- The Washington Times - Friday, July 19, 2002

The State Department yesterday said it has apologized to Rep. Dan Burton for interdepartmental e-mails that characterized criticism of its visa policies by him and others in Congress and in the Bush administration as McCarthyism and neo-Nazism.
It also defended its efforts to toughen requirements to enter the United States in an attempt to keep out terrorists.
The Indiana Republican, who was accused of McCarthyism and neo-Nazism in an exchange of e-mails by State Department Foreign Service officers, declined to comment yesterday.
Instead, his spokesman, Blaine Rethmeier issued a statement:
"Congressman Burton is disappointed he is viewed by some at the State Department as being radical. He is only concerned about how best to protect America and Americans from acts of terrorism."
Beyond the reference to Mr. Burton, one e-mail expressed the concern that an ousted State Department consular chief might be replaced not by "a career officer with a balanced approach, but by a neo-Nazi."
Two State Department officials, Mary Ryan, chief of the department's visa section, and Chuck Keil, the consul general in Rome, are retiring amid the controversy over whether visa operations should be transferred to the emerging Department of Homeland Security in the interest of tightening the security operations. Two others have received reprimands over the e-mails.
Inquiries by The Washington Times in preparing its report on the visas in yesterday's editions prompted Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to contact Mr. Burton and apologize.
"[Mr. Armitage] spoke with Congressman Burton yesterday afternoon and made quite clear that we were aware of this issue, that we did not in any way condone or support, did not intend to permit these kind of statements and conduct by State Department employees, and that he would take care of the matter," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
Mr. Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has been especially critical of a de facto policy of automatically issuing visas to Saudi applicants.
Mr. Boucher said the e-mails were sent through the department's system and as such are not private.
"Everyone gets a password and is told they may be monitored" when they use the system, Mr. Boucher told reporters.
"I don't want to make light of this," Mr. Boucher said. "These are serious matters. This building takes them seriously. The secretary of state [Colin L. Powell] takes them seriously. He was furious at the content of the e-mails.
"He made quite clear that they did not represent his opinion of Congressman Gilman or Congressman Burton, nor did it reflect the way that he expected business to be conducted in this building among our employees vis-a-vis the representatives of the people."
Another exchange of e-mails, reported earlier by The Times, ridiculed Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican, as being brainless.
When the e-mails concerning Mr. Gilman surfaced last week, Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, complained to Mr. Powell.
Mr. Boucher said yesterday that Mr. Powell had made clear his views to his own aides, as well as to Mr. Barr.
"On Thursday, he held up the initial set [of e-mail messages] on Gilman that had been written and made absolutely clear to everybody this was not to continue," Mr. Boucher said.
He also noted that the department swiftly condemned the newest e-mails.
The State Department is struggling to retain its control over issuing visas at overseas embassies in the face of challenges by some members of Congress who feel that it failed to prevent the terrorist attacks and should be stripped of the function.
All of the 19 hijackers who crashed four commercial jets September 11 obtained visas legally from U.S. consulates.
So did Zacarias Moussaoui, sometimes called the 20th hijacker, who acknowledged yesterday in an Alexandria courtroom that he was a member of al Qaeda.
Mr. Boucher said that since September 11, some 3 million files have been added to State Department visa warning lists from FBI and other U.S. databases. Those lists are used to screen out potential terrorists applying for U.S. visas.
"By mid-July, 3 million records have been added," he said. "There's a total of 10 million records that will be added, we anticipate, by October."
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, has asked State Department Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin for data on visas issued to Saudis and other nationals at U.S. consulates in Saudi Arabia before and after September 11.
In his answer, Mr. Ervin wrote to Mr. Grassley: "You have raised serious concerns about the potential vulnerability of the visa-issuance process as a result of the 'Visa Express' program."
That program allowed travel agents to obtain visas without the traveler having an interview by a U.S. official.
"On July 2, 2002, Ambassador Robert Jordan advised the State Department that he has ordered the immediate preparation of a plan to move toward interviewing all adult visa applicants and the elimination of the role of travel agencies in forwarding visa applications to the embassy and consulate," Mr. Ervin wrote.
From June 1 to Sept. 10, 2001, Visa Express issued 36,018 visas. Saudi citizens received 64 percent of those visas, but only 3 percent of the Saudis were interviewed.
The National Review reported that three of the September 11 hijackers obtained their visas through Visa Express.


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