Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores
By Michelle Malkin
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What Would Mohamed Do?
"Crave death....Make sure that nobody is following you....Bring knives, your will, IDs, your passport....Pray: 'Oh God, you who open all doors, please open all doors for me, open all venues for me, open all avenues for me.'"
These were some of the handwritten instructions found in September 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta's abandoned luggage. If he could send a message from hell-where he surely went after he piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center-Atta would have good news for his band of homicidal brothers around the world: The doors to America are still wide open.
One year after the terrorist attacks, the avenues for death and destruction remain virtually unobstructed.
When we assess the security of our borders, our immigration laws, and our tourism policies, we must view them through the cold eyes of a terrorist killer. We must ask at every turn: What would Mohamed do? How would he exploit our entry points, evade detection, and blend into the American mainstream? What would an instruction manual for Atta's future conspirators trying to reach our shores look like?
Top-secret intelligence wouldn't be needed to compile such a field guide. Everything a terrorist needs to know about infiltrating this country is readily available from newspapers, television broadcasts, the Internet, and government publications.
A Post-September 11 Checklist
Pick Your Passageway: Air, Sea, or Land
Exploit airport insecurity
At Los Angeles International Airport, inspectors report that supervisors instructed them not to respond to concerns from airlines about illegal immigrants elsewhere in the airport because it would distract them from their number one mission: processing passengers. Sound too dangerous to be true?
A February 12, 2002, memo issued by the Los Angeles acting deputy port director Michael Cochran ordered inspection agents: "Unless there is some special, extenuating circumstance, we are not to respond to calls from airlines requesting that we examine the documents of suspected illegal aliens....[Even] if something 'special' does come up, i.e., suspected terrorists, kidnapping, slavery or other, we should not go and arrest groups of people."
One disgusted LAX inspector's reaction to the orders: "God help the American public."
At JFK International Airport in New York City, harried airport inspectors admit they don't even look at visas before stamping their approval nor do they request required documentation, because it would take too much time.
At Miami International Airport, too, the daily crush of passengers causes immigration inspectors to compromise security measures against their better judgment. More concerned with appearances than public safety, top Miami INS bureaucrats-still employed by the agency in sensitive positions-released criminal alien visitors from their custody in order to relieve overcrowding and create a false impression of efficiency for visiting members of Congress.
Former and current agents say they felt like "stamp monkeys." They blame managers for appeasing the airline industry instead of enforcing the law, and report that even after September 11, they were urged by supervisors not to waste time checking terrorist watch lists.
As if these dangerous compromises aren't enough to deal with, there are also the untold numbers of illegal aliens who have infiltrated high-security areas at more than a dozen American airports (at least 450 had been rounded up by the end of April 2002 as part of the federal government's "Operation Tarmac" crackdown). And then there's the entrenched incompetence of security workers.
In March 2002, a USA Today investigation found that undercover government testers at thirty-two of the nation's airports were able to sneak knives through security checkpoints 70 percent of the time, simulated explosives 60 percent of the time, and guns 30 percent of the time between November 2001 and February 2002 while the airports were on highest alert. A follow-up test by the Transportation Security Administration in May 2002 at thirty-two airports nationwide found that one in four times, screeners failed to detect simulated weapons (including guns, dynamite, and bombs). In Cincinnati, Jacksonville, and Las Vegas, screeners failed to detect potentially dangerous items in at least half the tests. At Los Angeles International Airport, the failure rate was 41 percent.
No doubt terrorists and their sympathizers received word of these security holes with evil glee.
Slip through the seaports
At least two terrorist conspirators-Los Angeles International Airport millennium bombing plotters Abdelghani Meskini and Abdel Hakim Tizegha-entered the United States by hitching rides on ships from Algeria.
In the spring of 2002, INS officials knew of four Pakistani, five Mexican, and four Turkish crew members who similarly jumped ship. Despite heightened security measures taken after September 11, all of the fugitive sailors escaped from cargo ships after docking in Norfolk, Virginia. The INS admitted that at this one port alone, crews of forty foreign cargo vessels have been allowed ashore without proper authorization since December 2001.
