“Connecting The Dots- The Nexus Between Immigration And Current Terrorist Threats”
Michael W. Cutler, Senior Special Agent, INS (Ret.)
I will begin today’s commentary with a quote and a question: “Who said it?”
Here is the quote:
It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country. Yet prior to September 11, while there were efforts to enhance border security, no agency of the U.S. government thought of border security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Indeed, 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. We believe, for reasons we discuss in the following pages, that it must be made one.
As for who said it, that quote is actually the first paragraph of the preface of the The 9/11 Commission Staff Report on Terrorist Travel
The purpose of my commentary today, is to provide you with what is clearly unsettling information- the fact that the administration has taken the unprecedented measures of closing nearly two dozen embassies and consulates in the Middle East and North Africa because of what has been declared reliable information about credible threats of al-Qaeda terror attacks that may target those embassies or consulates or may, in fact, ultimately target U.S. interests anywhere in the world.
Additionally the State Department issued a world-wide alert for Americans traveling anywhere in the world. Americans are advised to be aware of their surroundings and to somehow be careful. How helpful is that really?
In point of fact, the potential exists that terror attacks may be carried out inside the United States. While the coverage of the threat has occupied quite a bit of airtime on many of the news programs, not one single program has talked about the nexus between this latest threat of terrorism focusing on the United States and immigration and the role that DHS should and, in fact, must play in protecting the United States even though the 9/11 Commission identified failures of the immigration system as not only having enabled and facilitated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 but also in enabling other terrorists to enter the United States and embed themselves.
Perhaps, once again, the narrative of the need to provide lawful status to unknown millions of illegal aliens trumps the reality of the situation. This commentary will go where the news media won’t.
It is interesting that DHS is an acronym for the Department of Homeland Security, yet it is not even being mentioned by the media or the administration.
The 9/11 Commission Staff Report on Terrorist travel detailed numerous examples of instances where terrorists not only made use of visa and immigration benefit fraud to enter the United States but to also embed themselves in the United States. Page 47 of this report noted
Once terrorists had entered the United States, their next challenge was to find a way to remain here. Their primary method was immigration fraud. 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.
This paragraph is found on page 98 under the title “Immigration Benefits:”
“Terrorists in the 1990s, as well as the September 11 hijackers, needed to find a way to stay in or embed themselves in the United States if their operational plans were to come to fruition. As already discussed, this could be accomplished legally by marrying an American citizen, achieving temporary worker status, or applying for asylum after entering. In many cases, the act of filing for an immigration benefit sufficed to permit the alien to remain in the country until the petition was adjudicated. Terrorists were free to conduct surveillance, coordinate operations, obtain and receive funding, go to school and learn English, make contacts in the United States, acquire necessary materials, and execute an attack.”
US-VISIT is the program that is supposed to track the entry and departure of foreign nationals (alien) who enter the United States as non-immigrants. The Immigration Reform Act of 1996 established the creation of US-VISIT as a priority. The 9/11 Commission mandated that US-VISIT be implemented because it recognized this essential capability as being inextricably linked to national security.
(Of course what has never been discussed or required is that ICE have the resources and mandate to actually seek to locate, arrest and seek the removal of aliens who violated the terms of their admission in the United States.)
The continuing instances of ineptitude, incompetence and corruption of the DHS has caused me to come to refer to that screwed up agency as the Department of Homeland Surrender! Let me make it clear that the vast majority of employees of the various component agencies of the DHS understand the true importance of their missions and desperately want to do an effective job. In fact, the union leaders who represent these employees have gone public and have been crystal clear in their frustration with the administration’s failures to not only provide resources and leadership to help these dedicated officials do an effective job, but are enraged that through executive orders and policy statements that our immigration laws are not only not being enforced but hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens have been granted employment authorization and official identity documents without even subjecting these illegal and undocumented aliens to an in-person interview.
On July 30, 2013 the Washington Times published a truly disturbing report:
Here is how this important report begins:
The Homeland Security Department has lost track of more than 1 million people who it knows arrived in the U.S. but who it cannot prove left the country, according to an audit Tuesday that also found the department probably won’t meet its own goals for deploying an entry-exit system. The findings were revealed as Congress debates an immigration bill, and the Government Accountability Office’s report could throw up another hurdle because lawmakers in the House and Senate have said that any final deal must include a workable system to track entries and exits and cut down on so-called visa overstays.
The government does track arrivals, but is years overdue in setting up a system to track departures — a goal set in a 1996 immigration law and reaffirmed in 2004, but which has eluded Republican and Democratic administrations.
