Despite uncovering this plot a year ago, homeland security officials did absolutely nothing to stop the TWOV program until last week. In the meantime, more than a million airline passengers (accounting for roughly five percent of all foreign nationals entering the country by plane) were routed to American airport hubs under the TWOV program. Citizens from some Middle East state sponsors of terror, including Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan, were not eligible. However, foreign nationals from several terrorist-exporting countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan, were free to participate.
The program waived visa requirements for passengers who were ostensibly passing briefly through the U.S. on their way to final destinations abroad. Airlines were responsible for guarding and escorting passengers in transit, and were supposedly liable for damages when they couldn't confirm that program participants have actually departed the country. But the fines were negligible.
Moreover, since the Immigration and Naturalization Service did not maintain arrival and departure records on a majority of these transiting passengers prior to the program's suspension -- and since the agency's interior-enforcement staff remains overwhelmed and understaffed -- the airlines were essentially off the hook for passengers who left the airports and never came back.
Secretary Ridge, explaining the feds' year-long inaction on NBC's "Meet The Press" last week, pooh-poohed the TWOV program as "a little door." While patting himself on the back for closing the small opening temporarily, Ridge's department is now quietly soliciting advice from the airline and travel industries on how to restore the program. And Ridge has assured travel industry money-grubbers that it won't touch an even larger door into the U.S. -- the Visa Waiver Program -- for foreign travelers from more than two-dozen nations.
How many of these visa-free travelers over the past year violated program requirements, overstayed their visits, and remain in the country today doing God knows what? The feds have no idea.
Homeland security: Still selling out . . . and flying blind.