Rubber-stamping visas

Posted: Oct 16, 2002 12:00 AM
What does it take to get fired from a federal job? Apparently, admitting terrorists into the country won't do it, even when they fly into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. That's the unmistakable conclusion you draw after reading the current issue of National Review. Investigative reporter Joel Mowbray produces documentary evidence that State Department employees violated their own rules and procedures -- as well as the law -- by admitting 15 of the 19 hijackers who killed more than 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001. Yet, to date, no one has been fired as a result of this terrible breach in security. Mowbray obtained copies of the actual visa applications of 15 of the hijackers, several of which are posted online at Most of the applications did not pass muster under even the most lenient visa standards. The applications were missing rudimentary information, such as an address in the United States where the applicant intended to live, in some cases even a destination city. Amazingly, one applicant listed his destination simply as "No." As Mowbray points out, "even more amazingly, he got a visa." In other words, despite missing or suspicious information, consular officials rubber-stamped them anyway. Shouldn't somebody pay for such incompetence -- what one expert interviewed by Mowbray called "criminal negligence"? So far, no one has. Although three of the top five State Department officials in charge of the visa program retired earlier this year -- within weeks of an earlier expose written by Mowbray -- that hardly seems sufficient. Heads should roll at State, but they haven't. Ironically, the administration is pressing for the right to dismiss incompetent workers as part of its proposed Homeland Security legislation. But Senate Democrats have so far blocked the bill, at the bidding of their patrons in the labor movement, who put union job security above national security. The Democrats should be ashamed of themselves -- but the administration shouldn't be let off the hook, either. The White House has been slow to endorse a full-scale investigation into the lapses in national security that contributed to the September 11 tragedy. We deserve to know what went wrong and why. If the consular officials processing visa applications had done their job, none of the 15 hijackers profiled in National Review would have been admitted in the first place. Up and down the line, those in charge of protecting American interests were asleep at the switch. But is there any reason to believe that things have changed in the aftermath of the terrible attack on this country? Not according to Mowbray. The Bush administration's nominee to head Consular Affairs, which oversees the visa program, admits she hasn't looked at the faulty applications of 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers, though surely those applications were more readily available to her than to an outside reporter. Accountability used to mean something. When a government official said, "I take full responsibility," after a massive foul-up, a letter of resignation was sure to follow. If he didn't resign, he was summarily fired. Now, we're not even supposed to question who's to blame. This shouldn't be a partisan issue. Do Democrats really want to bear the risk of keeping inept employees in sensitive positions? Shouldn't the White House want a full accounting of which agencies -- and individuals -- missed opportunities to foil the vicious attack that lost so many lives? Perhaps some of the 15 hijackers would have found other ways to enter the United States if the officials in charge of reviewing their applications had denied them visas. Hundreds of thousands of others come here illegally every year simply by sneaking across the border. But that is no reason to ignore the deadly errors made by State Department officials. The president shouldn't wait until the Senate gives him new authority to rid the bureaucracy of incompetence. He should start by firing anyone in the direct chain of command who let in these murderers. That's the only way to make accountability mean something.