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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

Why 9/11 is a Lesson in Bad Government
Anniversary Reading…

[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 9/10/04

Bad government has consequences, a reality all too apparent in 9/11 and Terrorist Travel, Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, a report conveniently buried and largely ignored.

It was released on August 21, a Saturday and the same day the Commission disbanded. The report "does not necessarily reflect" the views of the Commissioners, explains executive director Philip Zelikow. Maybe that is why this document is such an eye opener. It shows how the government, whose primary responsibility is the protection of lives and property, acted like a travel agency for terrorists.

"No agency of the U.S. government thought of border security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal," the report says, "and even after 19 hijackers demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security policy." (emphasis added)

Before 9/11 the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) operated in a "virtual intelligence vacuum" and "few aliens were ever denied a non-immigrant visa on grounds of terrorism in the pre-9/11 era—only 83 in fiscal year 2001." Doris Meissner, who served in the INS from 1981 to 1986 and returned as Commissioner in 1993, had never heard of Osama Bin Ladin until August 2001, nearly 10 months after she left the INS.

An employee who "failed to do his job," a simple check of the watch list, enabled jihadist Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman to avoid detection. The report also explains that "failure by the State Department to promptly put Rahman on the watch list, played a role in his gaining entry to the United States."
The real eye-opener of this report were the visa applications of the 9/11 terrorists. All 19 applications were incomplete in some way, with data fields left blank and questions not fully answered. Every application should have been round-filed. Yet, U.S. officials approved 22 of the 23 hijacker visa applications.

Eight other conspirators tried to get visas during the course of the plot. Three succeeded, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11. The reasons the State Department speeded up issuance of visas in Germany, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, where most of the hijackers got their visas, "has never been adequately explained," the report says. But some lessons seem clear.

A primary role of government is to protect life, liberty, and property. A government that fails to do so should take stock of things it should not be doing, and decline to take on massive tasks such as a national health care program as exists in Canada.

While the ignorance and incompetence detailed in the report has deadly consequences for Americans, the fallout for government employees seems rather different. How many lost their jobs over 9/11? That too remains to be "adequately explained."

9/11 and Terrorist Travel makes for alarming reading but there is more. According to an August 30 report by the Department of Homeland Security, many of the air marshals assigned to protect flights sleep on the job, tested positive for drugs while on duty, lost their weapons, and falsified information. Most of the marshals involved in these lapses of duty were placed on leave, with pay. Rewarded with a vacation, in other words.

Yes, actions have consequences. When you work for the government, that truth has two meanings. CRO

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute




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