Visa Waiver and the next threat -Updated!
This post has generated a good amount of e-mail.. In light of the events in London today I've taken two of the most interesting and pasted them in at the end of the post- click the link at the end of the preview to read these comments.
Thanks to everyone for the comments over the last few days, especially to Melanie who pointed out a very interesting article on the American Enterprise Institute website- Jihad Made in Europe
. This relatively short article covers a wide range of ideas, two of which are central to this post: the idea that the next al Qaeda top-level figure might come from Europe, and the threat presented to the national security of the United States by terrorists entering the country under the Visa Waiver program.
First, a little background. The Department of State provides the following description of the program
:The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. The program was established in 1986 with the objective of promoting better relations with U.S. allies, eliminating unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of State to focus consular resources in other areas. VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so. Not all countries participate in the VWP, and not all travelers from VWP countries are eligible to use the program. VWP travelers are screened prior to admission into the United States, and they are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program.
Citizens from the following countries are exempted from the need for a visa to travel for tourism or business:Andorra, Iceland, Norway, Australia, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Italy, San Marino, Belgium, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Denmark, Luxembourg, Spain, Finland, Monaco, Sweden, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, United Kingdom.
Let’s examine that list for a moment: France has one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe, largely unassimilated, and purportedly making up 70% of the prison population
in that nation. Anyone think there might be some radicalizing of young men happening there? Spain saw its government elected on the strength of jihadi simultaneous attacks- and responded by blaming American foreign policy. In the Netherlands a film maker was brutally murdered for criticizing Islam. The Dutch response? Open a center for Arab cultural studies
. At least some of the September 11th hijackers are known to have spent time studying in Germany. I think we can safely assume they have friends there. No one needs to be reminded about what took place in London recently.
While this truly demonstrates that Islamofascism is a global threat, it also points to the very real possibility that the next attack on American soil will be carried out by men who simply flew into the United States on the strength of their European, or other waiver program country, passport. I am by no means saying that a visa interview will stop all terrorists- but thanks largely to the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 there is at least a chance if the would-be terrorist has to face a American officer before traveling:
Section 305 requires specialized training for consular officers for the purpose of identifying applicants who pose safety and security threats, particularly those inadmissible under INA 212(a)(3)(A) and (B). As a part of the program the Secretary must work with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to provide to the Bureau of Consular Affairs reports, bulletins and updates relevant to terrorism and the screening of visa applicants who pose a threat to the United States.
To be fair the law requires that all foreign nationals entering the U.S be screened through a database system for known or suspected terrorists. That’s great if the person is a known entity, not so great if he is not. While Consular officers have a short amount of time for interviews at a visa window, immigration inspectors have far less at the arrival counter- and will most likely have no idea of the cultural issues surrounding the nice fellow with a British passport and the odd accent, who is here to attend a conference on urban planning, the better to learn to identify weaknesses in infrastructure.
Combine the above, then, with this (from the AEI piece):
What was once unquestionably an import has gone native, mutated, and grown. Some of what the Europeans are now confronting--and for the United States this is very bad news--is probably a locally generated Islamic militancy that is as retrograde and virulent as anything encountered in the Middle East. "European Islam" appears to be an increasingly radicalizing force intellectually and in practice. The much-anticipated Muslim moderates of Europe--the folks French scholar Gilles Kepel believes will produce "extraordinary progress in civilization," a new "Andalusia" (the classical Arabic word for Moorish Spain) that will save us from Osama bin Laden's jihad--have so far not developed with the same gusto as the Muslim activists who have dominated too many mosques in "Londonistan" and elsewhere in Europe.
