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
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
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
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.