Joel Mowbray

Tucked away in a single paragraph near the end of the declassified preliminary report on the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack is the key fact glossed over by most in media and the government: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a valid visa when he boarded his Detroit-bound flight.

The reason is simple: the State Department insists that “possible” and even “suspected” terrorists deserve visas. Denials and revocations are reserved only for known terrorists.

Whether or not “dots” had been “connected,” Abdulmutallab never could have come as close as he did to successful mass murder had the State Department immediately revoked his visa when his father warned U.S. officials about his son’s terrorist ties. Without a valid visa, the young Nigerian would not have been en route to the U.S. in the first place.

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All the more maddening is that this is precisely the lesson we learned from the 9/11 terrorists, none of whom actually qualified for the visas that were nonetheless issued to them. Yet eight years later, the State Department has barely budged its default position that visas are to be issued unless they have a clear reason to deny applications.

Even though Abdulmutallab’s father told U.S. Embassy officials on November 18 that he feared that his son might have terrorist intentions, the al Qaeda operative retained his privilege to enter the U.S.

While the initial visa issuance to Abdulmutallab might well have been legitimate—he is, after all, well-educated and from a successful family—the fact that his visa was not immediately revoked is beyond baffling.

Although a misspelling of the young Nigerian’s name prevented State from identifying his still-valid visa, the report further notes that the father’s warnings would not have been sufficient cause to rescind it. According to the report, “A determination to revoke his visa, however, would have only occurred if there had been a successful integration of intelligence by the CT community, resulting in his being watchlisted.”

This suicidally legalistic approach does not owe to Obama or previous political leadership, but rather to the long-held institutional mindset of the State Department. Using a deeply flawed legal interpretation, State’s position has been that a visa must be issued to qualified applicants, with denials only possible with specific, credible proof that someone can be deemed a security threat.

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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