“History, in general, only informs us of what bad government is.” Thomas Jefferson, first Secretary of State of the United States
On September 11 of 2001 Islamic Terrorists flew hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing some three thousand innocent people. Fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers had been fast-tracked into this country from Saudi Arabia, despite a large number of obvious red flags that should have prevented any of them from getting visas. This attack on our nation had at least one thing in common with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963; it could have been, and should have been, prevented by the US State Department.
Don’t expect to hear that in a college history course. College professors, like other liberals, are reluctant to question the efficacy of government bureaucracies. Leftist tend to view Government as the source of all wisdom, and the solution to every problem. It would be hard for any left winger to admit that negligence on the part of government officials facilitated the deaths of thousands of innocent people.
And the State Department is held to be even more sacrosanct than other government agencies. Criticizing the State Department for sloppiness in security matters is, after all, the original sin of right wing “McCarthyism.” It shouldn’t surprise anyone that stories of bureaucratic inefficiency and irresponsibility at Foggy Bottom tend to be left out of mainstream history books.
What the Textbooks Say
The freshman history textbook Making a Nation describes the 9/11 hijackers only as “a small group of men linked to (Osama) bin Laden.” The book does not tell us the nationalities of the killers. Similarly the textbook America’s Promise describes the 9/11 attacks without any reference to the hijackers’ nationalities.
Eric Foner’s textbook Give Me Liberty does mention a connection between Arab immigration and 9/11, but only to complain about how unfairly Islamic Arab immigrants were treated in this country after the attacks. The Bush administration, says Dr. Foner, “imposed severe limits on the civil liberties of those suspected of a connection to terrorism and, more generally, on immigrants from the Middle East.” Foner goes on to tell his readers that after passage of the 2001 Patriot Act, “At least 5,000 foreigners with Middle Eastern connections were rounded up, and more than 1,200 arrested. Many with no link to terrorism were held for months, without either a formal charge or a public notice of their fate.”
The five authors of the textbook Making a Nation similarly see no fault in the government’s careless and haphazard issuance of visas to suspicious looking characters from Saudi Arabia. The only criticism the book offers mirrors Dr. Foner’s. After 9/11, the authors write, government policies aimed at identifying foreign terrorists threatened “the natural rights of aliens.”
It would be interesting to hear the thoughts of John Locke, the father of the concept of “natural rights,” on the idea that foreign nationals have a God-given right to live in the United States without valid visas, and without having to answer any questions about their intentions.
What Actually Happened
In actual fact, most of the 9/11 hijackers would not have been allowed to enter the United States if State Department employees at the US Consul in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, had simply followed regulations. As Joel Mowbray of National Review has documented, the hijackers’ visa applications were rife with omissions, contradictions, and other problems. One hijacker indicated right on his application that he intended to over-stay his visa. Several working-class Saudis applied to visit the US for several months as “tourists” without indicating where they were getting the large amounts of money that would obviously be required. Most of them left blank or incomplete the lines for addresses where they intended to stay while in the US, and/or their home addresses in Saudi Arabia. One hijacker got his visa after describing his intended address in the United States simply as “No.”
Senators Jon Kyl and Pat Roberts reviewed the process by which the killers got into our country, and expressed their dismay in no uncertain terms: “the answer to the question—could 9/11 have been prevented—is yes, if State Department personnel had merely followed the law and not granted non-immigrant visas to 15 of the 19 hijackers in Saudi Arabia.”
For the last three hijackers to enter the US the process was even easier. They got their visas without ever visiting the consulate, under a new program called “visa express,” cooked up by career State Department bureaucrat Mary Ryan. They literally were able to get visas to visit the US by visiting Arabian travel agencies, without ever visiting the consulate. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, one CIA official described this program as “an open door policy for terrorists.”
Living in America: a “Natural Right”
Once they were in the United States, the soon-to-be hijackers didn’t have to make any special effort to avoid being identified and deported. Most of them had over-stayed their visas by the time they launched their attack, but none of them were harassed by the authorities. They simply joined the millions of other illegal aliens residing comfortably in the United States.
As John Fund of the Wall Street Journal has reported, eight of the Saudi terrorists actually registered to vote while they were here. (It is illegal, at least technically, for people who are not US citizens to vote in American elections; but the 1993 “motor voter” law, passed on a party line vote in the House and Senate and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, makes it virtually impossible for the states to keep foreigners off the voter rolls.)
A Bonus for Incompetence
A few months after her “visa express” policy had facilitated the deaths of three thousand innocent people, Mary Ryan received a $15,000 bonus for her “outstanding performance” during this period.
After the news of her bonus came out, it took a wave of negative publicity to persuade the Secretary of State to ask Ms. Ryan for her resignation. Conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh talked at length about the absurdity of calling Ms. Ryan’s performance “outstanding.” A group of people who had lost family members on 9/11 formed launched a campaign to build public awareness of the problem of lax immigration enforcement, and complained specifically about Ms. Ryan’s performance bonus.
National Review’s Joel Mowbray exposed many of the State Department’s problems in a series of articles, no doubt helping to expedite Ryan’s departure. The Department responded with a smear campaign directed against Mowbray personally.
A Department with a History
The run-up to 9/11 was not the first time the State Department exposed America unnecessarily to danger from foreign enemies. During the 1940’s and 1950’s State unwittingly harbored Communist agents like Alger Hiss. In 1961 State Department officials in Moscow and Washington allowed Lee Harvey Oswald to return to the United States, despite Oswald’s obvious antipathy toward everything American. Oswald assassinated President Kennedy two years later. Then came 2001, and 9/11.
Into the 21st Century
Despite all the problems of the past, federal bureaucrats still seem to have a devil-may-care attitude about controlling immigration. Just a few months after the horrors of 9/11, the Seattle office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service released an illegal alien named Lee Malvo, in violation of existing federal law. Malvo, a Muslim, would soon team up with John Mohammed to murder at least ten people in random shootings in the Washington, DC area. No one in the INS was ever held responsible for letting Malvo go.
Those of us who think Government is the solution to every problem would do well to look at the government’s track record on important issues like immigration.