View Full Version : Don't worrry - you're in safe hands

11-26-02, 09:09 AM

FBI, CIA didn't follow post-9/11 guidelines, GAO says

By Cam Simpson
Washington Bureau

November 26, 2002

WASHINGTON -- At least 105 foreign nationals suspected of terrorist involvement who may "pose a threat to national security" received visas granting them access to the United States earlier this year because of lapses in a new background check system ordered by President Bush, according to government officials and documents.

Investigators for the General Accounting Office, who first uncovered the breaches, are trying to determine how many of the 105 entered the United States and how many might be at large here still, according to congressional officials familiar with the ongoing probe.

Compounding their fears, investigators believe the breaches typically were not discovered until at least five to six weeks after the suspects were mistakenly granted visas, meaning they had plenty of time to enter the United States and possibly disappear, according to officials familiar with the investigation.

The Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment Monday. But one government official familiar with the lapses said the FBI had found and arrested some of the suspects inside the United States and was attempting to keep others under surveillance to determine their intentions.

Still, none of the 105 should have been granted visas, officials said. The disclosures come as the FBI is warning that Al Qaeda could be planning "spectacular attacks" and amid concerns on Capitol Hill that the FBI is not doing enough to anticipate or stop possible terrorist operations.

The new information suggests the government has made only halting progress after the Sept. 11 attacks in keeping potential terrorists out of the country.

But State Department officials involved say they are confident the problems that led to the 105 suspects getting visas had been fixed by August.

"This is not just bureaucratic bumbling--this kind of neglect can cost lives," said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. "Any terrorist could have gotten in the country while no one was minding the store. These agencies have got to cooperate so we can figure out how many suspected terrorists are in the country."

Starting Jan. 26, all male visa applicants age 16 to 45 from countries the U.S. government associates with terrorism were supposed to undergo special background checks if they met criteria relating to their travel history, group memberships and educational institutions they attended. Initially, the checks were to be conducted by the FBI and CIA, and in April the responsibility was handed over to an anti-terrorism task force run by the Justice Department.

If these agencies did not forward to the State Department any negative information on an applicant within 30 days, he was eligible to receive a visa.

For reasons that remain unclear, many of the men were granted visas even though the checks were not completed within the 30-day window. A government task force later found that 105 of those who got visas could be "associated with, suspected of being engaged in or supporting terrorist activity" and might "pose a threat to national security," according to government records and sources.

But by then it was too late.

The 105 men who got visas slipped past the highest tier of the nation's new border-control system, a program the government dubbed Visas Condor.

On Jan. 26, when the new program began, the State Department started sending simultaneous cables to the FBI and CIA asking for checks on visa applicants who fit the classified criteria and warranted further scrutiny, records show. The FBI and CIA were selected because their files contain information on terrorists to which no one other agency has access.

Copies of the cables also were forwarded to the Department of Defense and the ultrasecret National Security Agency for informational purposes, according to the GAO, the investigative and research arm of Congress.

For almost the first three months that the program was under way, the FBI conducted few, if any, background checks, the GAO found. FBI officials told investigators they "did not have data" on how many of the Visas Condor checks they had completed by mid-April, but the FBI officials involved "estimated the unit had completed only a few of these checks," the GAO found.

The CIA failed to conduct any checks and did not respond to any of the State Department requests regarding applicants, according to records and congressional sources. CIA officials declined to meet with GAO investigators, records show.

A CIA spokesman said the agency was no longer involved in the Visas Condor program and declined to comment on the lapses.

In mid-April, responsibility for the checks was shifted to the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, records show. The task force, created by a presidential directive and run by the Justice Department, is headed by an FBI official and includes representatives from almost every government agency involved in the war on terrorism.

The background checks were always supposed to be the responsibility of the task force; the FBI and CIA were conducting them only until the task force was up and running.

According to the GAO, when the task force took over, it inherited a backlog of 8,000 unchecked cables because the FBI and CIA had done so little screening.

By Aug. 1, the task force had completed 38,000 checks on men seeking to enter the United States who met the special criteria, records show. Of these, it had identified 280 who were "associated with, suspected of being engaged in or supporting terrorist activity" and might "pose a threat to national security."

And 105 of those had been granted visas, according to congressional officials familiar with the ongoing GAO investigation.

Originally, the GAO believed that about 200 of those identified by the task force had received visas, but investigators more recently determined there were 105, according to congressional officials.

Officials familiar with the investigation said it was unclear whether the lapses that led to the 105 receiving visas were primarily the result of the backlog created by the FBI and CIA, which had conducted few if any of the checks, or stemmed from problems with the new task force.

Although each of them may not be a terrorist, the task force believed the 105 men were somehow associated or involved with terrorism.

The State Department moved to cancel the 105 visas once the lapses were discovered, but officials familiar with the GAO investigation said they believed many had been issued five to six weeks before the breaches were found.

Most foreign nationals who receive visas allowing them to enter the U.S. do so quickly after their visas are issued, officials said.

Working with the State Department and the FBI, the GAO is trying to determine how many of the 105 got into the country and remain unaccounted for, congressional officials said.

In August, the State Department canceled the 30-day hold and will not issue any visas until it receives an all-clear from the task force.

Copyright (c) 2002, Chicago Tribune

11-26-02, 09:15 AM
Maybe if they raise our taxes they can do it?

( That was sarcasm fer you folks that ain't awake yet! LOL)

Good thing Big Brother passed the Homeland Security Act ain't it!

( That was sarcasm as well, folks!)

I can't do this anymore. All I can think of are sarcasitic remarks! LOL> I better go have another cup of joe myself! LOL

11-26-02, 09:23 AM
well they have to raise our taxes.....they just gave themselves a payraise, or maybe they will just plan to use the money they are not going to be using to take care of veterans medical services...........i know, i know.....have another cup of coffee!!!! LOL

I need to start thinking about thanksgiving.....because these turkeys just keep showing themselves