Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Sin Concealed – The Visas for Terrorists Program

“The CIA forced me to allow terrorists into the US.”

By J. Michael Springmann, former US Consulate Visa Officer in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Between 1987 and 1989, I had been assigned to what I call the CIA’s Consulate General at Jeddah, principal city of the Hejaz, Saudi Arabia’s western province. While nominally the officer in charge of the consulate’s visa section, I found that, out of some 20 Americans at the consulate, there were only three people (including myself) whom I knew for a certainty to have no ties, professional or familial, to any of the US intelligence services (chiefly, the National Security Agency (NSA) – the communications-intercepting and cipher-breaking arm of the US government – and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – the American organization whose covert operations include spying on and overthrowing lawfully elected governments or, if need be, assassinating their leaders at the behest of US politicians).

The CIA’s Consulate General in Jeddah

Before leaving Washington, I had met with the then-US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Walter Cutler, who spent nearly 45 minutes telling me about all the problems my predecessor had caused him in refusing visas to various applicants. An administrative official in the Near East Bureau, Ellen Goff, also mentioned that there were odd issues involving visas at Jeddah. However, the State Department Desk Officer for Saudi Arabia, in response to my query about these strange statements, said he had no idea of what they were talking about, opining only that Cutler himself was a peculiar duck.

Upon arrival in Jeddah in September 1987, I learned the truth about the situation – very quickly and very unpleasantly. I was bombarded with demands (not requests) by the American Consul General (Jay Philip Freres), the Political Officer and his successor, a Commercial Officer and the head of the Political/Economic Section, to issue visas to people who had no ties (either to Saudi Arabia or to their own country) strong enough to cause them to return to Jeddah or their homeland once they had arrived in America.

When I refused them, because the US Immigration and Nationality Act and the State Department’s own regulations clearly stated that a visa applicant is an intending immigrant unless and until he can prove otherwise, I was repeatedly overruled by the chief of the Consular Section, Justice Stevens. Sometimes, in the face of very real and very vocal threats against me, I issued the visas with a notation on the application form as to why I had refused it and that I had reversed myself only upon direct order of the head of the consulate, Jay Philip Freres. Things got so bad that, on Freres’ order, I wasn’t allowed to issue any visas unless the CIA Base Chief had approved them. As an example of what I had to deal with, the following is but one instance:

Two Pakistanis came to me, seeking a visa to attend a US automotive parts trade show. They could not name the trade show or the city in which it would be held. I then refused the visa. A CIA Case Officer who worked in the Commercial Section called me within a few minutes, demanding that I give them visas. However, he could not provide me with any reason why I should overturn my decision. So I didn’t. But, within the hour, he had contacted Justice Stevens, chief of the Consular Section and had reversed my refusal.

Whistle-Blowing Does Not Advance Careers

I protested this state of affairs to Stevens, to Freres, to Stephanie Smith, Counselor for Consular Affairs at the Embassy in Riyadh, and, on the advice of Smith, to the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department in Washington, DC. I also questioned Jean Bradford, head of the Consular Section’s other office, Citizens’ Services, about this. She told me that Jay Freres “just liked giving candy to babies”. I also discussed this with the part-time consular officer assigned to my section, who professed dislike of the practice. (But then, he frequently issued visas to his own contacts, often saying “Mike, let me handle this next guy in line, he’s one of mine.”)

Mirabile dictu [2], upon my return to Washington, DC in 1991, I was fired. And the file I had maintained on the questionable visa candidates was shredded after my departure from Jeddah.

The Truth Does Not Set You Free

In DC, which I call the State of Confusion, I went to the US House of Representatives’ Committee on International Relations to protest both the visa issue and the CIA’s direct involvement in the visa process. There all I got was: “What’s the matter, don’t you think we need the CIA?” for a response. I also contacted GAO (then, the General Accounting Office, now, the Government Accountability Office), Congress’ investigative arm and watchdog over the Executive Branch. There was absolutely no interest in what went on at Jeddah (including the disappearance of roughly $1 million annually in funds derived from Consulate liquor sales to hundreds of Saudi and other Muslims, as well as to expatriates of all nationalities). [3]

I then contacted the FBI and the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, charging that US laws were being violated by US government employees and that I thought these people had been taking bribes for issuing visas to their contacts. Indeed, I had been told by one fellow that the price of a visa at the Jeddah consulate was the equivalent of $2,500. There was absolutely no interest in or any follow-up on this.

Next, I went to the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and its allegedly-independent Inspector General. I provided a lengthy statement, itemizing the issues and laws violated. I asked that the State Department investigate the abuse of the visa process, the questionable liquor sales, and, in one egregious incident, the Jeddah consulate’s attack on an American businessman who had questioned the money flow from the liquor sales (which had gotten him fired). The response was that, since I had a personality conflict with Jay Freres, there was nothing to investigate.

Freedom of Information (NOT)

Thwarted by the bureaucrats, I turned to the law, filing detailed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Department of State and the CIA about why I had been fired and demanding records referencing me and the visa problem. The CIA simply said it had no information. The State Department delayed its response, as is its practice, eventually providing few useful or even relevant documents and flatly refusing to give me any more, claiming that my requests violated national security.

Unsure how getting fired related to national security, I filed a lawsuit as the FOIA permits. The State Department naturally, delayed its response, and asked the court to dismiss the suit, insisting that I had failed to state any claim upon which relief could be granted. I opposed this and cited specific instances of relevant documents I knew existed and which the State Department had refused to provide (such as a secret report prepared by a team inspecting the Jeddah consulate’s adherence to law and regulation, part of which covered the visa and alcohol issues as well as a telegram I had drafted which informed Washington that the Saudis had been importing Chinese-made ballistic missiles).

The State Department then deluged me with irrelevant records, nearly all of which I had already and which bore no relevance to what I really sought: the Inspectors’ classified report on their investigation of the Jeddah Consulate or the one I had drafted about the Chinese Silkworm missiles or its inclusion in the President’s

National Intelligence Daily Briefing.

Nevertheless, I persisted. I was unemployed and I wanted answers. I kept filing rebuttals to the nonsense which Justice Department lawyers were providing the US District Court Judge, Harold H. Greene.

Eventually, in a series of secret meetings with Greene (from which I, naturally, was excluded, despite my one-time Top Secret Code word security clearance), the State Department convinced him that the court records on my case must be sealed because the lawsuit was “a threat to national security”.

News That No One Else Wanted to Hear

While seeking work and pursuing the FOIA suit, I turned my hand to writing on national security themes. During the course of research on a couple of articles, I learned, through three good sources: Joe Trento (a journalist for the National Security News Service and author of Prelude to Terror ), a former US government employee and a man connected to a local university (both of whom prefer to remain nameless), that what I had thought was a matter of bribes for visas and people pocketing the proceeds of liquor sales in Jeddah was something entirely different. The people to whom I had refused visas were, in reality, terrorists recruited by CIA Clandestine Service case officers (the people who enlist and control spies) and that the liquor business likely funded their travel to the US for training and onward assignment to Afghanistan where they were to fight Soviet soldiers. I also learned the CIA’s partner in all this was Osama bin Laden, who helped set up the recruiting offices in Jeddah, Riyadh (the capital), and the Eastern Province.

Few in the United States wanted to listen to what I had to say. Not the Washington Post. Not the Los Angeles Times. Not The New York Times. Not 60 Minutes. Not Congressman Ben Gilman (whose staffer threatened to set the FBI on me). Not Congressman Tom Lantos (whose staffer told me they already knew about the CIA’s peccadilloes). Unclassified, the magazine of the Association of National Security Alumni, and Covert Action Quarterly published several articles I had authored on the subject but both magazines were not mainstream and both no longer exist. Fox Cable News did have me on for two brief interviews after the CBC, the BBC, and RAI (the Italian radio and television service) hosted me on their news programs. But that was after September 11, 2001.

Trying to Inform an Unwilling FBI

After seeing the airplanes being flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, allegedly by fifteen Saudis who had gotten their visas at the CIA’s Jeddah consulate, Joe Trento suggested I call the FBI about the US government’s visas for terrorists program. I did. For about half an hour, I repeatedly dialed numbers for various offices at the FBI, offering to tell them what I knew about my experience at Jeddah. I was passed from functionary to functionary and given various agencies within the Bureau to call. Finally, I was instructed to contact the FBI’s Washington Field Office. When I did so, I was told that someone would get back to me. Four years later, despite my repeated attempts, I am still waiting. In retrospect, I consider myself fortunate. If they had taken me seriously, perhaps I would be in Guantanamo Bay or someplace else.

Face the Facts, Stupid ... It’s Government Policy

When I went off to Jeddah (and initially after I returned to the US), I quite foolishly trusted my government. I had worked for the Feds in the international arena for some years; I considered myself well-read and well-educated in the field; and I’d had an unfortunately positive view of the CIA.