While most returned, the Pakistanis bailed out on March 15, 2002, and caught cabs and buses to cities across the country. The Mexicans abandoned their ship a week later. The Turks slipped off a week after that. As of July 2002, none of the Mexicans and Turks had been caught, and only two of the Pakistanis had been found.
On April 2, 2002, another crew almost eluded the INS. In Hawaii, nine Chinese men who had been rescued from a burning Indonesian oil tanker fled from the hotel where they were staying and into the population. Donald Radcliffe, district director for the INS office in Honolulu, said the agency didn't take them into custody because "we thought they'd play by the rules."
Island residents snitched on the crewmembers, who were hiding somewhere on Oahu, and the fugitives turned themselves in a week later. Soon after, they requested asylum and remained in federal custody pending hearings.
A less comfortable, but often effective, means of travel is the stowaway alternative. In May 2002, the United States Coast Guard alerted federal, state, and local law enforcement officials that it had received intelligence information that "twenty-five Islamic extremists" linked to the al Qaeda network had entered America on prominent commercial cargo vessels through the ports of Miami, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; and Long Beach, California. According to Senator Bob Graham of Florida, the suspects allegedly dressed as stevedores, wearing orange vests and hard hats to avoid detection.
In October 2001, a suspected Egyptian-born terrorist was discovered inside a cargo container on a ship bound from Italy to Canada. He had a satellite phone, a cell phone, and a laptop computer. Italian authorities believe the stowaway was an al Qaeda operative.
Only about 3 percent of all cargo containers on ships coming into the United States are inspected. In January 2002, the Customs Service announced a "container security initiative" to prescreen high-risk containers at high-volume megaports overseas. But eight months after the September 11 attacks, the New Jersey Bergen Record reported that the INS still had no patrols monitoring major seaports in the United States for stowaways.
Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution concluded that neglecting inspection of cargo containers "may be our single greatest vulnerability that we have not yet made much progress toward addressing."
Walk around the rubber orange cones
Porous. Weak. Ineffective. Swiss-cheese. Those are the polite adjectives used by our own immigration officials to describe America's four-thousand-mile border to the north and our two-thousand-mile border to the south. The September 11 hijackers all came through the front door, but illegal immigration through Canada and Mexico is the passageway of countless terrorist brethren.
Many northern border stations remain unguarded at night. To dissuade potential foreign threats from crossing, agents leave out rubber orange cones. In Pembina, North Dakota, illegal border-crossers drive around a twelve-foot steel barricade with a laughable warning that reads "Avoid Heavy Penalty" and asks intruders to check in when they see the nearest guards. The 917-mile stretch of border in the Grand Forks sector has about one field agent for every thirty-eight miles.
In Blaine, Washington, retired deputy chief Border Patrol agent Eugene Davis estimated that "there has been no effort to locate 95 percent" of aliens apprehended in his region over the past decade and released pending deportation hearings. "They have simply been allowed to disappear in the United States. No one knows whether a number of these missing persons are trained terrorists who will eventually emerge to perpetrate more acts of terrorism against innocent United States citizens."
In the Detroit sector, which encompasses some eight hundred miles of water boundaries with Canada, patrol boats are scarce and cameras were "falling apart" prior to September 11, according to veteran border agent Mark Lindemann. Many sectors will receive new camera equipment to help detect border crossers, but as seasoned agents quip, they've never met a camera that can climb down from a pole and take an illegal alien into custody.
At the Buffalo-Niagara bridges along the United States-Canada border, an average of 23,400 cars, trucks, buses, and trains cross every day-more than 8.5 million last year. Nearly 99 percent of that traffic enters the country without inspection. William Dietzel, a retired supervisor of customs inspections in Buffalo, notes: "If people knew the actual number of cars, trucks, and train cars that are opened up and searched thoroughly for weapons and terrorists, it would scare them."
Despite recent efforts to step up security, the story remains the same in the south. Bin Laden-funded operatives can pay cheap prices for escorts, join global smuggling rings, bribe corrupt immigration officials, or ride the rails undetected from Mexico along with hundreds of thousands of other "undocumented workers."
