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The GAO also determined that many naturalization cases were adjudicated without INS ever locating or reviewing the applicants’ files.

Within six weeks of Mr. Aleinikoff’s favorable testimony, INS Commissioner Doris M. Meissner forwarded a memo to field offices saying problems with the plan no longer could be ignored. She called for upgraded fingerprint checks, supervisory reviews and the implementation of a quality assurance program.

Michael W. Cutler, a retired 31-year INS senior criminal investigator and intelligence specialist, said that under CUSA, the Clinton administration had “thrown caution and common sense to the wind” just three years after terrorist attacks on the CIA and the World Trade Center. He said the program constituted “a level of malfeasance that left me utterly outraged.

“In the two attacks of 1993, many of the aliens involved had made use of immigration fraud to enter the United States and embed themselves in our country,” Mr. Cutler said. “Had the administration learned the lessons of the attacks of 1993, in terms of how the terrorists had gamed the immigration system, the horrific attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, might well have been averted.”

In January 1993, two CIA employees were killed and three others wounded in a shooting near the entrance of the agency’s Langley headquarters. A month later, al Qaeda terrorists detonated a bomb under the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000.

Mrs. Meissner authorized CUSA to reduce a three-year backlog of pending naturalization applications to within six months. To reach its goal, INS increased its work force, opened new offices dedicated to adjudication and engaged new processing strategies to streamline the naturalization process.

But the inspector general’s report said hundreds of newly hired adjudicators were superficially trained and unprepared for anything but routine cases. It said they worked without adequate supervision, including in New York, where 100 new workers reported to only six experienced employees.

According to the report, many were led to believe it was quantity, not quality, that mattered, and inquiries they made were limited by a lack of applicant criminal-history checks and permanent files. It said a centralized fingerprint-clearance center that opened in June 1996 was “poorly planned, poorly timed and insufficiently staffed.”

The report also noted that INS officials misled Congress with inaccurate assurances about the extent of processing errors. It said the inaccuracies were often the product of “insufficient care in gathering the requested information” and INS’ desire “to project the agency’s work in a most favorable light.”