As the government-stonewalling of my efforts to learn about my firing went on (and after Joe Trento had remarked that the State Department and the CIA wanted inexperienced consular officers assigned to Jeddah – so that they wouldn’t question the visas for terrorists program), I began to realize that my situation wasn’t a misunderstanding, a personality conflict, or an overly-rigorous application of the rules. It was official US government policy to bring terrorists from all over the Near East, the Middle East, and South Asia to Jeddah, the fifth largest visa-issuing post in the region. The objective was to have these dreadful people come to the United States for training, briefings, consultations, or rewards for yeoman service in killing Soviet soldiers.

Cover-Up and Ostrich Positions Continue

Over the 15 years since my sacking by the State Department (which was obviously on orders from the CIA), I have published articles and letters to the editor in various publications, including the Washington, DC Legal Times. I have spoken to groups as disparate as the National Youth Leadership Forum, students at Pennsylvania State University, 9/11 Unanswered Questions, and at American University (in Washington, DC). I have given telephone and radio interviews to small, almost-hobby organizations as well as Eben Rey’s show on a Los Angeles Public Broadcasting System station, KPFK, part of the Pacifica radio chain. I have gotten ink in Greg Palast’s book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Joe Trento’s Prelude to Terror, and Craig Unger’s House of Bush, House of Saud. I am mentioned in page after page on the Internet. I have sent copies of past articles and/or sharply-worded letters on the Jeddah visa mill to a number of politicians, most recently, on December 20, 2005, to John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), Vice-Chairman of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and to Jane Harman (D-Calif.), Ranking Member, US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. If any interest is shown, it is on a par with that usually demonstrated in a discussion about the need to neuter feral cats. Politicians, so far, have ignored what I have revealed to them.

A Hot Button / Cold Shoulder Issue

To me, this is a ‘hot button’ issue. To me, it was enough that the laws of the United States were violated as a matter of public policy. To me, it was enough that terrorists were recruited, trained, and sent off to kill Soviet soldiers. However, it was not enough that the nitwits running the US government created these Frankenstein monsters. Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, they conjured them up without the slightest thought of the consequences. Like the out-of-work gunslingers of the American Wild West or the unemployed soldiers of fortune in the period following the disastrous American war of aggression in Vietnam, the unemployed, oh-so-carefully US-trained terrorists of the Afghan War went looking for work after the USSR withdrew from that unhappy country. The Arab and other governments who supplied the fighters for that conflict were not about to let them return home. After all, suppose they wanted to apply their hard-won skills of blowing things up, shooting things down, or destroying governments in their own countries? The Saudis in particular refused them re-entry. Yet some managed to return. We’ve now seen the results. If the US press can be believed, terrorists obtained US visas from the US Jeddah consulate (and did not share their US travel plans with the US government). They then flew US airplanes into US buildings in the US city of New York. In the illegal and unconstitutional conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, [4] US-trained combatants have killed more than 2,000 US soldiers, if the US government figures can be trusted. [5] Government figures routinely given domestic newspapers claim that the wounded are currently just more than 15,000.)

The Nature of the Beast – Getting Re-Elected

You might wonder how this can happen. Simple, professional politicians, whom Mark Twain called “the only native American criminal class”, have absolutely no interest in anything except getting re-elected. They rely on their staff to tell them what to do and how to do it. And half the staff is composed of teenagers or college students with nothing on their minds except ignorance, arrogance, and résumé-improvement. The other half, at least those connected with the intelligence committees, is made up of former intelligence officers who like things just the way they are.

They, and the bulk of the American people, have Cold War mind-sets which were preserved in amber more than half a century ago. They still see the world in terms of Us and Them and Them threatens Truth, Justice, and the American Way (of making things safe for corporations). Whatever bad things can be done to Them should be done.

And the guardians of the American Way of Life (three cars in every garage and a TV, computer and cell phone for every kid) have their own language to do this. Political assassinations, overthrow of governments, and state-sponsored terrorism are not called such. Rather, they can best be described as color-coded revolutions, complete with flags, marching crowds, and constant vote-counting, just like in Rumania, Georgia, the Ukraine and Lebanon.

The Visas for Terrorists Program Lives On

I am not so sure that the murderers, war criminals, and human rights violators involved in this will ever be caught, named and shamed, or even punished for their actions. Joe Trento has urged me to empty my vials of vitriol, sack my sarcasm, and get on with my life. He’s probably right. But, things are not going to change, especially if I remain silent.

Now that the Cold War is over and nobody won, the US has invented a new enemy, ‘terrorists’, and convinced far too many that additional Clandestine Service officers and activities are needed to combat the people they originally trained years ago.

As President ‘Shrub’ (and his servants in Congress, the US news media, and the American people) wage their War Against Terrorism, I meet more and more well-educated, well-traveled, and well-heeled Americans who have bought this Göbbels-style lie. They rage against the Arabs and the Muslims. They see them all as raving lunatics, mass-murderers, and backward beasts who should be confined to a large desert somewhere. They say that Arabs and Muslims can’t be trusted, have nothing in common with the rest of the world, and belong to a psychotic religion totally out of touch with reality. And that they should be dealt with appropriately, preferably through clandestine assassinations or other illicit means, as one preacher recently urged. [6]

America’s Blind Faith in The President

Looking back on nearly 15 years of trying to set the record straight about what really went on at the CIA’s Jeddah consulate, I wonder if I’ll ever make a difference or effect a change. Besides the unique American mind-set (that blindly follows the President wherever he may go) there is the CIA and an alphabet soup of US intelligence agencies, all with astonishing influence on Congress, the media, and the population at large.

Well, the Bush administration, the CIA, their cheerleaders in Congress, the news media, and the American people now have their new Pearl Harbor. After September 11, and after all the visas given to terrorists at the CIA’s Jeddah consulate, the American government is now empowered to fight Muslims and Arabs wherever they find them, even at home in the United States. Mosques have been surreptitiously checked for hidden atomic bombs. Telephone conversations have been monitored by the security services. People have been ‘disappeared’, just like in a banana republic.

The ‘new’ Pearl Harbor is not unlike the old one, and is not that far from the Rio Grande Incident. President Franklin Roosevelt, the ‘peace candidate’ wanted war with Germany. To get it, he antagonized Japan, a German ally, provoking it with trade embargoes, covert actions in China, and public hectoring. Staking out the Pacific fleet “like a goat” at what was then a forward base, he concealed knowledge of Japanese intentions and naval movements from its commanders. The result was not unlike President James Knox Polk’s successful placing of US troops in the disputed, demilitarized territory between the Rio Grande and the Nueces rivers in the 1840s. After the Mexicans attacked in self-defense, the subsequent war cost them one-half of their country.

Given the American obsession with secrecy and support for out-of-control US intelligence services, we may never know what really happened on September 11. However, as I once mentioned during a CBC interview, it is not too far-fetched to consider that the alleged attack on the United States was more than fortuitous and, given the results favoring the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim groups in America, it cost only a few thousand lives, a pittance in comparison with the alleged benefits so far received: the destruction of Iraq, the collapse of Lebanon, the imminent implosion of Syria and the foothold in the Middle East.

The US Government’s Conspiracy Theory

While I do not subscribe to some of the views that have been expressed regarding Sept. 11, such as use of specially-modified airplanes, the deliberate disappearance of their passengers to unknown locations, or the execution of the Saudi perpetrators after receiving their visas and before boarding the aircraft, I find that the official explanations for what happened that day far more fanciful and bizarre than many other theories.

Certainly, the incident and its aftermath were well planned. Within days: ‘Ground Zero’ and ‘9/11’ became part of everyday speech; the ‘Patriot’ Act zoomed through Congress (without being read); and American soldiers were on their way to Afghanistan. Yes, there was incompetence; yes, there was foreknowledge; and, yes, I think it happened “accidentally on purpose”.

Think back to the Rio Grande, to Pearl Harbor, and specifically to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident wherein two American warships were allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese vessels, giving President Lyndon Johnson his pretext to expand US forces in Vietnam. Remember the leaks about National Security Agency intelligence warnings in advance of September 11? Remember the US ties to Afghanistan and Pakistan and their support for the mujahedeen who were recruited by the CIA and Osama bin Laden?

Being a Pawn in the Visa-for-Terrorists Program

When Joe Trento first raised the idea of my being a pawn in the visas for terrorists program, I couldn’t figure out what the US government’s purpose was – until I talked to my other sources and put two and two together. Now, I am slowly coming to the realization that, in my case, the CIA has been covering up more than getting rid of an annoyance who asked awkward questions. It would have been far easier to leave me alone and let me continue at the State Department without incident. However, making me unemployed, keeping me unemployed (apparently blacklisting me for government jobs), seizing my E-mail accounts, and ensuring that there would be constant demands on any future income, no matter how limited, indicates that there is more here than bureaucratic inertia and case officers with time on their hands.

