After Times Square, questions raised about naturalization process

outstanding warrants, criminal records of associates. Names are run through a thorough FBI and Interagency Border Inspection System background check. Fingerprints are also checked by the FBI to establish a possible criminal history.

As thorough as the process is, the background checks cease once an individual gets his or her citizenship. Citizenship is not generally contingent on good behavior.

Officials say that after the suspect in the Times Square case became a citizen, he traveled to his native Pakistan. Charging documents say he admitted to recently receiving bomb-making training in the country. Another suspect in the case was also arrested in Karachi, Fox News has learned.

Peter Brookes, a senior fellow with the Heritage Foundation, said a major goal of a group like al Qaeda is to get people inside the U.S. system, where they can move freely. “If you get somebody inside the wires, they would say in the military … if you can keep somebody below the radar screen, allow them to operate without suspicion, they can get into Times Square with a van filled with explosives,” he said.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pennsylvania), said that in light of the Times Square plot, “naturalization and the process we use to vet people probably does need to be looked at,” though he said the threat of “homegrown radicalization” is the main concern at this point.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) told Fox News that it would be going too far to re-examine naturalized U.S. citizens from select countries like Pakistan in light of this incident. “I wouldn’t want to single out a group,” he said, calling the majority of citizens of Pakistani descent “totally loyal to our country.” He said, though, that an “old law” that allows the U.S. government to strip somebody of his or her citizenship if he is found fighting with an enemy military force should be amended to cover people found to be affiliated with foreign terror groups.

Najibullah Zazi, a Colorado shuttle driver and Afghan citizen, also was able to clear the immigration process and become a permanent U.S. resident. He pleaded guilty in a plot to bomb the New York subway system in February.

For those who come from outside the United States, the naturalization process is complicated and lengthy. Applicants generally need a sponsor — a relative, spouse or employer — to get the green card. Then they have to wait between three and five years to qualify for citizenship.

The citizenship process includes not just background checks, but a citizenship test and final interview. The interview officer has the authority to reject the applicant at the end of the process or send him or her back for further review.