Terry Jeffrey
On what may be the eve of a war with Iraq, the State Department is still issuing nonimmigrant visas allowing citizens of Iraq and other terror-sponsoring states to visit the United States. Between June 1 and Feb. 23, says the State Department, it issued more than 19,000 visas to citizens of the seven countries the department lists as states that sponsor terrorism. More than 11,000 of these visas were issued to citizens of the five terror-sponsoring states in the Middle East -- including 5,849 to Iranians, 3,673 to Syrians, 1,042 to Iraqis, 1,037 to Sudanese, and 188 to Libyans. In addition, 7,281 went to citizens of Cuba, and 375 to citizens of North Korea. These terror-state visas continue to be issued even though Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert S. Mueller recently reaffirmed that "terrorists and their state sponsors have emerged as the primary threat to our security." Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 11, Mueller said, "The seven countries designated as State Sponsors of Terrorism -- Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Cuba and North Korea -- remain active in the U.S. and continue to support terrorist groups that have targeted Americans." Mueller said, "The greatest threat is from al Qaeda cells in the U.S. that have not been identified." But they are not the only threat. "Baghdad," he said, "has the capability and, we presume, the will to use biological, chemical or radiological weapons against U.S. domestic targets in the event of a U.S. invasion." "I am particularly concerned," he said, "about loosely affiliated terrorists and lone offenders, which are inherently difficult to interdict given the anonymity of individuals that maintain limited or no links to established terrorist groups but act out of sympathy with a larger cause." In May, Congress passed the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act on the theory it was addressing this issue. The law said, "No nonimmigrant visa . . . shall be issued to any alien from a country that is a state sponsor of terrorism unless the Secretary of State determines, in consultation with the Attorney General and the heads of other appropriate agencies, that such alien does not pose a threat to the safety or national security of the United States." A State Department official described how this has been put into practice. All citizens of terror-sponsoring states are interviewed by U.S. consular officers and required to fill out a "supplemental" visa application called a DS-157. The information gleaned is sent to Washington, D.C., where it is circulated among federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies. If adverse information about the applicant is discovered by one of these agencies -- e.g., he is linked to criminal or terrorist activity -- the visa is denied. If not, and the applicant meets all the requirements he would have to meet if he were from any other state, the visa is approved. The rub: If a terrorist is not already on the radar screen of a U.S. intelligence or law enforcement agency, he is not likely to be screened out by this system. The State Department's new form -- the DS-157 -- will catch the scrupulously honest or gullible terrorists. I downloaded a copy from the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria. Question 14 asks applicants to check either the "yes" or "no" box next to this question: "Do you have any specialized skills or training, including firearms, explosives, nuclear, biological, or chemical experience?" Next to the little answer boxes, it says: "If YES, please explain." Wonder how Mohammed Atta would have answered that one? To be fair, State shoulders a daunting burden. It must process visa applicants not only from terror-sponsoring states but also from other Middle Eastern states not listed as terror-sponsors. Joseph D'Agostino, my Human Events colleague, reported in September that in the year following the 9-11 attacks, State issued 125,700 nonimmigrant visas to citizens of all Middle Eastern countries excluding Israel. Of those, 17,237 went to Saudi Arabians, and 20,206 went to Egyptians -- the two countries that produced the 9-11 hijackers. Surely, most visitors from terror-sponsoring states are good people -- and, in the case of the Iraqis at least, a State Department official says many likely have been living outside their country for some time. But the question for U.S. policymakers should be: Does whatever benefit we get from allowing these good people to visit in the midst of the war on terrorism outweigh the risk that a few terrorists might slip in with them?

Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

Be the first to read Terence Jeffrey's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com delivered each morning to your inbox.

©Creators Syndicate