The deadly failures of the visa waiver program.
Visas are a component of border security. While much has been made about the need to erect a fence along the U.S. / Mexican border to enhance border security, an effectively administered visa program in essence, moves America's borders out to the U.S. embassies and consulates in countries around the world where the visa applications for aliens seeking entry into the United States are processed.
Most terrorists who have been identified, entered the U.S. through ports of entry.
An effectively administered visa program essentially moves America's borders out to the U.S. embassies and consulates around the world where our consular officers adjudicate applications for visas. Aliens who are unable to secure a visa are not only not able to legally enter the United States, they are not even able to board airliners destined to the United States- keeping them as far from our shores as possible.
The very first paragraph of the preface of “9/11 and Terrorist Travel - Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States” makes that nexus between visas and border security crystal clear:
"It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country. Yet prior to September 11, while there were efforts to enhance border security, no agency of the U.S. government thought of border security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Indeed, even after 19 hijackers demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security policy. We believe, for reasons we discuss in the following pages, that it must be made one."
Apparently bowing to pressure from a number of deep-pocketed lobbying organizations- especially the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the United States created the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that strips our nation of a vital layer of security and a half dozen specific ways that the visa requirement can enhance airline safety, national security and the safety and well-being of America and Americans.
My recent article for FrontPage Magazine, “Inviting Catastrophe Through Our Ports of Entry” focused on the deadly threats posed to the homeland by aliens engaged in crime and terrorism who game the legal immigration system. My article included an analysis of the way the Visa Waiver Program undermines national security and enumerated the specific benefits to national security and public safety are lost because of the VWP.
On September 11, 2001 citizens of 26 countries were able to enter the United States under the auspices of the Visa Waiver Program. That ill-conceived program should have been terminated the day after our nation was attacked- but wasn't. The Visa Waiver Program should have been terminated after the 9/11 Commission report made it clear that our nation needed to tighten up the process whereby applications for visas are adjudicated. Once again, this did not happen. In fact, since the attacks of 9/11 the number of countries that participate in the VWP has increased to 38 countries. It is estimated that currently each year some 20 million foreign visitors enter the United States without visas as tourists authorized to remain in the United States for up to 90 days.
In the wake of the recent terror attacks in Paris, on November 30, 2015, in response to the ever increasing threats to the United States posed by terrorists, the White House posted a document on its official website, “FACT SHEET: Visa Waiver Program Enhancements.”
The White House document noted in part:
New Changes Announced Today
Given the terrorist attacks in Paris and the ongoing threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters, the United States is aggressively strengthening its Visa Waiver Program and bolstering our relationships with VWP partners by immediately moving forward on the following administrative actions:
DHS will immediately take steps to modify its Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) applications to capture information from VWP travelers regarding any past travel to countries constituting a terrorist safe haven. The Director of National Intelligence, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security, will identify and regularly review these countries so that traveler risk assessments can be made on the most up-to-date information.
The Department of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of State and other appropriate agencies will accelerate its review process for VWP partner countries and within 60 days, will provide a full report to the President:
Identifying possible pilot programs designed to assess the collection and use of biometrics (fingerprints and/or photographs) in the VWP to effectively increase security; and
Identifying any countries that are deficient in key areas of cooperation, along with recommended options to engender compliance using a range of penalties and incentives available under his current authority including the more frequent submission of ESTAs and/or the suspension of ESTA issuances (new and/or renewals) for citizens of countries that fail to meet key metrics.
The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation will evaluate the terrorism information sharing that occurs between the United States and VWP countries, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security, and provide a report to the President of the United States within 60 days identifying options to mitigate any deficiencies.
The supposed “modification” to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application includes additional questions about past travel to countries that provide safe haven to terrorists.
Does the administration expect terrorists to provide specific information about their travel and, for good measure, the training that they received in bomb-making, beheading and hijacking? Maybe they are expecting the terrorists to provide copies of their transcripts to show how well they did in their training.
This lunacy goes beyond being naïve!
But now we come to find out that things are far, far worse than we could have imagined.
It's hardly a shock that the administration would fail to notify Congress and misrepresented material facts, nevertheless it is disconcerting to consider just how vulnerable we are.
The administration has failed to hold more than one-third of the VWP countries accountable and has failed to notify Congress about the lack of cooperation by the participating countries to share information about terrorists.
These are among the findings of a GAO report made public on June 6, 2016, “VISA WAIVER PROGRAM: DHS Should Take Steps to Ensure Timeliness of Information Needed to Protect U.S. National Security.”
The title of that report was understated and bland. However, The Washington Free Beacon published an article about the GAO report with a more appropriate and certainly more disconcerting title, “Oversight Report: Foreign Nations Still Not Sharing Info on Terrorists With U.S.- DHS failing to report security gaps to Congress.”
The “gaps” noted in the title of that report are big enough for a fleet of hijacked airliners to fly through.
Here is an excerpt from the Washington Free Beacon article:
The (GAO) report determined that “more than a third of [visa waiver participant] countries are not sharing terrorist identity information” and that “more than a third of the countries have not yet shared criminal history information.”
A similar number “were not sharing identity information about known or suspected terrorists” required by current agreements.
This failure is partly because DHS has failed to put in place a congressionally mandated timeline by which these foreign nations must comply with U.S. laws governing the visa program.
“Contrary to standard program management practices, DHS did not establish time frames for instituting the amended requirements,” the report found, noting that a December 2015 law requires such a timeline.
“Time frames for working with [visa waiver] countries to implement their agreements could help DHS enforce U.S. legal requirements and could strengthen DHS’s ability to protect the United States and its citizens,” according to the report.
The Obama administration has additionally failed to provide Congress with required information about the visa waiver program and potential security gaps, according the report.
Perhaps this is about placating the infamous U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Certainly it would appear that the administration has actually partnered with the Chamber and its “Discover America Partnership.”
The U.S. State Department's website provides a thorough explanation of the Visa Waiver Program. Incredibly that website also provides a link,“Discover America,” which relates to the website of The Corporation for Travel Promotion, which is affiliated with the travel industries which are a part of the “Discover America Partnership.”
This organization refers to itself as a “public-private marketing entity” and provides this description:
The Corporation for Travel Promotion, now doing business as Brand USA, was created in 2010 to encourage travellers from all over the world to visit the United States of America. The public-private marketing entity works in close partnership with the travel industry to maximise the economic and social benefits of travel in communities around the country. Through its website, Discover America, Brand USA will inspire travellers to explore America’s boundless possibilities.
What an unholy affiliation this is -- truly a “marriage made in hell.”