2004 September 12 Sunday
Homeland Security Visa Screeners In Saudi Arabia Can't Read Arabic

The Bush Administration demonstrates once again that its priorities are very wrong.

The department's inspector general, Clark Kent Ervin, said nine of the 10 temporary employees sent to Riyadh and Jidda neither spoke nor read Arabic, the language in which many documents they review are written and the sole language spoken by many applicants.

US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Clark Kent Ervin demonstrates what are super man qualities in the Bush Administration (sorry, couldn't resist) when he points out that Arabic language skills are essential for detecting terrorists in Arab countries.

"The officers have to be language proficient," Mr. Ervin said in the interview. "They need to be versed in the culture and country conditions. They have to be trained in interview techniques and fraud detection. And generally this was not the case with the officers that were sent."

The program for providing these officers has no permanent funding as of yet. Therefore there was no money available to provide the officers formal training before sending them off to Saudi Arabia. We have just marked the 3 year anniversary of the original 9/11 attack and funding for homeland security officers to review visa applications in Saudi Arabia will not be in the official budget until the fiscal year 2005. Then a whole $10 million will be provided and 5 more Arab countries will eventually get DHS screeners to supplement State Department screeners. We can only guess when sufficiently qualified DHS visa screeners will be sent to Saudi Arabia. How long will it take to recruit or train screeners fluent in Arabic and sufficiently knowledgeable about Saudi Arabia to detect implausible claims on visa applications?

The Bush Administration has managed to find the time and money to spend well over $100 billion dollars (and rising) in Iraq and to send about 140,000 (at the moment) soldiers there. But adequate staffing of visa screening personnel in the country that sent 15 out of the 19 9/11 attackers to the United States is not viewed as a priority.

Visa screening can keep out bad guys. The National Commision on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (a.k.a. The 9/11 Commission) notes in their final report that one potential hijacker was kept out of the United States by repeated rejections of visa applications.

Jarrah was supposed to be joined at FFTC by Ramzi Binalshibh, who even sent the school a deposit. But Binalshibh could not obtain a U.S. visa. His first applications in May and June 2000 were denied because he lacked established ties in Germany ensuring his return from a trip to the United States. In September, he went home to Yemen to apply for a visa from there, but was denied on grounds that he also lacked sufficient ties to Yemen. In October, he tried one last time, in Berlin, applying for a student visa to attend "aviation language school," but the prior denials were noted and this application was denied as well, as incomplete.52

Unable to participate directly in the operation, Binalshibh instead took on the role of coordinating between KSM and the operatives in the United States. Apart from sending a total of about $10,000 in wire transfers to Atta and Shehhi during the summer of 2000, one of Binalshibh's first tasks in his new role as plot coordinator was to assist another possible pilot, Zacarias Moussaoui.53

The final report of the 9/11 Commission has a fairly detailed and lengthy list of visa and immigration policy recommendations.

In the decade before September 11, 2001, border security-encompassing travel, entry, and immigration-was not seen as a national security matter. Public figures voiced concern about the "war on drugs," the right level and kind of immigration, problems along the southwest border, migration crises originating in the Caribbean and elsewhere, or the growing criminal traffic in humans. The immigration system as a whole was widely viewed as increasingly dysfunctional and badly in need of reform. In national security circles, however, only smuggling of weapons of mass destruction carried weight, not the entry of terrorists who might use such weapons or the presence of associated foreign-born terrorists.

For terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons. Terrorists must travel clandestinely to meet, train, plan, case targets, and gain access to attack. To them, international travel presents great danger, because they must surface to pass through regulated channels, present themselves to border security officials, or attempt to circumvent inspection points.

In their travels, terrorists use evasive methods, such as altered and counterfeit passports and visas, specific travel methods and routes, liaisons with corrupt government officials, human smuggling networks, supportive travel agencies, and immigration and identity fraud. These can sometimes be detected.

Before 9/11, no agency of the U.S. government systematically analyzed terrorists' travel strategies. Had they done so, they could have discovered the ways in which the terrorist predecessors to al Qaeda had been systematically but detectably exploiting weaknesses in our border security since the early 1990s.