My difficulties began just before the start of the First Gulf War and have continued through the Second. Therefore, I suspect (but again can’t prove) that there was an intent, if not a plan, to use the visas for terrorists program for long-term goals. That is, the US government aimed at creating an incident which could be used as a casus belli [occasion of war] to extend its control and influence East of Suez. To do that, it needed a cadre of terrorists beholden to Washington. There is just too much coincidence in the whole affair. No one in Jeddah or Riyadh would explain why: Jay Freres (and others) constantly demanded visas; the State Department Inspection Team helped shred my file of visa applicants; Congress and the GAO and the FBI ignored me; and the federal courts sealed my FOIA lawsuit after spending years stonewalling my FOIA requests. That’s an awful lot of secrecy for one little operation in which I happened to play a small part.

History Repeats Itself

Remember … it was a CIA case officer who gave a visa to a blind sheikh who allegedly masterminded the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 1993 [7]. Then there are tales of the visas for terrorists program spread as far as the American Consulate General in Marseilles, I’m told. Remember too, that those who admit the truth about what happened in this scandal will also be forced to admit that their life was a lie, that they actually supported terrorism, and that they will likely be subject to prosecution. And remember that these same people took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

During my more than 20 years with the federal government, the only enemies to the Constitution that I ever met were domestic ones – who worked for the same government I did. Yet, they were promoted. I was fired.



1. Roughly half died on 9/11 and half during the occupation of Iraq ... so far.

2. Latin: “wondrous to relate”.

3. In Saudi Arabia, it is a prison offense which can include flogging, firing and deportation for anyone offering liquor to a Muslim.

4. The US Congress never did declare war against those unfortunate lands.

5. The 19 July, 2005 edition of Stars & Stripes, a Defense Department newspaper, reported that the US Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany had treated 25,000 casualties of George Bush’s War on Terror.

6. ‘Christian’ televangelist Pat Robertson stated last year that the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, should be assassinated.

7. By the name of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman. For the complete story see “Who Bombed the World Trade Center in 1993” by Ralph Shoenman, Global Outlook # 9 (Fall/Winter 2005) pp. 53-56.

J. Michael Springmann was a diplomat in the State Department’s Foreign Service, with postings to Germany, India, Saudi Arabia and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in Washington DC. The published author of several articles on national security themes, he is now an attorney in private practice in the Washington DC area. All rights reserved. Copyright belongs to the author.

Originally published by Global Outlook.


by J. Michael Springmann

The U.S. government claims to be chasing the "terrorists" who flew planes into the World Trade Towers, but it still protects its employees who set the whole program in motion. CIA Clandestine Service Officers and a few State Department officials still draw fat pensions and substantial salaries for running a Visas for Terrorists Program out of the U.S. Consulate General in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the U.S. government entity that provided visas to 15 of the 19 alleged hijackers of September 11, 2001.

Originally set up to recruit and train fighters for Zbigniew Brzezinsky and Jimmy Carter's war of choice in Afghanistan, the Send a Killer to Kabul Caper used CIA resources and assets, such as Osama bin Laden and the State Department, to bring terrorists to the U.S. for training. Once they became adept at shooting things down and blowing things up, the American government sent them on to Afghanistan to kill Russian soldiers. When that war was over, enterprising boys in the CIA's Clandestine Service evidently found other jobs for them, such as inciting clashes between Sunni and Shii in Iraq and in Lebanon.

Strange as it may seem, after so many years and so many deaths, no crusading Mr. Smith has gone to Washington and demanded explanations for what was done and why. The perpetrators of the program aren't hiding. They're in plain sight (or half-heartedly concealed by the State Department).

Jay Philip Freres
, the driving force behind the program and a graduate of the CIA Station at Kabul (1960, 1980), is retired and living in Clearwater, Florida. He's appeared on Fox News (ca. 2002 with Edward S. Walker, Jr., deputy ambassador to Saudi Arabia in 1987), opining about terrorism.

After service at CIA Stations in Bucharest, Bonn (1990), and elsewhere, Eric L. Qualkenbush, the CIA Base Chief at Jeddah (1987-1989), eventually retired and resides in Findlay, Ohio where he once ran a counter-terrorism program at the local university.

Paul Arvid Tveit
, who masqueraded as a Commercial Officer in Jeddah (1987-1989) and held CIA positions at U.S. consulates in Milan and Salzburg (1979-1983), is also retired and living in McLean, Virginia.

Henry Ensher, whose diplomatic cover was "Political Officer" at Jeddah in 1987 has had a full career. After Jeddah, he went on to Muscat in Oman; the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research in Washington; Damascus, Syria as Economic/Commercial Officer (1995); Governance Counselor, Coalition Provisional Authority, Qadisiyah Province, Iraq, 2003; and the CIA Station in Baghdad 2004-2005 (as Deputy Political Counselor). (Unconfirmed reports have also placed him in the Kabul, Afghanistan Station.) He is also currently living in McLean, Virginia. His new position is Director of Political Affairs at the State Department's Iraq Office.

Joseph P. O'Neill
, the man who arranged for the shredding of records kept on the Visas for Terrorists Program at Jeddah, is retired and has been working ostensibly as a re-employed annuitant at U.S. Foreign Service posts in Central Asia. (The State Department, as it does with most CIA staff, declines to provide his contact information.)

Others at Jeddah who were intimately involved with the free pass for killers handed out at the Consulate were Karen Sasahara, Ensher's successor as "Political Officer"(ca. 1988-1990), and Andy Weber ( a "part-time" Consular Officer at Jeddah in 1989; assigned to Bonn Station 1990). He was last seen in the 2002 Public Television NOVA program, "Bioterror", being interviewed by New York Times reporter Judith Miller while he was working as an arms inspector in Russia (1993-1995). Another was Justice (given name) Stevens, chief of Jeddah's Consular Section (ca. 1987-1990), who issued visas to Freres' recruits when the only State Department Officer there refused to do so. The State Department, at least one-third of which works for the intelligence services, declined all inquiries regarding current assignments for these individuals.

Protection for the participants in the Visas for Terrorists Program is deep, strong, and runs all across the U.S. government: the FBI; the State Department's Inspector General; the Government Accountability Office; Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.), now Chairman U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; Jane Harman (D-Calif.), once Ranking Member, U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; were all apprised of the Send a Killer to Kabul Caper and nearly all had been requested in writing to respond. All have declined. Even some of the participants themselves (Qualkenbush, Tveit, and Ensher contacted by phone in 2006 and by letter in 2007), six years after September 11, 2001, and 20 years after their actions helped bring it about, simply do not respond to questions, particularly the one about "Do you regret what you have done?".

As the political satirist, Mark Russell, recently observed, "American governments do not make mistakes; they just keep repeating the same errors." Millions must live and die by these errors.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

9/11 Terrorist Visa Applications

National Review obtained copies of the visa applications submitted by the hijackers.

Click on the names or the images for larger versions.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

NRO : Visas that Should Have Been Denied

Visas that Should Have Been Denied

A look at 9/11 terrorists’ visa applications.

Joel Mowbray | October 9, 2002

The cover story in National Review's October 28th issue (out Friday) details how at least 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers should have been denied visas — an assessment based on expert analyses of 15 of the terrorists' visa-application forms, obtained exclusively by NR.

In the year after 9/11, the hand-wringing mostly centered on the FBI and CIA's failure to "connect the dots." But that would not have been a fatal blow if the "dots" had not been here in the first place. If the U.S. State Department had followed the law, at least 15 of the 19 "dots" should have been denied visas — and they likely wouldn't have been in the United States on September 11, 2001.

According to expert analyses of the visa-application forms of 15 of the 9/11 terrorists (the other four applications could not be obtained), all the applicants among the 15 reviewed should have been denied visas under then-existing law. Six separate experts who analyzed the simple, two-page forms came to the same conclusion: All of the visa applications they reviewed should have been denied on their face.

Even to the untrained eye, it is easy to see why many of the visas should have been denied. Consider, for example, the U.S. destinations most of them listed. Only one of the 15 provided an actual address — and that was only because his first application was refused — and 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.

The experts — who scrutinized the applications of 14 Saudis and one from the United Arab Emirates — include four former consular officers, a current consular officer stationed in Latin America, and a senior official at Consular Affairs (CA) — the division within the State Department that oversees consulates and visa issuance — who has extensive consular experience.

All six experts strongly agreed that even allowing for human error, no more than a handful of the visa applications should have managed to slip through the cracks. Making the visa lapses even more inexplicable, the State Department claims that at least 11 of the 15 were interviewed by consular officers. Nikolai Wenzel, one of the former consular officers who analyzed the forms, declares that State's issuance of the visas "amounts to criminal negligence."