It is interesting to note that the focus of the report was how this failure to track the departure of one million foreign visitors might adversely impact Comprehensive Immigration Reform yet it blithely failed to note that what is of greater importance is that the failure to track the departure of one million nonimmigrant visitors poses a threat to national security! Remember, the implementation of an effective tracking system, known as US-VISIT, was a key mandate of the 9/11 Commission!
Here is a somewhat different title that I would have given the story: “Homeland Security loses track of 1 million foreigners: America’s national security seriously compromised”
Let me also reiterate the point that even if DHS had a list of aliens who failed to depart the United States when they were supposed to, ICE lacks the resources and the administration lacks the resolve to do anything about it!
The news report notes, both Democratic and Republican administration have failed to get this vital program up and running effectively.
Here is an additional excerpt from the report:
Outside business groups and Republican donors are trying to breathe life into the push for getting an immigration bill through Congress this year.
Nearly 100 top donors and former party officials signed a letter Tuesday pleading with House Republicans to pass a bill legalizing illegal immigrants, saying it could open the door to earning immigrants’ political support.
“Doing nothing is de facto amnesty. We need to take control of whom we let in our country and we need to make sure everybody plays by the same rules,” the donors said in their letter.
They aimed their pitch at House Republicans, who are trying to figure out a way forward and find themselves trapped between rank-and-file Republican voters who say legalizing illegal immigrants is an amnesty, and the party’s elites and donors who say the party cannot survive nationally without embracing legalization as part of a strategy to win over Hispanic voters.
It is outrageous that donors, who know how to make money but know nothing about national security, are able to get powerful politicians to parrot their slogans as though they were hawking a detergent or weekend in Las Vegas?
Let’s set the record straight- what is a de facto amnesty is what we now have because the administration not only refuses to arrest illegal aliens but seeks all sorts of excuses to provide them with identity documents and employment authorization!
On July 27, 2006 I testified before the House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims on the topic:
Here is a link to a video of a segment of my testimony before that hearing provides crystal clarity about my grave concerns about the nexus between any such amnesty program and the damage it would do to national security:
Going back to the focus of the Washington Times article and the fact that one million aliens have gone missing- this is not a new problem. In fact, On May 11, 2006 I testified before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on International Relations on the topic:
In May, 2010 I was interviewed by CNN’s Casey Wian for a report that was titled,
On May 10, 2010 I was interviewed by Daniel Gonzalez, a reporter with the Arizona Republic for an news report titled,
This commentary could end here, but I want to provide you with as much information as I can about how the failures to effectively enforce our immigration laws undermines national security.
This is a lengthy piece but the seriousness of the situation demands that you be provided with meaningful facts. I ask you take the time to carefully review the information I will provide in this article- knowledge is power!
When an airplane crashes investigators from several agencies go over the wreckage with the proverbial fine-tooth comb. If the aircraft is equipped with black boxes that record cockpit conversations and technical data about engine performance, flight controls and other such systems, those recorders are recovered and the vital data extracted. The manifest of the cargo and the list of passengers may be scrutinized to determine if the passengers and/or cargo in the belly of the aircraft, if there are any questions as to whether or not a crime or, perhaps, terrorism was involved.
When the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttles suffered catastrophic failures, commissions were convened to determine what went wrong.
The goal for all of these investigations is simple- to make certain that everything is done to make certain that history not be allowed to repeat itself.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 the 9/11 Commission was convened to determine how the terrorists were able to enter the United States and then go about their deadly preparations.
The 9/11 Commission, to which I provided testimony, found that the failure of the State Department to uncover fraud in the visa applications filed by the terrorists and the failures of the former INS to properly scrutinize several of the terrorists during the inspections process when they arrived at ports of entry, enabled them to enter the United States.
I remind you that the very first sentence of the preface of the 9/11 Commission Staff Report on Terrorist Travel stated:
It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country.
The importance and simplicity of this statement should obviate the need for discussion or clarification, yet a debate is raging in Congress as to whether or not the borders of the United States need to be secured before unknown millions of illegal and undocumented aliens be provided with lawful status and as a consequence, with official identity documents that would constitute “breeder documents.”
A “Breeder Document” is a document that is believed to be of such a secure and credible nature that once issued such a document, the bearer of that document can use it to obtain a suite of other important documents such as Social Security cards, driver’s licenses, credit cards, library cards (which can be used to provide access to the internet at libraries). The significance of these documents should be self-evident. They permit the bearer to gain access to airliners, jobs, corporate and government office buildings and facilities and, in general, easily move about the United States freely. In the parlance of the 9/11 Commission, when such breeder documents are fraudulently obtained and used by terrorists, this tactic is known as embedding or “hiding in plain sight.”