These law-breakers have grown so accustomed to our high tolerance for illegal immigration that some are actually suing the United States for not providing water stations on their illegal journeys into our country. INS commissioner James Ziglar responded to demands that America provide better travel amenities to immigration outlaws along the Mexican border by announcing the activation of a half-dozen "rescue beacons"-thirty-foot-tall, solar-powered towers with flashing strobe lights and "alarm buttons" illegal aliens can use to summon help. (Next step: free continental breakfasts and pillows with mints?)
We don't have borders. We have the world's longest back-door welcome mats. Just watch out for those pesky rubber cones and remember to bring your own bottled water.
Game the System: Marriage Fraud, Asylum, or Amnesty
Once a terrorist of Mohamed Atta's ilk has made it to our shores, there are numerous ways for him to stay in the United States.
You can't buy love, but if you can persuade an American to marry you, you can buy yourself invaluable time, legal residence, and eventual citizenship. Marriage fraud, says Richard Gottlieb, officer in charge of the North Carolina INS, is "like the path of least resistance." Once you make it into this country, you're bound to find a willing American citizen to play a treacherous version of "Who Wants to Marry a Militant?"
Convicted 1993 World Trade Center conspirator El Sayyid A. Nosair marched down the aisle with Karen Ann Mills Sweeney, an American-born convert to Islam, just as he was facing possible deportation for overstaying his visa. As a result, he secured legal permanent residence status and later became a naturalized American citizen.
So did Osama bin Laden's personal secretary, Wadih el Hage, who married an American in 1985 and became a naturalized citizen in 1989. Khalid Abu al Dahab, who plotted the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, struck gold after marrying three American women, and finally obtained U.S. citizenship.
Ali Mohammed, another top terrorist aide to bin Laden who was convicted for his role in the embassy bombings, also became an American citizen after marrying a woman he met on a plane trip from Egypt to New York.
Eight Middle Eastern men who plotted to bomb New York landmarks-Fadil Abdelgani, Amir Abdelgani, Siddig Ibrahim Siddig Ali, Tarig Elhassan, Abdo Mohammed Haggag, Fares Khallafalla, Mohammed Saleh, and Matarawy Mohammed Said Saleh-all obtained legal permanent residence by marrying American citizens.
So did Zuhaier Ben Mohammed Rouissi, a Tunisian national with ties to top terrorist suspects. He paid Christy Layne of Canton, Ohio, $1,100 to marry him after his tourist visa lapsed. Lebanon-born Chawki Youssef Hammoud hooked up with Jessica Yolanda Fortune in 1994. Hammoud's marriage afforded him a green card windfall-and the cover to operate a cell that allegedly smuggled cigarettes to raise cash for the terrorist Hezbollah organization. Fortune was convicted of marriage fraud in October 2001.
Hammoud's brother, Mohammed, married three different American citizens. After arriving in the United States on a counterfeit visa, receiving a deportation order, and filing an appeal, he wed Sabina Edwards and sought a green card. Suspicious INS officials refused to award him legal status after this first marriage was deemed bogus in 1994.
Undaunted, he married Jessica Wedel in May 1997, and while still wed to her, paid the already married Angela Tsioumas to marry him in Detroit. The Tsioumas union netted Hammoud temporary legal residence, and they settled in Charlotte, North Carolina, where law enforcement officials say they operated an elaborate smuggling and terrorist-related ring.
Tsioumas, who bragged to others that she would "marry any of them for the right price," entered a plea agreement in March 2002 on charges of conspiracy. The Hammoud brothers went on trial in May 2002 for their role in skirting immigration laws, cigarette smuggling, and money laundering in support of terrorism. They were found guilty on all counts in June 2002.
Say the magic words: "political asylum"
Our most generous historic offer to the world's politically oppressed-shelter from tyranny-is routinely used against us by our enemies. Uttering "political asylum" is the immigration equivalent of "Open sesame."
Among the foreign America-haters who invoked asylum: convicted murderer Mir Aimal Kansi and World Trade Center bomb plotters Ramzi Yousef and Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.
Untold numbers of asylum claimants are released on their own recognizance, and promptly disappear. Asylum hearings are often delayed for a year or more. Fraud is, yes, rampant. In fact, it is so "out of control," a GAO report noted in early 2002, that investigators found a 90 percent rate of fraud in a preliminary review of five thousand petitions for asylum. A more detailed follow-up review of 1,500 of those petitions could locate only one that was bona fide.