The visas should have been denied because of a provision in the law known as 214(b), which states that almost all nonimmigrant visa (NIV) applicants are presumed to be intending immigrants. The law is clear: "Every alien [other than several narrowly exempted subcategories] shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for a visa, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant [visa]." State's Deputy Press Secretary Phil Reeker recently remarked that 214(b) is "quite a threshold to overcome." It just wasn't for Saudi applicants.

Defying the conventional wisdom that al Qaeda had provided its operatives with extensive training to game the system with the right answers to guarantee a visa, the applications were littered with red flags, almost all of which were ignored. The forms were also plagued with significant amounts of missing information — something that should have been sufficient grounds to deny many of the visas. For example, while all but one terrorist claimed to be employed or in school, only on three forms is the area marked "Name and Street Address of Present Employer or School" even filled out. At the very least, the CA executive points out, "The consular officers should not have ended the interview until the forms were completed."

Any discrepancies or apparent problems that would have been resolved by way of explanation or additional documentation should have been noted in the area reserved for a consular officer's comments — yet this was only done on one of the forms. Which begs the question: Were 11 of the 15 terrorists whose applications were reviewed actually interviewed as State claims?

Though all of the 15 applications obtained by NR should have been denied, some were worse than others. Here are some of the worst:

Wail and Waleed al-Shehri

Brothers Wail and Waleed al-Shehri applied together for travel visas on October 24, 2000. Wail claimed his occupation was "teater," while his brother wrote "student." Both listed the name and address of his respective employer or school as simply "South City." Each also declared a U.S. destination of "Wasantwn." But what should have further raised a consular officer's eyebrows is the fact that a student and his nominally employed brother were going to go on a four-to-six-month vacation, paid for by Wail's "teater" salary, which he presumably would be foregoing while in the United States. Even assuming very frugal accommodations, such a trip for two people would run north of $15,000, yet there is no indication that the consular officer even attempted to determine that Wail in fact had the financial means to fund the planned excursion. They appear to have received their visas the same day they applied.

Abdulaziz Alomari

On June 18, 2001, Abdulaziz Alomari filled out a simple, two-page application for a visa to come to the United States. Alomari was not exactly the ideal candidate for a visa. He claimed to be a student, though he left blank the space for the name and address of his school. He checked the box claiming he was married, yet he left blank the area where he should have put the name of his spouse. Although he claimed to be a student, he marked on his form that he would self-finance a two-month stay at the "JKK Whyndham Hotel" — and provided no proof, as required under law, that he could actually do so.

Despite the legal requirement that a visa applicant show strong roots in his home country (to give him or her a reason to come back from America), Alomari listed his home address as the "ALQUDOS HTL JED" (a hotel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia). Alomari didn't even bother filling in the fields asking for his nationality and gender, apparently realizing that he didn't need to list much more than his name to get a visa to the United States. As it turns out, he didn't. He got his visa.

When he arrived in the United States, he connected with his friend, Mohammed Atta. And less than three months later — on September 11 — he and Atta helped crash American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Hani Hanjour

The most troubling of the applications reviewed is Hanjour's. It appears that Hanjour was the only applicant of the 15 who was initially refused — although this is not entirely clear, because the consular officers did not always circle "Issued" or "Refused" (as required by law) on the other forms. Hanjour had received a student visa in 1997 in order to study English at the ELS Language Center in Melbourne, Fla. On his first of two attempts to obtain a second visa in 2000, Hanjour requested a travel visa for the purpose of a "visit" — for "three years." An unidentified consulate employee, likely a Foreign Service national (a Saudi resident), highlighted the obvious problem with an applicant stating a desire to overstay his visa (the maximum length for a travel visa is 24 months) with an extra-long "visit." The unknown employee wrote in the comment box: "like to stay three years or more!" and circled the remark. That employee or a different one also scribbled something underneath about Hanjour's wish to find a flight school during the trip. This application was refused — but only temporarily.

On the subsequent application filed two weeks later, Hanjour was armed with all the right answers. Rather than stating "AZ, Rent home" as his U.S. location, he gave a specific address, complete with a house number and street name — the only one of the 15 applicants to have done so. On the second go-round, Hanjour applied for a twelve-month student visa, and changed the purpose of the visit to "study" and the desired length of stay to a more appropriate "one year." But so many changes, all of which smoothed out rough spots on the original application, should have troubled the consular officer. "It's never a good sign if someone cleans up his paperwork too well," comments the current consular officer stationed in Latin America.

As disturbing as the visa forms are, perhaps more disturbing is that State's handpicked candidate to be the new chief enforcer of visa policies, Maura Harty, had not even looked at them as of her Senate confirmation hearing last week — yet the Senate is poised to rubber stamp her nomination. That's a real shame, because examining the applications yields many valuable lessons. The most important is that we're not going to keep out terrorists until State figures out that it needs to enforce the law.


9/11 Terrorist Visa Applications

Hani Hanjour, 1997 (~167k file)
Hani Hanjour, 2000 (a) (~205k file)
Hani Hanjour, 2000 (b) (~169k file)
Waleed al-Sherhi, 2000 (~169k file)
Wail al-Sherhi, 2000 (~206k file)
Abdulaziz Alomari, 2001 (~259k file)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Springmann: Consul General Filled Out Visa Applications For Pakistanis With Forged Passports

From an article by Margie Burns in The Progressive Populist:
Panelist J. Michael Springmann, former chief of the visa section in the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia, narrated some of his experiences in the Jedda office.

Instances of procedural failures included seeing the then-Consul General in Jedda, in his office, "filling out visa applications for Pakistanis who had forged passports."

He describes US strategy at the time as "people being rounded up to come to the US for training" against the Soviet Union during its invasion of Afghanistan.

As the man in charge of visas in Jedda, "there I issued visas to terrorists recruited by the CIA."

In one anecdote, "two Pakistanis came to me one day" to apply for visas, presenting forged documents in the application. Springmann denied the application, but his superior "reversed me" after a phone call, "issued the visas, then they took off."

Now in private law practice in Maryland and D.C., Springmann mentioned attempting to publicize the problem after returning to the US but, he said, "Nobody in Washington, D.C., wants to hear about this."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

WaPo : Hijackers Got Visas With Little Scrutiny, GAO Reports

Hijackers Got Visas With Little Scrutiny, GAO Reports

By Dan Eggen | Washington Post Staff Writer | October 22, 2002

At least 13 of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers were never interviewed by U.S. consular officials before being granted visas to enter the United States, according to a congressional report issued yesterday. The finding contradicts previous assurances from the State Department that most of them had been thoroughly screened.

The General Accounting Office also found that, for 15 hijackers whose applications could be found, none had filled in the documents properly. Overall, few applicants from Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates were required to submit to interviews.

The GAO added that more than a year after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the State Department still does not adequately train consular officials and has yet to establish clear guidelines on reviewing visa applications.

Attempts to change have been hobbled by a dispute between the State and Justice departments, which disagree about the evidence required to bar suspected terrorists from the United States, according to the report.

"Weaknesses remain in visa policies and procedures that limit the effectiveness of the visa process as an antiterrorism tool," the study concluded.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to comment yesterday on specifics of the report because department officials had not seen it.

"We look forward to any suggestions the General Accounting Office has about how we can improve and strengthen the visa process, something we've been trying to do since September 11th," Boucher said.

Boucher said ensuring that applications were properly filled out "was one of the things that should have been done that wasn't done."

The findings by GAO, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, represent the latest evidence of problems within the State Department's visa program, which has been criticized as lax and focused on diplomatic concerns. Earlier this year, the chief of the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs was fired, and a program permitting travel agents in Saudi Arabia to forward visa applications was scrapped.

State Department officials said previously that 12 of the Sept. 11 hijackers from Saudi Arabia had been interviewed by consular officials, and that the others probably would not have been denied if they had been interviewed. None of the hijackers' names was included on a terrorist watch list before their entry into the United States.

The GAO report found that all 15 of the hijackers from Saudi Arabia applied for visas in Jeddah or Riyadh; two others applied in their native United Arab Emirates. The remaining two, including ringleader Mohamed Atta, an Egyptian citizen, applied as "third-country" applicants in Berlin.

None of 18 separate visa applications by 15 of the hijackers was completed properly, the report said. Thirteen of the 15, who were from Saudi Arabia or UAE, were never interviewed before being approved for a visa, the report found. Investigators were unable to review the applications for four other hijackers, including Atta, because they were destroyed.

The GAO report provides a revealing glimpse into a continuing feud between officials at State and Justice over visa policy. Robert F. Diegelman, an acting assistant attorney general, told GAO investigators in a letter that the State Department believes that an applicant must be granted a visa unless there is "specific evidence of activities or associations" linking the applicant to terrorists, and that placement on a terrorist tracking list alone is insufficient.

Justice officials say U.S. law "places the burden of proof on the applicant to establish his admissibility," Diegelman wrote.

