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Friday, August 27, 2004
Suicide by Stupidity: Visas for Terrorists Still Available
Topic: Homeland Security

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Informed Americans have long wondered as to whose side the State Department is on in the war on Islamic terror. In a recent column, Joel Mowbray keeps us guessing:
Loophole exploited by the 9/11 hijackers remains open

If al Qaeda wants to strike on U.S. soil before the elections, it still has available to it a gaping loophole it exploited pre-9/11: Saudis' easy access to U.S. visas.

Despite supposed reforms implemented by the U.S. State Department, current statistics--obtained exclusively by this columnist--reveal that nearly 90% of all Saudi visa applicants get approved. To put this in perspective, applicants in most other Arab nations--the ones that didn't send us 15 of 19 9/11 hijackers--are refused visas three to five times more often than Saudis. (State refused multiple requests for comment.)

. . .

State has made some progress, such as doubling the number of names on the watchlist and breathing more life into pre-9/11 programs to identify non-watchlisted individuals who should be barred from the U.S.

What State has neglected to do, however, is enforce the law in Saudi Arabia.

Because of a provision in the law known as 214(b), all applicants are presumed ineligible for a visa until they establish their eligibility. This is supposed to be a high bar to clear, and in most countries, it is. Just not for Saudis. That's why nearly 90% who apply still get approved.

Eight of KSM's 27 handpicked operatives were prevented from entering the United States because of 214(b). Yet the same law that kept out almost one-third of the original 9/11 cell was not applied in Saudi Arabia--and it still isn't today.

If State wanted to get tough on Saudi visa applicants, they would have unfettered discretion to do so. Denials made by a consular officer are not appealable, which means a visa could be denied simply because a Saudi is young, single, and unemployed--the profile of the person least likely to qualify under 214(b) and the most likely to be a terrorist.

State, however, has shown no willingness to put security first. It vehemently opposed Congressional attempts to tighten Saudis' access to visas, and it only closed Visa Express under duress. Late last year--as originally reported here this January--the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh sent a cable to Washington advocating a re-loosening of restrictions on Saudi visas.

With 15 of the 19 hijackers and continued al Qaeda bombings and beheadings, the question must be asked: what additional evidence does State need before deciding to enforce the law?
The question I would ask is: Given this series of transgressions, and the general culture of appeasement and diplomatic naivete at Foggy Bottom, why has Congress not already stripped the State Department of its power to issue visas?

If you would like to ask that question of your Senators and Representatives, and ask them to make visa issuance a law enforcement matter, not one of diplomacy and customer service to foreign tyrannies, feel free to use our Basic Contact Links.

Posted by Tim at 1:43 PM EDT

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