We found that as many as 15 of the 19 hijackers were potentially vulnerable to interception by border authorities. Analyzing their characteristic travel documents and travel patterns could have allowed authorities to intercept 4 to 15 hijackers and more effective use of information available in U.S. government databases could have identified up to 3 hijackers.32

Looking back, we can also see that the routine operations of our immigration laws-that is, aspects of those laws not specifically aimed at protecting against terrorism-inevitably shaped al Qaeda's planning and opportunities. Because they were deemed not to be bona fide tourists or students as they claimed, five conspirators that we know of tried to get visas and failed, and one was denied entry by an inspector. We also found that had the immigration system set a higher bar for determining whether individuals are who or what they claim to be-and ensuring routine consequences for violations-it could potentially have excluded, removed, or come into further contact with several hijackers who did not appear to meet the terms for admitting short-term visitors.33

Our investigation showed that two systemic weaknesses came together in our border system's inability to contribute to an effective defense against the 9/11 attacks: a lack of well-developed counterterrorism measures as a part of border security and an immigration system not able to deliver on its basic commitments, much less support counterterrorism. These weaknesses have been reduced but are far from being overcome.

Recommendation: Targeting travel is at least as powerful a weapon against terrorists as targeting their money. The United States should combine terrorist travel intelligence, operations, and law enforcement in a strategy to intercept terrorists, find terrorist travel facilitators, and constrain terrorist mobility.

Click through and read the many immigration, border control, and visa policy recommendations of the commission. Note that many of these recommendations are intuitively obvious and a presidency that was willing to place a higher priority on homeland security than on Hispanic pandering or Saudi relations would already be well along the way toward implementing most or all of them.

Update: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has revealed why Saudis were chosen for the 9/11 attack: Most people in Al Qaeda training camps were Saudi nationals and Saudis had an easier time getting into the United States.

KSM, for instance, denies that Saudis were chosen for the 9/11 plot to drive a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and stresses practical reasons for considering ethnic background when selecting operatives. He says that so many were Saudi because Saudis comprised the largest portion of the pool of recruits in the al Qaeda training camps. KSM estimates that in any given camp, 70 percent of the mujahideen were Saudi, 20 percent were Yemeni, and 10 percent were from elsewhere. Although Saudi and Yemeni trainees were most often willing to volunteer for suicide operations, prior to 9/11 it was easier for Saudi operatives to get into the United States.91

We need to be especially vigilant with Saudi nationals and Yemeni nationals applying for visas to the United States because they are most likely to be Al Qaeda terrorists.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 September 12 01:56 PM  Immigration Terrorism

John S Bolton said at September 13, 2004 2:37 AM:

It looks like traitorism is so pervasive in ruling circles that the racial prestige of the wetbacks' source populations is considered to be more important than national security. And this, even when massive terror attacks have been conducted against national military headquarters, and are threatened against those of the executive and of the legislative branches.

Richard Heddleson said at September 13, 2004 11:21 AM:

The default position on Saudi visa applications should be refusal with the burden of proof being on the Saudi national to prove acceptability. References from at least 2 Americans, including assumption of responsibility for their acts while in the U. S., should be independently obtaines by DHS. If they want to come see the Grand Canyon we should give them a video. Too bad, Arizona.

John S Bolton said at September 29, 2004 8:45 PM:

Front Page 9-29-04 has a dhs visa program article, which details a vicious lack of concern for national security, on the part of the administration. They are so afraid of being called discriminating by obvious enemies, that they would let moslems knock down one 100-storey building after another. Three years later, they still haven't allowed anyone to investigate the visa applications from Saudis who might be associates of the hijackers. The dereliction of responsibility, when there is a chance that someone might say that they are motivated by prejudice, is unbelievable.

Carrie Franklin said at December 2, 2005 2:48 PM:

Well, then there are people who are interested in learning languages but that don't have the money to do it. Why don't we stop complaining and learn Arabic?

Daleela said at December 24, 2005 8:18 AM:

Probably, fluent Arabic can help in struggle with terrorism; but does it help to stop the war? May be, it will be more rational to find some ways to solve this question peacefully...

sandra said at February 14, 2008 1:44 AM:

i say in london i need agent that hellp my brother to uk pls if you can do that let me know

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