Online Journal : Our Man in Jeddah

Our Man in Jeddah

By Margie Burns | Online Journal Contributing Writer | July 31, 2004

J. Michael Springmann, Esq., was Our Man in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in the Reagan and former Bush administrations, September 1987 through March 1989. In the American consulate in Jeddah, Springmann was chief of the Visa Section.

Twenty-twenty hindsight has revealed to Springmann that he himself was, involuntarily, one of the no-name functionaries admitting terrorists into the United States. He talks colorfully about his Graham Greene-like experience as a consular official in Saudi Arabia.

The situation was dominated by the CIA. Springmann's key allegation is that he often refused to issue visas to foreign nationals, mostly Saudis, whom he wanted to keep out of the United States—and was frequently overruled by superiors, State Department personnel connected with the CIA, who ordered the visas issued anyway. He has aired this central allegation in several open forums and in private interviews.

Some of the back story is matter of record. During Springmann's two years in Jeddah, Springmann must have processed "forty to forty-five thousand visas," deciding which to issue or deny. Jeddah was then the fifth largest visa issuing post in the Middle East, behind Cairo, Riyadh, and a few other cities.

Under Section 214(b) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, anyone displaying the characteristics of an 'intending immigrant' is supposed to be turned down. Springmann turned down people who had no jobs or only menial jobs; had no ties to Saudi Arabia but applied for visas from there; did not speak English; etc. Sometimes a self-declared "university student" would have no record of having applied to any American university. The Consular Section is open for "Nonimmigrant Visa Services" from Saturday through Wednesday 8:00 to 11:00, closed on American and Saudi holidays. Requirements for a visa are clearly listed on its web site.

Rejected applicants were transparently dubious prospects: "they had menial jobs but could afford their tickets"; or they gave ridiculous or unconvincing reasons for wanting to go to the US; or they had forged documents or inadequate paperwork. Some presented a combination of negatives.

The magic attribute here is temporariness. Visas are issued only for a temporary stay. Most Americans thinking about foreigners applying for admission to this country probably think first of some kind of individual merit, or of humanitarian relief. But in a consulate, the Tinker-Bell fairy dust that gets an applicant into the US is some assurance that he won't stay. Like grandchildren, or hookers depending on your point of view, they show up with the assurance that touches the heart of a minor consular official, namely that they will also be going home. Tenderness is not a desideratum for visa issuers: Springmann comments that some applicants—Ethiopians, for instance—were clearly aiming for some kind of asylum; "hey, you want asylum, talk to the UN."

Springmann appeared on a panel at the June 10, 2002, press conference launching, a 9-11 research group.

As one anecdote runs, "It wasn't one of these things where they wanted to visit their father in America and there was a question of where they worked, that sort of thing. It was basically two Pakistanis came to me one day and said, 'We want to go to a trade show in America.' And I asked, 'What's the trade show?' They didn't know. 'What city is it going to be held in? They didn't know. And I asked a few more questions and I said, 'No. Visa denied. You haven't proved to me that you're going to come to the United States, accomplish your business and then return home.'

"Well, a few minutes later I had a phone call from a CIA case officer assigned to the commercial section. 'Issue the visas.' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Well, it's important they get a visa.' And I said, 'No.' And a few minutes later he was over talking to the chief of the consular section, reversed me, issued the visas, and these guys took off. And this was typical."

Springmann's guess at the time was that "it was basically visa fraud." He thought that "somebody was paying $2,500 bribes to State Department officials. I was ordered by these same high State Department officials to issue the visas, to shut up, to do my job and ask no questions."

"And this wasn't simply a difference of opinion as was alleged later on," after Springmann was fired and tried unsuccessfully to get his complete personnel file through FOIA requests. If you ask Springmann, it was conspiracy: "I issued visas to terrorists recruited by the CIA and its asset, Osama bin Laden." The period overlapped with the CIA's ongoing strategy of supporting bin Laden's mujaheddin, to inconvenience foreign powers including the Soviet Union.

"I had a Sudanese who was unemployed in Saudi Arabia. He was a refugee from the Sudan and I said, 'You don't get a visa.' And he kept coming back and coming back and coming back. And after a bit I started getting calls from a woman I believe was a case officer who was in the political section. 'We need this guy.' And I said, 'No. He hasn't proved to me that he's going to America and he's going to come back, as the Immigration and Nationality Act says and that the State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual says.' Well, in short order I got reversed again and he got his visa for national security reasons. And this went on for a year and a half. I had people, not every day perhaps, but every week."

After the press conference, Springmann agreed to be interviewed. We met at a little raw bar, the Dancing Crab, "just a cut above a dive," a block from the Tenleytown Metro, easy for him to walk to, except for the heat index of about 110 degrees, from his home-office in Northwest DC. Not dealing with James Bond here, but then a consular officer wouldn't be, which seems to be part of the picture behind Springmann's distinctive on-the-job experience as a Rosenkrantz or Guildenstern to the State Department's Hamlet and the CIA's Claudius, caught between the pass and fell incensed points of mighty opposites.

Springmann held several positions in the State Department for about nine years, 1982 to 1991. His first station was New Delhi for two years; then Stuttgart for three years; then Jeddah. After a home leave of two to three months back in DC in spring 1989, he returned to Stuttgart as a political and economics officer for two years.

From there he was assigned to Washington, DC, in the Bureau of Intelligence & Research (INR), an entity probably not a household name, even now—"one of the oldest intelligence organizations going," but dependent on CIA and NSA intelligence. Springmann's description of what they do there, largely, is "take spook stuff and put a State spin on it."

In the more formal language of State, "The Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), drawing on all-source intelligence, provides value-added independent analysis of events to Department policymakers, ensures that intelligence activities support foreign policy and national security purposes; and serves as the focal point in the Department for ensuring policy review of sensitive counterintelligence and law enforcement activities. INR's primary mission is to harness intelligence to serve U.S. diplomacy. The bureau also analyzes geographical and international boundary issues."

In Springmann's plainer language, INR has an office that coordinates CIA covert activities; in other words, State looks at an operation proposed by CIA, supposedly from a foreign policy angle, and either endorses it or not, depending—according to theory—on whether it's a good idea from a policy perspective. Evidently a position in the INR is no sinecure. The body of one INR veteran, John J. Kokal, was found recently near "the Building," with no shoes or coat on. Murky and underreported accounts attribute the death to suicide and suggest a jump either from State's windows, which do not open, or the roof, which is inaccessible. Kokal, whom Springmann did not know, also worked in Near East affairs.

The CIA is the dominant partner. A Foreign Service career has something rather like tenure for a college professor: up or out, after a certain number of years, except for contract workers. Springmann got fired, after being generically assured with others that he would get tenure; as he said, "pretty much all those who could do their job at all, except for the awfulest of the awfulest," stayed on.

People who had come into their jobs after him got tenure; Springmann was terminated within a few months of his posting to the INR; the thumbs-down decision was not preceded by any official warning letter or reprimand; he was fired with maximum abruptness, in effect leaving him no time to respond through bureaucratic channels. Springmann says frankly that he was fired because he talked and asked about those visas issued in Jeddah to CIA-sponsored terrorists, over his objections.

The exact degree of disappointment involved here, for a man who had planned to be career Foreign Service, can be gauged only somewhat subjectively. Springmann sounds more philosophical than bitter, does little or no name-calling and discusses the situation with more humor than anxiety. He had to interrupt a long interview for an hour, to go home to interview a prospective tenant for a room in his house.

Probably many people fired from their jobs, especially in DC, would like to believe that their firing was engineered by the CIA. Springmann has more grounds than most.

Asked how many or what proportion of applicants he refused, Springmann says that depended on the nationality of the applicant. Almost all Europeans received visas when they applied for them, because "no European in his right mind wants to live in the US"—"they always want to go home." Conversely, he refused nearly all Ethiopians, because they almost always wanted to stay in the US. He would get so tired of turning people down, some mornings began with an inward prayer, intense though non-ecumenical—"Please God, send me a European." He says, "I could look at people in a line, after I'd been there a while," and tell by looking whom he would have to reject. Not only Europeans were admitted, of course. With respect to the Gulf countries, "If somebody came in with a good passport and a good cover story"—like, say, the owner of a rug shop in the region who had frequent business in New York—he was generally issued a visa. Papers of the sort known as 'multiple indefinite visas,' on the other hand, allowing frequent re-entry into the US without going through the approval process each time, went "almost always to Europeans."

This policy might be considered racist, and on some level it is, but it is a function of race privilege going much deeper than simple bigotry. Once again, the Europeans' talisman was . . . they went home. Visa applicants from home countries in better condition as living places tend to get preferential treatment, because they can be counted on to return to their home countries. This longstanding policy raises emphatic questions about how 9/11 suspects got multiple-entry visas to enter the US.