On May 20, 1997, more than four years before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I participated in my first Congressional hearing. That hearing was conducted by the House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims and was entitled:
This important hearing was predicated on two terrorist attacks that were carried out more than four years earlier, in 1993 by aliens from the Middle East who, as was determined, gamed the visa process and/or the immigration benefits program.
In January 1993 a Pakistani national by the name of Mir Kansi stood outside CIA Headquarters with an AK-47 and opened fire on the vehicles of CIA officials reporting for work on that cold January morning in Virginia. When the smoke dissipated, two CIA officer lay dead and three other were seriously wounded. Kansi fled the United States and was ultimately brought back to stand trial. He was found guilty and executed for his crimes. He had also been granted political asylum and had been subsequently found to have lied on his application, thereby committing a felony, fraud. Had the fraud been detected and had he been deported from the United States, those who were killed and wounded would not have been harmed.
Just one month later, on February 26, 1993 a bomb-laden truck was parked in the garage under the World Trade Center complex and detonated. The blast nearly brought one of the 110 story towers down sideways. As a result of the explosion, 6 innocent people were killed, hundreds were injured and an estimated one half billion dollars in damages were inflicted on that iconic complex of buildings located just blocks from Wall Street. That attack was also carried out by alien terrorists who managed to not only game the visa process in order to enter the United States but the immigration benefits program that enabled them to remain in the United States and embed themselves as they went about their preparations to carry out that attack.
On March 21, 2012, the Huffington Post published an extremely disturbing article that was entitled:
The basis for the Huffington Post article was a hearing that was conducted that day by the House Committee on Homeland Security that is chaired by Congressman Peter King of New York, the topic of the hearing was:
Here is how the Huffington Post article began:
WASHINGTON — Iranian-backed Hezbollah agents, not al Qaeda operatives, may pose the greatest threat on U.S. soil as tensions over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program ratchet up, according to the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
“As Iran moves closer to nuclear weapons and there is increasing concern over war between Iran and Israel, we must also focus on Iran’s secret operatives and their number one terrorist proxy force, Hezbollah, which we know is in America,” said New York Rep. Peter King at a Wednesday hearing of his committee.
The hearing, which featured former government officials and the director of intelligence analysis for the New York Police Department, follows a foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, D.C., and testimony by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in late January that Iran’s leaders are “more willing to conduct an attack inside the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.”
Opening the hearing, King said, “We have a duty to prepare for the worst,” warning there may be hundreds of Hezbollah operatives in the United States, including 84 Iranian diplomats at the United Nations and in Washington who, “it must be presumed, are intelligence officers.”
In case you missed what Congressman King said in the quote from the news article, here it is again:
Opening the hearing, King said, “We have a duty to prepare for the worst,” warning there may be hundreds of Hezbollah operatives in the United States, including 84 Iranian diplomats at the United Nations and in Washington who, “it must be presumed, are intelligence officers.”
I have testified before well over a dozen Congressional hearings. Perhaps the highest profile hearing I for which I have been called to testify was on March 19, 2002 when I joined three other witnesses at a Congressional hearing that was convened by the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, on the topic:
The hearing was called when it was discovered that two of the 9/11 terrorists had been granted authorization by the INS, to attend flight school six months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001!
C-Span has posted a video of this hearing.
You would likely expect that after the incredible ineptitude demonstrated by this that DHS would make certain that this sort of outrage would never be permitted to happen again.
On August 2, 2012, CAPS posted my commentary. It focused on a troubling GAO report that and a CNS News report about the ensuing Congressional hearing that disclosed among other facts, that the TSA had permitted 25 illegal aliens to attend a flight school that was owned by an illegal alien!
On September 10, 2012 CAPS posted my commentary
The focus of this commentary was the utter lack of integrity to the process by which foreign students are admitted into the United States. According to the GAO there are currently some 850,000 foreign students present in the United States and some 10,000 schools are authorized to provide training to foreign students. Most of those schools have never even been visited by ICE personnel!
Let us also consider the arrest of a former translator who had worked for a subcontractor that provides translators for the United States Army:
On Friday, May 24, 2013, “The Blaze” and “My San Antonio,” reported on the arrest of an individual by the name of Wissam Allouche by the FBI and members of the JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force) in San Antonio, Texas, for lying on his application for naturalization to acquire United States citizenship.
