Terrorism: January 11, 2002


: Fifteen of the 19 hijackers involved in the 11 September attacks were Saudi citizens who entered the US on legal visas (although some never attended the classes they said they were to attend and some overstayed their departure dates). Of those, three got their visas through a new system that the US State Department set up to expedite requests: Visa Express. This system allows foreigners in various countries to obtain visas through travel agents instead of actually going to a US embassy or consulate. Such visas are routinely granted; only a few such applicants are asked to come in for an interview with a US official. Two of the three were tourist visas; the third was for a business trip. In theory, all of these "express" visa applications are run through a computerized database of known criminals and suspected terrorists. But the system is far from perfect. The CIA and FBI often do not share their files with the State Department for fear that this could give away secrets. Arab names are confusing and the same person can legitimately have more than one version of his name. And terrorists are often known to travel under phony documents. --Stephen V Cole 


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