Joel Mowbray

In a sign that new Secretary of State Condi Rice is not yet ready to close the open-door visa policy for Saudis, consular chief Maura Harty was recently asked to say on indefinitely.

No one was more shocked than Ms. Harty herself, according to officials at Consular Affairs, and many officials at State regarded the move?or rather, the lack of one?as an indication that there will be no major ?shake up? at Foggy Bottom.

The surprise renewal of Ms. Harty as head of Consular Affairs delays what earlier seemed like an imminent appointment for her to be ambassador in London.  How long she stays is not yet known, but what is clear is that she will continue to thwart any meaningful reforms at her agency.

A controversial nominee to the post two and a half years ago, Ms. Harty swayed a reluctant Senate to confirm her by pledging substantial reform at the agency responsible for improperly issuing legal visas to all of the 9/11 terrorists.  She has not made good on her word.

Her predecessor, Mary Ryan, was fired after nine years at the position in a bid to mollify angry legislators.  During the drafting of the bill that created the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, Congress came within a whisker of stripping the visa authority from State, which would have been a crushing blow to Foggy Bottom?s power and prestige.

Lawmakers were steamed about a program that Ms. Ryan continued operating in Saudi Arabia for 10 months after 9/11 called Visa Express, which allowed residents in the country that sent us 15 of 19 hijackers to apply for visas at private Saudi travel agents.  On the eve of the first committee vote on taking the visa authority out of State entirely, Colin Powell sacked Ms. Ryan and Visa Express was shuttered.

But Gen. Powell proved he had no appetite for reform, as he appointed the prot? and clone of Ms. Ryan, Ms. Harty, as her replacement.  Ms. Harty, like Ms. Ryan, was a career veteran of the Foreign Service, and was an enthusiastic supporter of the courtesy culture?putting customer service for foreign visa applicants ahead of border security?instituted by her predecessor.

Not only that, but Ms. Harty was a top deputy to Ms. Ryan when many of the 9/11 terrorists received their visas, and she was involved when the agency was developing Visa Express.

Ms. Harty unintentionally indicated to Congress that she had no real intent to reform Consular Affairs when she conceded that she had never looked at the readily-available visa applications of the 9/11 terrorists.  (Applications of four of the terrorists had been destroyed.) 

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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