Whistleblower of the year

Michelle Malkin

12/27/2002 12:00:00 AM - Michelle Malkin
A young, tenacious journalist did our country a great service this year by refusing to accept conventional wisdom and the status quo. He blew the whistle on powerful figures of authority, exposed deceit and forced change. But you won't see him celebrated on the cover of Time magazine. That's because Joel Mowbray, a Townhall.com columnist and reporter for National Review magazine and its online counterpart, is too politically incorrect and fearlessly skeptical of official lies to be embraced by the media elite. Mowbray, 26, hammered the State Department and scooped the jaded Beltway press corps with story after story exposing the bureaucratic foul-ups and diplomatic sellouts that led to national security nightmares. Mowbray first targeted Visa Express, a corner-cutting gift program created by the State Department that allowed wealthy Saudi Arabian tourists to obtain visas through travel agencies. Among the recipients: three of the September 11 terrorists. It took relentless questioning from Mowbray before the Bush administration killed the craven program -- ten months after the terrorist attacks. State tried to punish the messenger. In mid-July, Mowbray was physically detained. Not in Beijing or Baghdad, mind you, but in our own nation's capital. Government security guards prevented him from leaving the State Department building after a daily press briefing. Officials leaned on Mowbray to produce a classified memo he had obtained. He refused. Here was a clear act of government intimidation of the press. Shamefully, not a single reporter in the State Department media herd criticized these bullying tactics against a fellow journalist. But Mowbray remained undaunted. He investigated State's Consular Affairs chief Mary Ryan, a Clinton holdover, who "wanted to eliminate the interview requirement for vis a applicants wherever possible." Ryan was forced to resign as a result of Mowbray's whistleblowing. (Mowbray later reported that Ryan received a $5,000 cash bonus, perhaps to soothe the veteran bureaucrat's bruised ego.) Mowbray charged that Ryan "knowingly deceived Congress" by telling lawmakers "that there was nothing State could have done to prevent the terrorists from obtaining visas." He debunked Ryan's bald lie in an exhaustive Oct. 28 cover story for National Review. One of the most underappreciated pieces of journalism of the year, Mowbray's "Visas for Terrorists" article laid out how the State Department violated its own laws repeatedly in allowing at least 15 of the 19 September 11 terrorists to obtain visas. Their applications forms, obtained exclusively by Mowbray, were a deadly mess. Only one of the 15 provided an actual address as required by law -- and that was only because his first application was refused. "The rest listed only general locations -- including 'California,' 'New York,' 'Hotel D.C.,' and 'Hotel.' One terrorist amazingly listed his U.S. destination as simply 'No.' Even more amazingly, he got a visa," Mowbray reported. Another terrorist listed his occupation as "teater" and his travel destination as "Wasantwn." Consular officials ignored a basic provision of immigration law known as 214(b), which holds that almost all non-immigrant visa applicants are presumed to be would-be immigrants and must prove to interviewers that they won't break the terms of their visas. Mowbray concluded: "(I)f the law had been enforced, most of the 9/11 terrorists never would have entered the United States. Most of them were young, single men with no demonstrated means of support, and with few or no ties to their home country -- meaning that they were classic 'overstay' candidates. Given that visa applicants have the burden of proving their eligibility, this raises the question: How did they clear the hurdles the law is intended to put in their path when they were already saddled with forms that could generously be described as sloppy?" Countless red flags in the visa application process were negligently overlooked -- at the expense of 3,000 innocent people. Both the General Accounting Office and the State Department's Inspector General have come to similar conclusions in lengthy reports. State's "existing policies," the Inspector General noted just last week, "remain inadequate." Gutsy and tireless, Mowbray has only just begun. His unyielding pursuit of the truth in the interest of national security may be bad news for the State Department. But it's welcome news for all Americans who prefer pit-bull journalism to the passive puppy act so common in the media today.