- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

Did the 19 suicide terrorists present their Middle Eastern visas at the American and United ticket counters as they boarded the

planes to blow up the World Trade Center?

Hardly. What they undoubtedly presented were legal drivers licenses issued by state Motor Vehicle Departments throughout America.

That document was no different than licenses issued to American citizens, with no notation that they were merely visitors not even legal immigrants. In fact, it was the perfect ID for terrorists. It even had the photo required by ticket counters at all airports.

The drivers license is the perfect ID for someone seeking to fade into the American landscape to commit mayhem. It doesn't reveal that you are a foreigner, or where you're from. You can use it as your "American ID" rather than your suspect Middle Eastern passport anywhere. It serves a terrorist, or a potential one, in renting a car, cashing a check, getting an ATM or credit card, signing a lease and even to show to a policeman if you are stopped.

Of course, that was before September 11. Surely no potential terrorist can walk into a motor vehicle department today and get a drivers license that would fool an airline, a cop, or anyone else. That would be sheer bureaucratic negligence.

Guess again. Almost all 50 states are still roadblocks to internal security.

They have made little or no changes in their license procedures since the tragedy. In fact, they are still the avenue that enables the Middle Eastern Fifth Column to live comfortably in America and even to board a plane to commit mayhem.

At present, a study of almost all the states, done with personal interviews and internet description of state MVD requirements, indicates that only one state Connecticut now restricts giving drivers licenses to foreign visitors, some of whom are still in the U.S. as "sleepers" for the bin Laden network. Some states even insist on it, more concerned about policing drivers than in national security.

"We require that any resident of California, and that includes foreign visitors here on a temporary visa, must get a drivers license within 10 days of setting up residence in the state," says a spokesman of the California Department of Motor Vehicles an example of the security laxity of the states.

Surprisingly, this California mandate gives an advantage to potential terrorists from the Middle East. While our European friends travel without a visa and can stay only 90 days, Saudis (home of most of the terrorists) can stay for two years in six months portions.

What does California, like most states, require for ID from foreign nationals to take the driving test and get a license? First a valid passport and visa ("Record of Arrival/Departure form 194 with unexpired passport," the law states.) Then to prove residence, a bank account, ATM card, utility bill. Of course, you need not be a resident in most states, just prove who you are.

Almost all states have one requirement that sounds like a hurdle, but it isn't. They require a Social Security number. Foreign visitors merely have to go to the Social Security local office and get a letter that they are not eligible to work, then present it to the MVD. In Tennessee, you merely have to sign that you do not have a Social Security card.

(As the General Accounting Office has shown, there is also a traffic in paper-thin, easily duplicated Social Security cards, even in quite legal ones which have been stolen.)

Despite the emergency, New York State is one of those who have remained adamant in helping potential foreign terrorists obtain a drivers license. The only significant change made by New York since September 11 is that one can not easily exchange a license from another state. But a foreigner can still get a license by producing a valid passport and visa, which gives the applicant 3 of the 6 points needed. The other three, at 1 point each, are easily obtained ID such as a utility bill, a health insurance card, an ATM card, a bank account, the last two easily obtained by using your passport and visa, as the Bank of New York verifies.

New Jersey restricts foreign visitors from obtaining a drivers license, but only half way. "We grant licenses to B1 visa holders, but not to B2 tourists," says a New Jersey MVD spokesman. Unfortunately, the state has the mistaken notion that the B1 is based on documentation that the visitor is here for business. "We do not require any documentation that the visitor is coming for business before issuing a B1 visa," says a State Department spokesman.

Each state has its own requirements, but almost all want proof of birthdate, which appears on almost all foreign passports. In addition, they want a local ID, which is now easy to obtain. The sad story is that our states have little concept of internal security and are still handing out drivers licenses the perfect American ID as if it were Halloween candy.

Without the legitimate driver license, it becomes exceedingly difficult for a terrorist to fade into the American landscape and plan destruction. The fact they can still obtain licenses is a sign of negligence and ignorance by the governors of almost all states of the Union.

What should we do?

All states should immediately change the law to prohibit holders of B1 or B2 visas those held by almost all terrorists from receiving drivers licenses. The only exception should be for foreign students or those who come here to work. After a thorough background check. they should be able to obtain a license, but one of a different color than normal with a notation which country they're from.

Since we're ostensibly at war, you would think the various governors would stop politicking for a moment, wake up and smell the emergency.

Martin Gross is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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