Saudis getting special travel benefits
Saudi Arabia, the nation which produced 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks, is about to become one of a handful of countries whose travelers can bypass normal passport controls at major U.S. airports. Sources tell the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) that this will mark the first time that the Saudi government will have a direct role in vetting who is eligible for getting fast-tracked for entry into the United States.12 years later, and now weaknesses in policy and security are surfacing again. Heritage Foundation member Jim Phillips says in the article that he wouldn't trust the Saudis to cooperate and provide honest details, and we shouldn't trust them either.
An agreement to accept Saudi Arabian applicants into the Global Entry trusted traveler program drew little notice when it was announced in January. Now, some officials question why the country merits such a benefit – which is similar to a theme park “fast pass” to avoid long lines – when other allies like Germany and France are not yet included. A program for Israeli travelers was reached last May but has not been implemented.
Travelers approved for the program can skip the normal Customs and Border Protection (CBP) lines starting next year and enter the country after providing their passports and fingerprints at a kiosk. Only Canada, Mexico, South Korea and the Netherlands currently enjoy the benefit, although pilot programs could expand it to a handful of others.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the agreement in January after meeting with Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. It “marks another major step forward in our partnership,” Napolitano said at the time. “By enhancing collaboration with the Government of Saudi Arabia, we reaffirm our commitment to more effectively secure our two countries against evolving threats while facilitating legitimate trade and travel.”
Details about how the plan will work with the Saudis have not been released. Nayef’s ministry, however, will be responsible for screening which applicants will be considered when the pilot program begins next year. It’s not known whether the Saudi ministry will share its raw intelligence about applicants with its American counterparts. What is known, based on information provided by a Homeland Security source, is that each individual who makes it into the program will have been vetted by both the CPB and by the Saudi Interior Ministry against various databases.
The Department of Homeland Security declined to make anyone available to answer questions about Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in the Global Entry program after repeated requests throughout last week, and after indicating someone would provide more details.
That is cause for concern, given lingering questions about possible Saudi support for some of the 9/11 hijackers and given the Ministry of Interior (MOI)’s inconsistent record on sharing its intelligence on suspected terrorists and terror financiers. Additionally, recent studies by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified significant problems in the way DHS components use computer systems and process intelligence for posting watch list lookouts and overseas screening of foreign nationals.
Update: here's more on the case at Michelle Malkin.