Among those who attempted to take advantage of our generosity: Mohdar Mohamed Abdoulah, a former San Diego State University student from Yemen suspected of aiding and befriending at least three of the September 11 hijackers. In May 2000, he filed what federal prosecutors now charge is a false asylum application claiming to be a persecuted minority from Somalia. After his arrest in May 2002, Abdoulah spoke of "the hatred in his heart" for the United States government, and railed that the United States brought "this on themselves," according to federal prosecutors.
Could Emma Lazarus, who wrote the famous sonnet affixed to the Statue of Liberty, ever have imagined our nation embracing the likes of Abdoulah and other terrorist travelers when she beckoned to the poor "wretched refuse" of foreign shores?
Wait it out
"If you get into this country, temporary is permanent," says former INS investigations chief Jack Shaw. "If you're in, you stay...and you wait for the next legalization program or amnesty to come along."
That's what convicted 1993 World Trade Center bomber Mahmud Abouhalima did. He arrived in the United States with a tourist visa in 1985. After his six-month visa expired, he joined millions of other illegal aliens in this country who entered legally and then simply overstayed without fear of detection or punishment. He was rewarded with legal permanent residence thanks to an amnesty for illegal immigrants granted by Congress in 1986, and he obtained his green card in 1988.
For illegal overstayers, border-crossers, ship-jumpers, and even known terrorists, federal law provides another escape route: the 245(i) program. Illegal aliens in any of these categories who have found an employer or spouse to petition for their residency status need only pay a measly $1,000 fee to "adjust their status" and gain permanent residence without leaving the United States. Usually, these alien lawbreakers would be forced to leave the United States and reapply for visas in their home countries (which involves fresh background checks by consular offices with access to their native criminal records).
Many would be barred from returning to America for up to ten years. But under 245(i), passed by Congress with bipartisan support, more than half a million foreigners forked over the token fine between 1994 and 1997 and avoided legal hassles. The program was supposed to be temporary, but immigrants' rights groups lobbied successfully for extending the deadline. Based on INS data, analysts for the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated that one-quarter of all legal immigrants being "admitted" to the United States are actually people who came here illegally and are adjusting their status largely as a result of 245(i). Congress was heading toward permanent extension of the program before September 11-and President George W. Bush joined Democrats in crusading for this mini-amnesty even after the terrorist attacks.
For those foreign law-breakers who don't bother with the paperwork, the rewards are generous: Driver's licenses. Taxpayer identification numbers. College tuition breaks. Banking privileges. Health care. Meanwhile, the risks of getting caught, detained, and deported are negligible. There are only two thousand INS agents assigned to interior enforcement (chasing after illegals once they've entered the country). And there are only twenty thousand detention beds to hold aliens-if the INS ever bothers to take them.
On Memorial Day weekend in 2002, with the nation on high terror alert, the agency shrugged its shoulders when New York City police tried to turn in seven illegal aliens from the Middle East who had been arrested with false identification cards in a dilapidated van near a major tunnel. "These men posed no terrorist threat or, for that matter, any threat to the community," an INS spokesperson told the New York Post, which broke the story. The agency ordered furious cops to release the men who were all admitted illegal aliens!
Even if they're ordered deported, illegal aliens are usually let go on their own recognizance after posting minimal bonds and are never seen again. Those who actually show up for hearings can still game the system through endless appeals to soft-on-crime judges. The system favors aliens' rights over citizens' safety.
Senior Border Patrol agent Mark Hall, whose union represents officers who patrol the United States-Canadian border in Michigan and Ohio, summed it up for Congress: "When illegal aliens are released, we send a disturbing message. The aliens quickly pass on the word about how easy it is to enter this country illegally and remain here. This practice is devastating to our sound border enforcement strategy."
Travel First-Class: Visas and Tickets, Please
Would you believe getting a visa from the State Department is easier than getting a Visa credit card?
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From Invasion by Michelle Malkin. Regnery Publishing
Used by permission.
Click here to buy the book