- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

A U.S. senator said yesterday that 105 foreign men were wrongly issued visas after the September 11 attacks, and he demanded that federal agencies cooperate with an investigation into what happened.
"The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. "When it comes to terrorists, that can cost lives, and it's unacceptable."
The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, cited a breakdown in the visa-issuing process. According to the report, visas were issued either to men who had insufficient application information or who were on a watch list and should have been denied visas.
But because of a breakdown in communications between the State and Justice departments, the visas were issued anyway, according to Mr. Grassley and the GAO.
The visas were revoked, and yesterday a federal law-enforcement official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that the revocation prevented 100 of the men from entering the United States, while three others were turned away at the U.S. border. Two made it into the country but have since left without incident.
Mr. Grassley, a frequent FBI critic, wrote yesterday to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and the heads of the FBI, CIA and Immigration and Naturalization Service to demand their cooperation as the GAO continues to investigate.
"Any further delay should be considered a roadblock to the constitutional duty of Congress, through the GAO, to conduct oversight," he wrote.
Mr. Grassley's letter follows a report on the 105 errant visas in yesterday's Chicago Tribune, based in part on a GAO report issued last month.
The report, "Border Security: Visa process should be strengthened as an antiterrorism tool," exposed a rift between the State Department and the Justice Department on the requirements for a visa. The State Department argues that it requires specific evidence to prove an applicant ineligible to receive a visa, while the Justice Department argues that the burden of proof is on an applicant to prove he or she deserves a visa.
The GAO also reviewed new procedures put in place after the attacks, including a system called "Visas Condor," which requires certain applications be checked against potential terrorist names in FBI and CIA databases. Men in these groups between the ages of 16 and 45 have to wait up to 30 days for the check before a visa is issued.
However, the GAO found that until recently the check system did not work properly as responsibility for it shifted among the FBI, CIA, the State Department and the multiagency Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force formed by President Bush in October 2001.
By April 2002, the FBI had a backlog of about 8,000 unchecked names from the State Department. Of the 38,000 Condor applications subsequently processed through Aug. 1, about 280 names turned up on the anti-terrorism lists.
The State Department was given a refusal recommendation for 105 persons, but those came after the 30-day hold had expired meaning the visas already had been issued.
In many cases, U.S. officials said the refusal recommendation was made simply because there wasn't enough information available about the applicant. But it remains possible that some of the men had real terrorist connections.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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