AP - War on Terror. Not enough evidence of terror screening, government says.
War on Terror
Not enough evidence of terror screening, government says
July 31, 2005
BY LARA JAKES JORDAN
WASHINGTON -- Homeland Security Department officials cannot prove they are adequately screening Saudis for terrorism-related risks when they seek entry into the United States, congressional investigators have found.
A report issued Friday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded that the department's visa security officers, stationed in Riyadh and Jeddah, do not compile comprehensive evidence of their security checks.
The visa officers in Saudi Arabia ''provided anecdotal evidence of their contributions to the visa process,'' the GAO report found.
However, Homeland Security ''does not maintain comprehensive data on the results of their activities, such as the number of cases for which [visa officers] recommended refusal, and thus is unable to fully demonstrate the program's overall impact on visa operations,'' the report concluded.
The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who executed the Sept. 11 attacks were born in Saudi Arabia. Shortly after the attacks, critics charged the State Department with being too lax in issuing visas to Saudi nationals.
As part of creating the Homeland Security Department in 2002, Congress stationed visa security officers in Saudi Arabia for a required review of all visa applications before they could be approved by the State Department. The Homeland Security officials have access to law enforcement and immigration information that diplomatic staff readily lack, and they provide advice and training to consulate employees.
Congress appropriated $10 million for the visa security officer program this year, and Homeland Security has requested $15 million for 2006 to expand it to other U.S. embassies and consulates.