While his application for naturalization was approved and he was arrested and indicted for committing fraud in filing that application years ealier- what no one has pointed out is that in addition to successfully gaming the naturalization process, he had been a lawful immigrant for years. He had a Green Card for at least three years before he applied for United States citizenship He did, in fact successfully beat the immigration system at least a couple of times! It is vital to understand that the lack of integrity to the process by which aliens are granted lawful status in the United States- including resident alien status and United States citizenship poses an immediate and direct threat to national security.
The title for the Blaze headline was a true attention grabber:
“Infiltration? The Alarming Details Surrounding Alleged Hezbollah Member’s Arrest in Texas”
Here is an important excerpt from the article:
The federal indictment revealed Allouche had married a U.S. citizen and was going through the naturalization process when he was arrested. When asked by officials if he had ever been associated with a terrorist organization, he replied no. That apparently turned out to be a lie.
According to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, he was a militant with the Amal militia in Lebanon in the early to mid-1980s. He was reportedly captured as a Israeli prisoner of war, but was later released to become a commander of the Amal militia.
“News reports at the time said Hezbollah was formed by religious members of the Amal movement,”the Express-News notes.
In addition to lying about his terror ties, Allouche is also accused of lying about his relationship with his ex-wife. He falsely claimed on his application forms in 2009 that he and his wife were married and living together for the past three years. In reality, they had no lived together since May 2007 and they filed for divorce in December of 2007.
Here is a link to Allouche’s indictment:
On Wednesday, May 29, 2013 both of those newspapers published follow-up reports in conjunction with disclosures made by prosecutors during the bail hearing. Here are the links to these news reports:
Here is a quote from the latest “My San Antonio” news report about Allouche:
Allouche was arrested by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force here last week after being indicted on charges of not disclosing, during his quest to obtain his U.S. citizenship, his membership in the Amal militia and Hezbollah in Lebanon in the 1980s.
He’s also charged with not disclosing his prior membership in those groups when he applied for a security clearance with the Defense Department as he sought a contracting job.
Before 2009, Allouche worked for L-3 Communications, which provides linguistic services for the U.S. military, and he was deployed for several months to Iraq. He has lived in the U.S. since about 2002, and once owned Windcrest Mobil, a gas station at Walzem Road and Interstate 35, his lawyer said.
In view of the charges lodged against Allouche, it would be important to know what the vetting process was that enabled him to be put in a position of trust.
I would be greatly concerned about what documents or people he may have had access to. Did he come to meet with covert officers whose identities must be preserved? Did he meet with suspected terrorists and, perhaps, have the capability to alter what the record reflects that they did or did not say? Might he have learned the identities of foreign nationals who for whatever reason decided to become cooperators? Has this endangered their lives and the operations that they were providing information for?
Let us now consider yet another example of ineptitude that is beyond description or comprehension.
The Inspector General that has responsibility for the Witness Protection Program, conducted an audit of that program and found gaping holes in the system. While it is important for the government to protect witnesses whose testimony and information is vital to conducting successful investigations and prosecutions of criminals and terrorists, it must also be remembered that witnesses can themselves, pose a threat to public safety. The Witness Protection Program is commonly known by an acronym, WITSEC that stands for “Witness Security.”
Perhaps the important WITSEC program should henceforth be referred to “WITLESS Security!”
Here is the headline from the most recent example of galactic incompetence by our government, this time where WITSEC is concerned, as it appeared in the Atlantic Wire article:
The Atlantic Wire article provided a link to the CNN report which contained even more details. Here is the link to the CNN article:
Here is how the CNN report filed by Jake Tapper begins:
The U.S. Marshals Service lost two former participants in the federal Witness Security Program (WITSEC) “identified as known or suspected terrorists,” according to the public summary of an interim Justice Department Inspector General’s report obtained by CNN.
The Marshals Service has concluded that “one individual was and the other individual was believed to be residing outside of the United States,” according to the summary.
A Justice Department official said in response to follow up questions about the matter by reporters that the pair had left the program years ago and had been accounted for.
Let’s stop and give the claims by the Marshal Service a bit of thought. They said that the two terrorists had been accounted for but yet they only believe that one of the terrorists is now residing outside the United States while they apparently know the other one is also residing outside the United States. What exactly does this mean? Do our officials have any idea as to where they truly are?
If this is disturbing to you- and it certainly should be consider this quote from the article:
As of March 2013, the Justice Department was reviewing more than 18,000 Witness Protection Program case files to determine whether more known or suspected terrorists have been admitted to the program, the summary notes. As such, the number of terrorists lost or unaccounted for “may not be complete and may continue to evolve.”