Much has been written about "racial profiling" in connection with terrorism and 9-11. Most of the writing, however, has represented the policy questions as an Antigone's bind, the classical Hegelian dilemma of 'Shall we do the right thing and put ourselves in danger, or Shall we protect ourselves and do something wrong?' A similar debate surrounds efforts to extend the USA PATRIOT Act, using the plea of necessity. The bind is more apparent than real, as Springmann clarifies: existing policy would have been sufficient to keep out many of the September 11 hijackers, had it been applied. In simplest terms, most of the 19 hijackers should never have been allowed into the US to begin with, because they displayed the characteristics of "intending immigrants."

"It's very simple. If you're young, unmarried, don't have a job, you're not supposed to get a tourist visa because you're not likely to return. You're very likely to overstay that visa. Several of the terrorists who supplied the muscle to overpower the flight crews . . . should not have been issued visas in the first place."

Under straightforward regulations prohibiting entry by any "intending immigrant," Springmann found himself reversed by his superiors with a surprising number of rejected applicants. He has mentioned the particular example of the Sudanese man more than once: the man was applying from Saudi Arabia but was unemployed there, and wanted to go to the US for unclear reasons. Springmann refused, but "the political officer"—Karen Sasahara, linked with some unspecified entity besides State—"wanted it done." "So the Chief of the Consular Section at the time okayed it."

Karen Hideko Sasahara is now in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. She has been linked with the political interests of the Saudis in other contexts. Patricia M. Roush, an American mother trying to get her abducted daughters back from the Saudis in an international custody case, testified to Congress on June 12, 2002, that Sasahara yelled at Roush when she tried to get State's assistance in the case. (Current State Dept Phone Directory Sasahara, Karen H NEA/MAG 5250 202-647-3614)

Springmann was overruled often enough that he complained about it, sometimes informally, but also formally. He told the DC press conference, "I protested to the Counsel for Consular Affairs in Riyahd. I protested to the Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington. I protested to the State Department's Inspector General. I protested to the State Department's Office of Diplomatic Security. I talked about this to the FBI, to the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, and I went to a couple of congressional committees. And by and large I was told, 'Shut up. You don't know what you're talking about. This is a difference of opinion. You don't know what you're doing. You're far too junior to question the Counsel General in Jeddah's interest in doing this.' He's a guy that was seen sitting in his office filling out visa application forms for Pakistanis with forged passports. He wanted visas for Libyans who had no ties to our consular district whatsoever."

While the number of refused visas is inexact and varies with the nationality of the applicants, Springmann estimates that he rejected "maybe 25 percent at least." Of these, he was reversed on "maybe as many as 100." The rejected applicants were all male; all Muslim; and almost all Arab, except for some Pakistanis and the Sudanese. Most were from other countries than Afghanistan, although "I did get the odd Afghani"—"generally refused"—like the guy who gave as his reason for wanting a visa that "he wanted to visit his money in New York." Denied.

Some applicants were amusingly transparent, humanitarian concerns aside. "We had a picture of Detroit hanging on one wall—came from somewhere, some State Department official left it. Sometimes I'd get an applicant, ask him where he intended to go once he was in the United States. And you'd see his eyes go to the picture of Detroit, and he'd say 'Detroit.'"

Regrettably, Springmann cannot now remember particular names of applicants he turned down. More regrettably, the folder he kept in Jeddah, paperwork on the applicants he turned down who were subsequently issued visas by his superiors, is in the government's custody if it still exists. It has not been turned over to him in response to his FOIA requests.

The DOJ attorney handling Springmann's FOIA matter was Kirsten Moncada, who made the motion to seal. In August 2001, Moncada received the Attorney General's award for Distinguished Service, "for her exemplary and sustained role in providing legal advice and policy guidance, both within the Department and across the Executive Branch, on sensitive issues arising under the Privacy Act of 1974 . . . Her knowledge, dedication, and analytical skill have earned such respect throughout the Federal Government that she is widely regarded as the preeminent Privacy Act expert in the Executive Branch."

"For whatever combination of reasons, Springmann comments matter-of-factly, "Saudis almost never were refused." The extent of this open but quiet policy is suggested by some of the international custody disputes; allegedly Patricia Roush's Saudi former husband, Khalid al-Gheshayan, was able repeatedly to obtain visas to enter the US in spite of an arrest record, diagnosed schizophrenia, and divorce by the US parent.

Evidently this policy was deemed not generous enough at the J. Michael Springmann level, however. By contrast, the independent film Do Not Enter shows some of the persons denied visas to the US during roughly the same period, under the McCarran-Walter Act: Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hortensia Allende, Jan Myrdal, Oscar Niemeyer.

Margie Burns lives in Cheverly, Maryland. She can be reached at

Copyright © 1998-2005 Online Journal™. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Michael Springmann : Email Spying and Attorney Client Privilege: US Government Reads All About It

Email Spying and Attorney Client Privilege: US Government Reads All About It

By J. MICHAEL SPRINGMANN, Esq. | Counterpunch | March 29, 2004

Once upon a time in a country very different from today's, sending an E-mail was like making a telephone call or mailing a first-class letter: the sender had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his message. Today, with terrorists under every bed and a government vowing to search them out and destroy them, no matter the consequences, E-mail users have no expectation of privacy whatsoever. Under the so-called USA Patriot Act, passed but not read by a corrupt, incompetent, and illegitimate Congress, the federal government can and does read all about E-mail messages, including their authors, their contents, and their addressees.

I know this for a certainty. In April 2003, the U.S. Justice Department seized and read the contents of my personal and professional E-mail accounts at America On Line (AOL).

Using the pretext of searching for an alleged Al-Qa'ida gun moll (with three children under the age of 5 years), the Justice Department clandestinely seized and blocked the use of these AOL accounts. The Assistant U.S. Attorneys who did this had no real knowledge of the woman's activities, whereabouts, or connection, if any, with Al-Qa'ida. The Justice Department had no knowledge of, or interest in the welfare and whereabouts of her three children. Indeed, the U.S. Attorneys involved had no reason to believe that I had any contact with her or her children. Yet, on "national security" grounds (which seemed to focus on harassing my client), the Justice Department officials secretly went to a tame magistrate and got a warrant under the inaptly-named Patriot Act to seize and read my E-mail messages. In keeping with the new way of doing things in Washington, the Justice Department never informed me of what it had done.

Suspecting that something was amiss when AOL blocked access to my accounts, I repeatedly called that company, headquartered in CIA-subservient Fairfax County, Virginia. After a month, one of the many voices on the telephone slipped up and told me that a "security override" had been placed on my accounts. Calls to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) brought about a confrontation with one of the Muslim-hating Assistant U.S. Attorneys involved. Under questioning, he told a member of the NACDL's Attorney Strike Force, in very general terms, of what had been done.

What does this mean to me, you ask? Beyond the violation of attorney-client privilege and the invasion of my privacy and that of my correspondents, I no longer have access to my E-mail addresses, since AOL kept them on its computer. And so I cannot inform my contacts that I have a new E-mail provider. I have no idea whether the Justice Department is still reading the E-mail messages sent and received by my correspondents, whose addressees turned up in the seizure of my accounts. Indeed, I continue to have problems sending and receiving messages to my friends and clients around the world with my new provider (which causes me to wonder if the process is not still continuing). And I must explain to clients and potential clients rightly concerned about confidentiality that the U.S. government has read and may still read E-mails to and from them.

Can this be reversed? No. A U.S. District Court judge told me that if I didn't accept the situation, I could file a civil rights law suit. As a solo practitioner, this would not be practical. Can I get help? No. The American Civil Liberties Union has told me that it would be unrealistic to sue the federal government. It also stated that AOL, because of its terms-of-service contract, is judgment-proof.

In Nazi Germany and the old Soviet Union, both run by a better class of people than we now have in public service in the U.S. of A. today, people disappeared; they mysteriously failed to advance; and they suffered from guilt by association. They were informed on by their neighbors; their property was seized without compensation. But, and it is a big "But", this was regarded as wrong, both by the citizens spied upon and by the spies themselves.

Is my situation, that of my client, and that of the alleged gun moll really any different? Yes! In this condition, no one sees a violation of either the letter or the spirit of the federal Constitution. They, and the "they" are generally well-educated, well-traveled, and white, admire the new security processes and procedures. It makes them feel safer, they say.

However, I don't feel safer. I particularly don't feel safer after a well-connected journalist with expertise in national security matters, told me that he suspected the alleged Al-Qa'ida operative and her children are most likely in U.S. government hands but that the feds who have her aren't telling the rest of the alphabet soup of agencies that she and her children are in their custody. After all, this is the government that ran a program, with Osama bin Laden's extensive help, to recruit terrorists in Saudi Arabia, bring them to the United States for training, and then send them on to Afghanistan to murder Soviet soldiers.

