Joel Mowbray

Defying the axiom that no bungling bureaucrat goes unrewarded, the woman ultimately responsible for the backlog of 2 million passports this year — and who then withheld the truth from Congress — was passed over for a major promotion, and consequently will resign her post early next year.

While the millions whose honeymoons, vacations and business plans were ruined will be pleased that someone has been held responsible, it is U.S. border security that could be the biggest beneficiary of consular chief Maura Harty stepping down.

As head of consular affairs at the State Department, Harty oversaw passports, administration of embassies and consulates, and, most important, visas. It was in visa policy where she continued the path blazed by her predecessor, Mary Ryan, who had made it easier than ever in countries around the world for foreigners to receive visas — often in contravention of the law.

Though visa policy receives little congressional scrutiny, it is a critical component of border security. All 19 of the September 11 terrorists came here on valid temporary visas — despite the fact that at least 15 of the terrorists did not qualify for one under the law.

The terrorists didn't acquire visas through skill or fraud; they simply took advantage of a system rigged to approve almost every Saudi national who wished to come to the United States — a practice that plainly violated the law.

Congress years ago required that all applicants be presumed ineligible until they prove their own eligibility — an intentionally high bar to clear. It was intended to discourage illegal immigration from people who overstay their visas by requiring that applicants show ties to their home country, meaning reasons to return home. But those qualifications also serve to screen out the people most likely to be terrorist operatives: young, single, unattached males.

This provision, however, was turned on its head by Ryan, then by Harty.

Despite being a controversial nominee, Harty was confirmed in 2002 after she pledged to the Senate that she would protect Americans from future terrorists by vigorously enforcing the laws relating to visas. She didn’t.

Rather than tighten visa procedures, Harty oversaw a relaxing of the rules in countries such as Egypt and Pakistan. Even in the country that produced 15 of the September 11 terrorists — Saudi Arabia — approval rates for visa applicants remained stunningly high.

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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