Visas re­viewed to find threats among those who over­stayed

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ELI LAKE

The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity and U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies are comb­ing through some 750,000 visas of for­eign vis­i­tors to find out if any re­main in the United States and if they pose terrorism or other se­cu­rity risks.

“The goal of this on­go­ing ef­fort is not only to iden­tify which in­di­vid­u­als have over­stayed their visas, but also to pri­or­i­tize in­ves­ti­ga­tion and re­moval ac­tions for those that may pose a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity,” said Rand Beers, home­land se­cu­rity’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism co­or­di­na­tor, dur­ing a Se­nate hear­ing on July 13.

The hear­ing co­in­cided with the re­lease of a crit­i­cal re­port by the con­gres­sional Gov­ern­ment Accountability Of­fice on nu­mer­ous se­cu­rity short­falls in the af- ter­math of the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

The re­port, which cov­ered all U.S. visas in the gov­ern­ment’s data­base, was made pub­lic in April and says 1.6 mil­lion peo­ple po­ten­tially had over­stayed their visas. Mr. Beers said an au­to­mated au­dit showed that 843,000 of those al­ready had left the U.S.

Af­ter the GAO is­sued that re­port, Mr. Beers said the depart­ment formed a task force “to ad­dress the back­log of un­vet­ted po­ten­tial visa over­stays” iden­ti­fied in the re­port.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion scored suc­cesses over­seas in de­grad­ing al Qaeda by killing Osama bin Laden and sev­eral other se­nior lead­ers. At the same time, re­cent re­ports and au­dits of the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity show ma­jor gaps in the sys­tem for keep­ing po­ten­tial ter- ror­ists and other bad ac­tors out of the United States.

On July 12, the GAO re­leased a re­port that says for­eign coun­tries in some cases did not share fin­ger­print data with the United States used as part of the visa is­suance process. In Pak­istan, for ex­am­ple, fin­ger­print records are stored in a cen­tral data­base but not all gov­ern­ment agen­cies have ac­cess to it.

In other cases, for­eign gov­ern­ments lacked the abil­ity to de­tect pass­port fraud or suf­fered from corruption among their own con­sular of­fi­cers, the re­port says.

“The U.S. gov­ern­ment still lacks an ef­fec­tive sys­tem for mea­sur­ing and re­port­ing progress to­ward the goal of en­hanc­ing our for­eign part­ners’ ca­pac­ity,” the re­port says.

The is­sue of ter­ror­ists ob­tain­ing visas is par­tic­u­larly im­por- tant in light of the would-be bomber on a Christ­mas Day 2009 flight from Am­s­ter­dam to Detroit.

The suspect, Umar Farouk Ab­dul­mu­tal­lab, was a Nige­rian na­tional whose fa­ther had warned the U.S. Em­bassy about his son be­fore the at­tack. That in­for­ma­tion, how­ever, was not avail­able to U.S. con­sular of­fi­cers or air­lines be­fore he boarded the plane, which he at­tempted to de­stroy in flight us­ing a bomb hid­den in his un­der­wear.

Mr. Beers said his depart­ment re­mains fo­cused on try­ing to de­velop com­mon in­ter­na­tional stan­dards for bio­met­ric data such as fin­ger­prints. He also said the depart­ment is work­ing closely with a num­ber of for­eign coun­tries.

The GAO re­port specif­i­cally states that while the United States of­fered sev­eral anti-corruption pro­grams to for­eign coun­tries, no such pro­grams ad­dressed the prob­lem of pass­port fraud.

Jan­ice Jacobs, the as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for con­sular af­fairs, said in tes­ti­mony that the State Depart­ment and el­e­ments of the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity work with for­eign part­ners on train­ing them to de­tect pass­port fraud.

Dur­ing ques­tion­ing, Ms. Jacobs said she had made it a pri­or­ity to post se­nior con­sular of­fi­cers at the U.S. Em­bassy in Sanaa, Ye­men, de­spite the re­cent de­par­ture of non-es­sen­tial staff at that em­bassy. Ye­men’s ter­ri­tory is home to al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula, a group that U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials have said has a de­sire and ca­pa­bil­ity to launch at­tacks in the United States.

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