You don't have to be crazy to work for Uncle Sam, but it helps.

J. Michael Springmann is a DC-area attorney. He previously spent 20 years in the Foreign Service.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Interview with Alex Jones

Interview of Michael Springmann, Former Consulate officer in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Where 15 of the 19 Terrorist Hijackers Obtained Visas

Alex Jones Radio Show | May 1, 2002 | Partial Transcript [edited for clarity] | original version posted at

AJ: I’m reading from a transcript from the BBC Newsnight report with out good friend, Greg Palast. Let me just read two paragraphs from this then we will go to our guest.
PALAST: Newsnight has uncovered a long history of shadowy connections between the State Department, the CIA and the Saudis. The former head of the American visa bureau in Jeddah is Michael Springmann.

MICHAEL SPRINGMANN: In Saudi Arabia I was repeatedly ordered by high level State Dept officials to issue visas to unqualified applicants. These were, essentially, people who had no ties either to Saudi Arabia or to their own country. I complained bitterly at the time there. I returned to the US, I complained to the State Dept here, to the General Accounting Office, to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and to the Inspector General's office. I was met with silence.

PALAST: By now, Bush Sr, once CIA director, was in the White House. Springmann was shocked to find this wasn't visa fraud. Rather, State and CIA were playing "the Great Game".
Joining us for this newsmaker interview this evening is Michael Springmann. Michael, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Great to have you on the show, Michael.

MS: Thank you.

AJ: Give us a little more about your bio about yourself and then break this incredible story down for us.

MS: Okay. Basically, I’ve worked for the federal government for slightly more than 20 years. First, with the Commerce Department International Foreign Trade Administration and then with the Department of State. I’d been a Consulate officer in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a commercial attaché in New Delhi, India. And on two separate occasions in Stuttgart, Germany, I had been an economic commercial officer and a political economic officer. My last assignment at the Dept. of State was as an economical analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. I dealt with essentially all of Latin America south of the Rio Grande and the Caribbean.

AJ: Impressive bio and on, we have one of the CBC radio interviews that you have done, the (BBC) Newsnight TV interview there for folks to view. And I’m glad we’ve got you here on this long-form radio show so you can really tell the story and how it’s developed, hopefully, in its entirety. Again we are talking to Michael Springmann. How do you get involved in all of this? What really happened? How is it interconnected? Then, of course, what has happened since you started blowing the whistle?

MS: Okay, I’ll try and give you the condensed version since this has been running for about ten or fifteen years now. I had been assigned to the Consulate at Jeddah and the first thing you have to remember is that the Consulate there is essentially a CIA operation of some 15 to 20 Washington-based Americans. There were only three people, including myself, whom I’m certain had no ties to [...] any of the American intelligence services, either professional or familial.

I had gotten some strange questions before I went out to Jeddah from the then ambassador, Walter Cutler, who kept talking about visa problems. And how I should do my best to make sure that everything ran smoothly. Once I got there, I found I was being ordered to issue visas to, as I said in the article, and as you mentioned earlier, to people who really should not have gotten a visa. I’ll give you just one example. There were two Pakistanis who wanted to go to an American trade show in the United States. They claimed they were going with a Commerce Department-sponsored trade mission. These guys couldn’t name the trade show and they couldn’t name the city in which it was being held. When I refused the visa, after a couple minutes of questioning, I got an almost immediate call from a CIA case officer, hidden in the Commercial section, that I should reverse myself and grant these guys a visa. I told him no. Not long afterwards, he went to the Chief of the Consular section and got my decision reversed. And, essentially, in the State Department, the guy doing the interviewing has the first, last and usually the only word regarding visa issuances. He can be reversed if it was done not according to regulation, for example. If somebody comes up with additional information, that’s material, you can push for a change in the petition. But this was one of a pattern.

There was a guy there who I had refused repeatedly from the Sudan. But there were national security reasons to give him a visa. Nobody ever explained to me what they were. A Filipino electrician got his daughters student visas in the United States to go to high school here but he had been helpful to his Consulate. And if you went on, you know, week after week after week, and they got more brazen and blatant about it. And I was told on occasion, well you know if you want a job in the State Department in the future, you will change your mind. And other people would simply say, you can change your mind now or wait until the Consul General reverses you.

I learned later, once I got back to the states, from talking to a journalist, a guy with the local university and a fellow who was retired from the U.S. government, that what I was doing was not complaining about visa fraud, as you had mentioned earlier. It was basically the CIA that had Osama bin Laden recruiting people for the Afghan war and taking them to the U.S. for terrorist training.

AJ: And now we find out, because of Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book, “The Grand Chessboard,” national security advisor for Jimmy Carter and a founding member of the Trilateral Commission, that they actually staged that whole war and got the Afghans to attack the Soviets, to then set up this entire nest and take control of the oil and the other little goodies that grow on top of poppies there. I can’t believe how much these guys are bragging out in the open. I guess they just think we are all totally stupid and they are just going to get away with it.

MS: Well, the American people don’t get the full story. The mainstream press doesn’t want to hear any of this stuff. And it seems to go from bad to worse. I thought that by raising hell and eventually losing my job over making the agency look bad, that all of this had stopped. But fifteen of the nineteen people who had gotten visas, who allegedly were responsible for flying airplanes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Towers, they came from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and got visas at the Consulate there. And ....

AJ: That’s an important point. Folks, I want you to wake up right now, put the Budweiser down, can you repeat that, one more time, for them, please sir?

MS: Sure. According to the Los Angeles Times, fifteen of the nineteen people, the Saudis who were allegedly responsible for flying planes into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon, they got their visas from the Consulate at Jeddah. Now, according to a journalist I know in Florida, this was done through a new wrinkle in the visa procedures there. At the time I was running the visa section, I personally interviewed at least one member of the family or just about everyone who wanted to travel to the States. They had switched things so that the [visa applications] would be submitted, in many instances, through travel agencies, that were approved by the Consulate. And, according to a conversation that I had had with [former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Special Agent] Celerino Castillo, some years ago, on an article I was researching, it was old agency ploy to put passports of his people in with legitimate trade groups or travel groups coming from travel agencies and send them to the Consular section.

AJ: Couldn’t somebody, if it’s just a name at a travel desk or a travel agency, just show up with a fake ID and then board?

MS: Yeah, you could do that. The way it was explained to me is that they would go to the travel agency and say I want to go to the United States - either get me a visa, I have to visit relatives there, I have business there, etc. And they would simply send a package of passports and visa applications over to the Consular section. And because they came from a reputable source, people didn’t look too closely at it, I guess.

AJ: Well, Bush is telling us to give up our liberty for security and we’ll be safe. Meanwhile, leaving the borders wide open and doing all this. And of course, in your interview with the BBC, it all ties back, as well, we really see an acceleration of all this, if I’m going by the transcript correctly, accurately, it all really accelerates with Poppy Bush, Sr., former CIA Director, when he was vice president and president?

MS: Well, yeah, you could say that. I know that when I was in Jeddah, it got to the point where the CIA Base Chief demanded to examine all visa applications that I had approved before I would be allowed to issue the visas. Which I thought was really reaching for it. I had talked to a couple of people in the business, a former CIA case officer, who seemed to think it was kind of a local option as to whether the agency wanted to get that deeply involved in visa issuances. And I talked to a retired Consular officer who said he had been in various posts, and they weren’t quite as blatant about it as they were at Jeddah, but when he was in [garbled], for example, the Station Chief would come over and ask to troll his visa application files, looking for interesting people.

AJ: Amazing, so again, the media would like us to forget that bin Laden was this big hero back during the 80s. In fact, I did a Lexis-Nexis search at the library. This guy, I got dozens of mainstream reports, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, AP, where he’s this little hero from this great freedom fighter family in Saudi Arabia, over there fighting the evil Soviets and then now the media says, no connection, the government never knew bin Laden. But according to the evidence I’ve seen, I’ve read an article from the foreign press and it’s even been in our news, we have bin Laden in July for ten days with the CIA Section Chief, there at the American hospital.

MS: I had heard that from another guy. There must be something to it.

AJ: Well, it was in the Washington Times, Wall Street Journal, first broken in La Figaro over in France, BBC. Go to, in the government prior knowledge section and wade through several hundred articles and there’s a bunch of them in a subsection there. Continuing with this relationship. This was long before, what years was this? You had gotten back, you had gotten out of it and that chain of events, and then you are talking to former government people and journalists there in DC and New York area, and they are saying, on yeah that’s bin Laden’s people you were being told to give the visas to, it wasn’t just a visa fraud issue.

MS: Oh yeah, I was in Jeddah between 1987 and 1989. And there, in fact, was a CIA case officer assigned part-time to the Consular section. He would sit at the visa window with me sometimes. He’d say, "Hey Mike, let me take this next guy in line, he’s one of my people, I want to deal with him."

AJ: Really.