The IG summary said that although the Marshals Service was giving known or suspected terrorists who participated in the WITSEC program and their dependents new names and identity documentation, the Justice Department “was not authorizing the disclosure to the Terrorist Screening Center,” which operates the terrorist watch list that helps provide information to the Transportation Security Administration’s No-Fly and Selectee lists. “Therefore it was possible for known or suspected terrorists to fly on commercial airplanes in or over the United States and evade one of the government’s primary means of identifying and tracking terrorists’ movements and actions,” the summary said.
This is something that should stop everyone in their tracks! The Witness Security Program (WITSEC) is an important program that is used by the United States government to protect the lives of criminals and terrorists and others who come forward to provide vital information about criminals or terrorists to protect them from reprisals. In some instances these witnesses were co-conspirators who committed crimes alongside those that they ultimately came to provide evidence against. Their lives and the lives of their families are endangered when the former cohorts find out that those providing the evidence against them had previously worked with them.
WITSEC is an important program and one that I am familiar with, having spent 30 years with the former INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service.) Without WITSEC it is unlikely that people would come forward to provide evidence against their former “colleagues.”
One of the tactics commonly employed by WITSEC is to move cooperating witnesses far from the cities where they had previously lived and worked and provide them with brand new identities. This is done to help make it far more unlikely that those who would kill these witnesses would be able to find them.
However, some of these witnesses may well still pose a threat to public safety. While some witnesses are not criminals or prone to violence, there are those who do pose such a threat. Some witnesses had been members of organized crime groups and participated in murders and other crimes of violence.
Some of these witnesses, as it turns out were known terrorists.
The next time you are standing online to be searched before boarding and airliner, give some thought to the sentence from the news report that explained how dangerous the incompetence of the government is:
“Therefore it was possible for known or suspected terrorists to fly on commercial airplanes in or over the United States and evade one of the government’s primary means of identifying and tracking terrorists’ movements and actions,”
If this sort of incompetence was part of a movie it would not be believed. Yet, this is what has seemingly come to pass for “business as usual” where our government is concerned!The bottom line is that USCIS is currently processing applications without face-to-face interviews for hundreds of thousands of DACA applicants and that every year that beleaguered and thoroughly inept and overwhelmed agency processes more than 6 million applications including more than a half million applications for United States citizenship.
On Thursday, May 2nd, I was interviewed by Megyn Kelly of Fox News about the immigration component to the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing. Fox News Insider posted a video of the interview with the title:
Here is how Fox News Insider paraphrased the interview:
Michael Cutler, former special agent for INS, joined Megyn Kelly this afternoon to discuss what he believes is a failing system regarding immigrants and the student visa program. He believes the case of Azamat Tazhayakov, arrested for allegedly helping Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by disposing of possible evidence, illustrates this point.
Questions are being raised about the immigration status of Tazhayakov, whose student visa had reportedly been revoked on January 3 because he wasn’t going to class at UMass-Dartmouth, where Tsarnaev was also a student. He returned to Kazakhstan at some point after, and when he came back to the United States on January 20, he was still allowed to re-enter.
Cutler said there is a database that is supposed to be updated so that in this case, officials at the airport could have seen that Tazhayakov’s visa had been revoked.
“The system failed. The system keeps on failing,” said Cutler, pointing out that so much of the immigration debate is focused on the Mexican border and people have no idea how many other aspects of the program are not working.
“We have a bunch of holes in the bottom of our boat. They’re not plugging any of them and this one involves national security because we know that terrorists in the past have gamed the visa process.”
Check out the full interview to hear all of Cutler’s insights on the immigration system.
America’s borders and immigration laws are her first line of defense and her last line of defense. The purpose for our borders and our immigration laws are to protect innocent lives and protect the jobs of American workers. Our valiant armed forces are charged with keeping our enemies as far from our shores as possible. When those who would do us harm manage to get to our borders or enter the United States by whatever means they succeed in utilizing, the task falls to the DHS and its component agencies to back up the military and secure the borders and enforce the immigration laws.
Having mentioned America’s borders, I ask that you read a commentary I wrote for CAPS that was posted on their website on July 1, 2013:
The point is that the United States has 50 border states (any state that has an international airport or a seaport is as much a border state as are those states that are found along America’s northern and southern borders.
The “All Clear” where the “War on Terror” has most certainly not sounded. Al Qaeda continues to pose an extremely serious threat to national security and the safety of Americans no matter where they are. The findings and recommendations of the 9/11 Commission must be the starting point for any discussion about any immigration legislation.
To do less is unacceptable and, indeed, potentially treasonous!