FindLaw Legal News
 FindLaw | Legal Professionals | Students | Business | Public | News | MY FindLaw for Legal Professionals
Legal Commentary | Entertainment | Sports | Newsletters | Boards Law Firm FirmSites | Lawyer Jobs | CLE 
  Lawyer Search       
Search News
 News Front Page
Civil Rights
Personal Injury
Product Liability
Supreme Court
Tech & IP
 Book Reviews
 News Wires
Associated Press
Court TV
 Special Coverage
 Featured Docs
 The Spin Room
 Message Boards

 Resource Centers
Class Action Center
Corp. Counsel Center
Supreme Court Center
Monday, Jan. 26, 2004 Print This | Email This     

Sept. 11 Panel Looks at Border Security

By HOPE YEN Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. authorities missed some obvious signs that might have prevented some of the Sept. 11 hijackers from entering the country, the federal commission investigating the attacks said Monday.

Government officials have said the 19 hijackers entered the country legally, but the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States said its investigation found at least two and as many as eight had fraudulent visas. The commission also found examples where U.S. officials had contact with the hijackers but failed to adequately investigate suspicious behavior.

For example, Saeed al Ghamdi was referred to immigration inspection officials in June 2001 after he provided no address on his customs form and only had a one-way plane ticket and about $500. Al Ghamdi was able to persuade the inspector that he was a tourist.

The panel also found that six of the hijackers violated immigration laws by overstaying their visas or failing to attend the English language school for which their visas were issued.

And Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, believed to be the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, exploited the fact that customs officers did not routinely collect fingerprints for a visa even though federal authorities in New York indicted him in 1996 for his role in earlier terrorist plots. He never entered the country and was apprehended after the attacks.

CBS News reported, meanwhile, that a passport belonging to one of the hijackers, Satam al-Sugami, was found on the street minutes after the plane he was aboard crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center and before the New York landmark collapsed.

At the start of a two-day hearing on border and aviation security, the commission staff issued a statement saying FBI Director Robert Mueller had testified that all of the hijackers came "lawfully from abroad," while CIA Director George Tenet described 17 of the 19 hijackers as "clean."

"We believe the information we have provided today gives the commission the opportunity to reevaluate those statements," the commission staff said.

The panel said part of the problem was a lack of coordination among immigration officials and a focus on keeping out illegal immigrants rather than potential terrorists.

The bipartisan panel was created by Congress to study the nation's preparedness before Sept. 11 and its response to the attacks, and to make recommendations for guarding against similar disasters.

It has held six hearings to gather information. Among those it heard from Monday was customs agent Jose E. Melendez-Perez. He said that suspected Sept. 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta raised enough red flags - including having the wrong student visa - that he should been blocked from entering the United States.

He explained that Atta's age and impeccable clothes appeared to contradict his story about being a student. "I would have recommended refusal," said Melendez-Perez.

Melendez-Perez is credited with stopping a man who U.S. officials believe may have planned to be the 20th Sept. 11 hijacker.

The man, identified by federal officials only as al-Qahtani, was stopped at Florida's Orlando International Airport in late August 2001. Melendez-Perez said he became suspicious when al-Qahtani provided only vague answers about what he was doing in the United States.

U.S. officials then put al-Qahtani on a plane back to Saudi Arabia. He wound up in Afghanistan, where he was captured by U.S. forces. He now is being held with other captives at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The commission detailed other government missteps prior to September 2001:

-Three of the hijackers, al Ghamdi, Khalid al Mihdhar and Hani Hanjour, submitted visa applications with false statements about never previously applying for a visa that could have been easily verified.

-One hijacker, Ziad Jarrah, entered the United States in June 2000 on a tourist visa, and then enrolled in flight school for six months. He never filed an application to change his status from tourist to student. Had immigration officials known, they could have denied him entry on three subsequent trips.

Mary A. Ryan, former assistant secretary for consular affairs at the Department of State, said the nation's visa processing system was hindered by insufficient data from intelligence officials about suspected terrorists as well as a lack of staff, which limited lengthy questioning of suspects.

"Any name check system is and will be only as good as the information that is in it," Ryan said, acknowledging under questioning by commissioners that information-sharing remains poor among federal agencies.

Tuesday's hearing will focus on vulnerabilities and security failures within the nation's aviation system. The commission is scheduled to complete its work by May 27, but members have said they may ask Congress to give them more time.


On the Net:

National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States:

2004-01-27     02:22:47 GMT

Copyright 2004
The Associated Press All Rights Reserved
The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authorityof The Associated Press.
  FindLaw's Writ
California Supreme Court
Is Killing An Undiscovered 1st-Trimester Fetus Murder?

Coming Thursday:
Columnist Marci Hamilton Religious Landowners & The Push For Special Status

AND: Alec Walen & Monty Smith On The Death Penalty & Executing The Innocent

  FindLaw Financial

  Modern Practice
Virus Protection Tips
The I.T. Guy talks firewalls and nodes.

  Featured Documents
Martha Stewart's Employment Agreement
[HTML File]

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist On Recusals
[HTML File]

Calif. Court: Schwarzenegger's $4.5M Campaign Loans Were Illegal
[PDF File]

Court: Part Of The Patriot Act Is Unconstitutional
[PDF File]

More Docs...

Submit Your Docs...

Get Breaking Docs...

  Community Boards
Discuss Your Legal News Here

  Featured Book
Coercing Virtue

A Conspiracy of Judges?

reviewed by Paul Horwitz

FindLaw Poll
What is your position on the treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees?
Strongly support
Strongly oppose
[See Results...]
Advertising Info · Add URL · Help · Comments Jobs@FindLaw · Site Map