For organizations like al Qaeda, this may mean that the future will be decisively European. From its earliest days, al Qaeda viewed Europe as an important launching platform for attacks against the United States and its interests. Now, Western counterterrorist forces, which have traditionally tried to track Middle Eastern missionaries in Europe, would be well advised to start searching for radical European Muslim missionaries in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Although some of the reasons put forth by Europeans to explain their Muslim problems are undoubtedly valid, a wise U.S. counterterrorist policy would downplay the external causes of Islamic activism in Europe. We should prepare for the worst-case scenario and assume that European society itself will continue to generate the most lethal holy warriors. In doing so, American officials should be skeptical of their own ability to identify through profiling which Muslim Europeans might engage in terrorism against the United States. Stamps in passports indicating travel to Middle Eastern countries can't tell you much, since holy-warrior pilgrimages are not required to fortify jihadist spirits and networks. Living in London, Leeds, or Manchester can be more than enough.
The author concludes, as Melanie indicated in her comment that launched this post, that the Visa Waiver program has to go:
This means, of course, that the Bush administration ought to preempt fate and suspend the visa-waiver program established in 1986 for Western Europeans… The transatlantic crowd in Washington--the bedrock of America's foreign-policy establishment--might rise in high dudgeon at the damage this could do to U.S.-European relations. The State Department's European and consular-affairs bureaus might add that they no longer have the staff to handle the enormous number of applicants. Ignore them.
The Visa Waiver program is flawed, there can be no doubt- radical Islam is well established in the EU, and the passports held by the subscribers to the ideology of hate that is preached in the mosques there have enormous potential as the catalysts for horrifying new attacks. Our allies across the pond have shown little proclivity, outside of Great Britain (and precious little there), to address the underlying issues of the threat within- we can hardly count on them to screen out the threats for us. Is the end of the Visa Waiver program a realistic possibility? I do not know. Our goal, as stated by then Secretary of State Powell, is “secure borders, open doors.” How would the EU nations react to the end of the program- in effect a closing, if not barring, of the open door? What would the economic impact on the U.S. be if tourism from Europe plummeted, even for the short term as a new visa program geared up (such a sea change would take considerable time- the authors suggestions not withstanding)? Do our leaders have the courage to honestly and openly address the loophole that the program provides for the increasingly hostile Westernized Muslim radical to do harm to the United States? Only time will tell.
BEGIN UPDATE:Dear Doc:
Instead of hiding behind the veil of even-handedness why not call a spade a spade. Let's face it a Swedish blue-eyed mother of three is not going to blow up the Capitol. Neither is a French white (or nearly all) back-packer. These people don't really pose a problem. So why not impose a visa program on all non- white Europeans: specifically the Muslim variety.
We are far more advanced then we were in 1986. How about modernizing the program that allows those people who pose no problem to move around freely. In other words the CEO of Daimler Chrysler poses no threat. I am thinking at the top of my head here, but surely there are ways which would discriminate between those who are "unknown" to the US as against people who are. How about getting waivers in the same way as applying for a H1 visa, or by getting an American or several Americans to vouch for those who would like a waiver.
I think you are on the right track here in that the US cannot afford to let in undesirables. But the US also wants and needs to interact with the rest of the world in a seamless less annoying way than applying for a visa.
Several friends of mine who have visited the US in the last few years have noted how the airports resemble a nation with a siege mentality. This of course is understandable, especially after 911. But by the same token, these Australians are people who the US would dearly like to attract as visitors.
The problem as I see it is that political climate does not allow discrimination against the very people who pose a threat even US residents- Muslims.
Maybe the American people would go for a system whereby restrictions on followers of Islam are tightened even further while we see a relaxation for the rest of us.
Just think[ing] aloud here of course.
You know, we could take a lesson from the British in the wake of the
London bombings. The PM summoned Muslim leaders to instruct them to get
their houses in order, that anti-national crimes and behavior will not
What do we in the US do? We send key leaders to visit mosques and fawn
over Muslims as a way of demonstrating our respect for them and to
reassure them that all forces of the Government will be used to protect
them. Which is pretty much the same thing we'd do if a group of Muslims
in the US did something good, as well as bad.
Where's the incentive for good behavior?