MS: Yeah.

AJ: And so when you get back to the states, I mean, how did your career progress? When did you finally get back and talk to the folks and find all of this out?

MS: Well I found it out after State had terminated my appointment. In fact, I had filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to find out exactly why State terminated me. I was never given any real reason other than the basic, bureaucratic business about "well you just simply don’t measure up, fella".

AJ: So, they tell you in no uncertain terms, hey buddy, grease the skids, we want an open spigot on whoever we want coming through here to the U.S. out of Saudi Arabia, with our good little buddies over there - terror-funding central. And, again correct me if any of this is not accurate. And then you don’t play ball and then they kick you out. You get back to the U.S., when did you start asking questions and finding more out from these individuals you mentioned earlier.

MS: It started, I guess, after I was out of the State Department in ’91 and I guess in ’92 and ’93, I started hearing from the journalists and from the two guys who knew more about what was going on there than I did.

AJ: And, in more detail, what did these individuals in the government positions, what did they tell you?

MS: Well, they pretty much said, flat out, that the agency was bringing these people over for terrorist training. And that they wanted junior officers in the visa section with little or no supervision so that these people would sail on through. Or, if they did question them and did try to go by the Immigration and Nationality Act and the State Department’s own regulations, they could be bounced out if it would appease these guys or (if they were) not with the program, they don’t understand about the Foreign Service, they’re not cooperative, they are not diplomatic, etc. And, as I told people, okay so these guys were wrong. I misinterpreted what they were saying, why has State Department stonewalled me in my request for information all these years? And what was the real reason these guys got visas? Because if there is anything that the State Department fears, truly it's that someone gets a visa that shouldn’t get one. They are afraid of visa fraud, afraid of under-the-table payments. They periodically yank local staff and Foreign Service officers out and prosecute them for doing things like this.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Springmann on CBC Radio

From 911 Review's wiki, a transcript of Springmann's interview with CBC Radio's Rick MacInnes-Rae, broadcast July 3, 2002:

Springmann: Well it began in Jeddah when I was repeatedly told to issue visas to unqualified applicants. This went on for quite some time, during most of my tour there.

CBC: When you say unqualified applicants, what kind of qualifications didn't they have?

Springmann: Under the American immigration laws, you need to demonstrate that you are going to the United States for a specific purpose, and typically in such a situation you are going to sign a business deal, or you're going to go as a tourist to see the Grand Canyon, or you're going as a student to study a particular course of study. And these were people that had no job; in one instance he was a Sudanese, who was unemployed in Saudi Arabia, and a refugee from the Sudan. But he got a visa for National Security purposes, after it was taken out of my hands by the chief of the consular section. The King's barber's secretary apparently got a visa. There were other people in similar situations that really demonstrated no clear idea of what they were going to do.

CBC: All right, King's barber's aside, to be the Devil's advocate your superior from time to time overruled your findings. Why is that unusual?

Springmann: Well it's unusual because in State department practice, you are supposed to have new concrete and substantive information that was not available to the fellow who adjudicated the visa at the beginning. And this was never done.

CBC: So what do you think you were dealing with here; it all sounds a bit like a case of visa fraud perhaps, but why to you think there was anything more than that?

Springmann: Well initially I thought that is what it was. There was visa fraud. I had been told by one contact that the price for a visa at the American consulate was the equivalent of $2500 US. But once I got back to the United States, and was out of the foreign service, I ran across a couple of people with ties to the American government, that told me another story; that the CIA was recruiting fighters for the Afghan war against the then Soviets, and that their asset, Osama bin Laden was working with them. They had a recruiting office in Jeddah, they had a recruiting office in Riyadh, and third one somewhere in the Eastern province. And they would send these people to Jeddah, the fifth largest visa issuing post in the Middle East, for visas. They would apparently run these people straight over from their recruiting office over to my visa window. Well obviously, when they were not good solid businessmen, or good upstanding upper class people I would refuse them.

CBC: How many would you estimate that got into the United States that shouldn't have through this back door?

Springmann: Well, in my case I would say as many as 100.

CBC: And when you questioned them, what would they say were their reasons for expecting to get a visa with such slight credentials?

Springmann: There was one instance of two Pakistanis who came to me, and they wanted to got to an American auto parts trade show. They couldn't name the show, and they couldn't name the city in which it was going to be held. And then the case officer came over and called me on the phone, and said, "Give them a visa". I said "No, it doesn't wash". "Well, we need it, I'm sorry." Then he went to the head of the consular section and got me overruled, and they got their visas. But when I complained to the powers in the consulate, and the people in Riyadh, I was told to keep quiet, that there was reasons for doing this, that it wasn't a case of my poor judgment, it was this and it was that. This simply fueled my suspicions that something untoward was going on.

CBC: Was there ever any pattern to these applicants that you could see? To their situations, their skills, their nationalities?

Springmann: They seemed to basically people with no real skills. Their nationalities for the most part were Pakistani, Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese. They were young, in their 20s and their 30s say, and they seemed to have no ties to any place in particular.

CBC: Where did Afghanistan seem to fit into this whole pattern? Because it seems they were going to the US to collect or be rewarded for some past deed, or to be trained for another. Where did Afghanistan fit in?

Springmann: Afghanistan was the end user of their facilities. My sources told me that they were coming to the United States for training as terrorists, and they would be sent back to Afghanistan. But then the countries that had originally had supplied them certainly didn't want them back. These were people that had been given skills in overthrowing governments, destroying armored columns and things like this, and the various governments in the region frankly didn't want them back, because they thought they might apply these skills at home.

CBC: So if your theory is true, you can demonstrate a relationship between the CIA and Osama bin Laden dating back as far as 1987.

Springmann: That's right. And as you recall, they believe that this fellow Sheikh Abdel Rahman over in New York that was tied to the first Trade Center bombing, had gotten his visa from a CIA case officer in the Sudan. And that 15 or so of the people who came from Saudi Arabia to participate in the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon had gotten their visas through the American consular general at Jeddah.

CBC: Well what does that suggest? That this pipeline was never rolled up, that it is still operating?

Springmann: Exactly. I had thought it had been, because I had raised sufficient hell that I thought they had done it. I had complained to the embassy in Riyadh, I had complained to the diplomatic security in Washington, I had complained to the General Accounting Office, I had complained to the State Department Inspector General's office, and I had complained to the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department. Apparently the reverberations from this where heard all over the State Department.

CBC: And if what you say may be true, many of the terrorists who allegedly flew those planes into those targets got their US visas through the CIA and your US consulate in Jeddah. That suggests an relationship ongoing as recently as September [2001]. What was the CIA presumably recruiting these people for, as recently as September 11th?

Springmann: That I don't know. That's one of the things that I tried to find out through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests starting 10 years ago. And at the time, the State Department and the CIA stonewalled my requests; they are still doing so.

CBC: If the CIA had a relationship with the people responsible for September 11, are you suggesting that they are in some way complicit?

Springmann: Even through omission or failure to act.

CBC: Do you have any evidence, any paperwork from all of these years that might go towards supporting all of this?

Springmann: Regrettably not. I had something at some point. My predecessor in Jeddah had begun a file of people with peculiar attributes who got had got visas. I kept it up, I added to it. I learned later on after I had left, that this file had been mysteriously been shredded.

CBC: But you complained, and you complained and you complained, but what eventually happened to you?

Springmann: My appointment in the State Department was terminated, and I was never given a coherent statement why.

CBC: You will above all will appreciate that conspiracy theories are a dime a dozen these days with regard to September 11th, what makes yours different or any more credible than the others?

Springmann: I have floated around the international affairs community for the past 20 years. I was in the middle of this in Jeddah; I knew people in the foreign service, I knew people out of it, I knew people in the CIA. I had at one time great respect for the CIA, but this operation in Jeddah was so peculiar, so strange, and it went against anything I had ever seen or heard in my 20 years in government, that I thought that what these people were telling me about CIA involvement with Osama, and with Afghanistan had to be true because nothing else would fit. By the attempts to cover me up and shut me down, this convinced me more and more that this was not a pipe-dream, this was not a machination, this was not a conspiracy theory.

CBC: But when you take the events of 1987, when visas were being issued to people unqualified for them, and suggest that happened again to the same people responsible for the attacks in New York and Washington: that's a quantum leap. How do you justify that?

Springmann: For all I know, and for all we know, this might not have been the intended consequence. It could have been a mistake, it could have been a misjudgment. Or for all that we know, it could have been an effort to get the US directly involved in some fashion. I mean it's only a few thousand dead, and what's this against the greater gain in the Middle East.

CBC: But you're quite sure that Mohammed Atta and others had their visas issued in Jeddah?

Springmann: This is what I was told by reading an article in the Los Angeles Times.

CBC: Well, an intriguing tale and we thank you for telling us.

Springmann: You're quite welcome.