core claims. It said that of 82 people the government determined were inspired by a foreign terrorist group to carry out or try to carry out an attack in the United States, just over half were U.S. citizens born in the United States. The others were from 26 countries, led by Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Cuba, Ethiopia, Iraq and Uzbekistan. Of these, only Somalia and Iraq were among the seven nations included in the ban.

Of the other five nations, one person each from Iran, Sudan and Yemen was also involved in those terrorism cases, but none from Syria. It did not say if any were Libyan.

The report also found that terrorist organizations in Iran, Libya, Somalia and Sudan are regionally focused, while groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen do pose a threat to the U.S.

The seven countries were included in a law President Barack Obama signed in 2015 that updated visa requirements for foreigners who had traveled to those countries.

Christensen said the countries were also selected in part because they lacked the ability to properly vet their citizens and don't cooperate with U.S. efforts to screen people hoping to come to the U.S.

The report was prepared as part of an internal review Trump requested after his executive order was blocked by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was drafted by staff of the Homeland Security Department's Intelligence and Analysis branch at the direction of its acting leader, David Glawe.

White House spokesman Michael Short said this was not the full report that Trump had requested. He said he believes "the intel community is combining resources to put together a comprehensive report using all available sources, not just open sources, and which is driven by data, not politics."

The intelligence document was circulated beyond Homeland Security.

The draft document reflects the tensions between the president's political appointees and the civil servants tasked with carrying out Trump's ambitious and aggressive agenda. Trump has repeatedly complained about leaks meant to undercut his policies and suggested he does not trust holdovers from the Obama administration.

Trump originally said the ban was necessary to overhaul the vetting system for both refugees and would-be foreign visitors, saying that terrorists may try to exploit weaknesses to gain access to the United States. The order sparked chaos, outrage and widespread protests, with travelers detained at airports and panicked families searching for relatives.

But several courts quickly intervened and the 9th Circuit ultimately upheld a ruling blocking the ban and challenged the administration's claim that it was motivated by terrorism fears.

Trump's ban temporarily barred citizens from the seven countries from coming to the United States for three months. The order also temporarily shut down the U.S. refugee program for four months and indefinitely banned anyone from Syria.

A senior administration official told the AP on Sunday that a draft of the revised order will target those same seven countries. The official would not be named discussing the document before it is made public.

In a speech Friday to the Conservative Political Action Committee, Trump reiterated his claims on terrorism.

"We are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country," Trump said.

He said he singled out the seven countries because they had already been deemed a security concern by the Obama administration.

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Intelligence document available at http://apne.ws/2lSKNUo

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Contact Alicia A. Caldwell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/acaldwellap and Vivian Salama at www.twitter.com/vmsalama or https://www.ap.org/tips