Reading the 9/11 Commission Staff Reports: Chapter 3
Below are some excerpts from Chapter 3: Terrorist Entry and Embedding Tactics, 1993 to 2001. That chapter describes the various techniques used by terrorists to travel not just between foreign countries, but to enter and remain in the U.S. It provides several examples of the different ways that terrorists have done the latter: using several visas, overstaying visas, using student visas, getting married to U.S. citizens, applying for asylum, ad infinitum. The common theme is that they were very familiar with our immigration policies, and they used loopholes and lack of enforcement to their advantage.
Quoting from Page 46:
Although there is evidence that some land and sea border entries without inspection occurred, these conspirators mainly subverted the legal entry system by entering at airports.4 In doing so, they relied on a wide variety of fraudulent documents, on aliases, and on government corruption. Because terrorist operations were not suicide missions in the early to mid-1990s, once in the United States terrorists and their supporters tried to get legal immigration status that would permit them to remain here, primarily by committing serial, or repeated, immigration fraud, by claiming political asylum, and by marrying Americans. Many of these tactics would remain largely unchanged and undetected throughout the 1990s and up to the 9/11 attack. Thus, abuse of the immigration system and a lack of interior immigration enforcement were unwittingly working together to support terrorist activity.
That was pre-9/11. But, have we learned our lesson? See the earlier posts "Potential terrorists released due to lack of jail space, congressman says" and "Why don't you let us do our jobs?" for an answer to that question.
Continuing with the report, in the sidebar 'Exploring the Link between Human Smugglers and Terrorists' (p. 61)
We have already seen that documents are critical to terrorists-they are needed by those wishing to plan and carry out attacks. Documents are similarly critical to human smugglers, who have access to document vendors able to obtain genuine passports and visas from corrupt government officials. [Footnote 151 quoted below] Corrupt officials are also paid off to allow illegal migrants to pass through travel and security checkpoints.152...
Finally, there are uncorroborated law enforcement reports suggesting that associates of al Qaeda used smugglers in Latin America to travel through the region in 2002 before traveling onward to the United States.155 To date, only one human smuggler with suspected links to terrorists has been convicted in the United States. [Footnote 156 quoted below]
Footnote 151: One smuggler, Salim Boughader-Mucharrafille, smuggled Lebanese nationals sympathetic to Hamas and Hizbollah into the United States and relied on corrupt Mexican officials in Beirut, Mexico City and Tijuana to facilitate their travel. Specifically, Boughader obtained Mexican tourist visas from an official at the Mexican embassy in Beirut to facilitate the travel of humans to Mexico...
Footnote 156: Boughader was charged with human smuggling and sentenced to 11 months in prison. After serving his sentence he was deported to Mexico where he was arrested along with several other members of his smuggling ring. They face criminal charges and if convicted could serve lengthy jail times.
The 'Ajaj and Yousef: A Case Study in Fraud' sidebar (p. 47) contains too much to quote, but it's a must read:
Upon [WTC1 perpetrator] Ajaj's arrival at Kennedy [International Airport], the immigration inspector noted that he was traveling on a photo-substituted Swedish passport. Ajaj was sent to secondary immigration inspection, where he claimed he was a member of the Swedish press.12 His luggage was searched and officers found a partially altered Saudi passport and a passport from Jordan, the documents supporting their alias identities, a plane ticket and a British passport in the name of Mohammed Azan, bomb-making manuals, videos and other material on how to assemble weapons and explosives, letters referencing his attendance at terrorist training camps; anti-American and anti-Israeli material, instructions on document forgery, and two rubber stamp devices to alter the seal on passports issued from Saudi Arabia.13 The immigration inspector called an agent on the FBI Terrorist Task Force to tell him about Ajaj, but the agent declined to get involved, instead requesting copies of the file. The inspector also called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which was "not interested..."14
Ajaj was detained then jailed for six months for using an altered passport. Then... well, read the rest for yourself.
There's a summary of this chapter in "Al-Qaeda 'travel agency' revealed".
I excerpted part of Chapter 4 here, and I'll return with a longer post later.
Other excerpts from the report are in the extended entry. Click MORE directly below to read them.
Once terrorists had entered the United States, their next challenge was to find a way to remain here. Their primary method was immigration fraud. [The next names are perpetrators of the 1993 WTC attack --LW] For example, Yousef and Ajaj concocted bogus political asylum stories when they arrived in the United States. Mahmoud Abouhalima, involved in both the World Trade Center and landmarks plots, received temporary residence under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers (SAW) program, after falsely claiming that he picked beans in Florida. [Footnote 7: His application was later denied. Abohalima was indicted as an accessory after the fact for assisting the WTC1 attackers.] Mohammed Salameh, who rented the truck used in the bombing, overstayed his tourist visa. He then applied for permanent residency under the agricultural workers program, but was rejected.8 Eyad Mahmoud Ismail, who drove the van containing the bomb, took English-language classes at Wichita State University in Kansas on a student visa; after he dropped out, he remained in the United States out of status.9
Atlantic Avenue Subway Plot, July 1997. Gazi Ibrahim Abu Mezer committed serial immigration fraud during his planning to destroy the Atlantic Avenue subway in Brooklyn with explosives in 1997.49 Mezer was arrested on his third illegal entry into the United States along the northwest border with Canada. He asked to be deported to Canada, but Canada refused to accept him. He then filed a political asylum claim in the United States and was released on bond. Mezer withdrew the application, claiming he had returned to Canada when in fact he was in Brooklyn. His co-conspirator, Lafi Taisir Mufleh Khalil, was originally issued a C-1 transit visa; but upon his arrival at JFK Airport in New York, the immigration inspector incorrectly treated him as a tourist, which allowed Khalil to stay in the United States for six months. Khalil overstayed his visa and was arrested along with Mezer on July 31, 1997, the morning of the planned attack50.
Thus, despite evidence that difficulties with travel documents restricted terrorist movement, no agency of the U.S. government was analyzing terrorist travel patterns or immigration abuses before 9/11.62 Because the government simply did not know what it knew, it missed opportunities to disrupt terrorist mobility and, therefore, terrorist operations. Conversely, by 2000, when al Qaeda began inserting participants in the September 11 plot into the United States, their operational knowledge of our immigration, visitor, and border systems was considerable.
Document vendors provided al Qaeda with a wide range of bogus and genuine documents and were valued for their forgery skills. Through these vendors, al Qaeda operatives had access to an "impressive range of fraudulent travel, identification and other documents," including passports from countries in almost every region of the world, travel cachets, blank visas, foils, stamps, seals, laminates, and other material.122 Some of these forgers are dedicated to al Qaeda's cause and tend to be located along main travel routes; others are interested only in profit.123
Corrupt government officials have facilitated terrorist travel by selling genuine travel documents. Ramzi Yousef, convicted of attempting to blow up a tower of the World Trade Center in 1993, claimed he bought an Iraqi passport from a Pakistani official for $100.124 Two of the 9/11 hijackers, Waleed and Wail al Shehri, reportedly received new Saudi passports from a relative in the passport office.125 Al Qaeda also relied on bribery to get passports and the special plastic used inside them to protect biographical information.126 Moreover, corrupt officials have been known to take bribes at the border from a terrorist lacking proper documentation.127
There is also evidence that terrorists used human smugglers to sneak across borders.129 Smugglers were typically paid to make all logistical arrangements, including mode of travel and lodging, and to pay off corrupt officials if necessary.130 A typical smuggling scheme aided jihadist youth wanting to travel through Iran to Afghanistan to train in al Qaeda's camps.