On June 26, 2001 the State Department issued a worldwide caution to Americans traveling or living abroad.
The National Security Agency’s ECHELON electronic spy network gave warning that Mideast terrorists were planning to hijack commercial aircraft to use as weapons to attack important symbols of American culture.
That same month, the Bush Administration initiated the VISA EXPRESS service for expediting visa applications through out Saudi Arabia.
On June 25, 2001, the day before the State Department’s warning, the US Embassy in Riyadh proudly announced:
"Now all Saudis and non-Saudi applicants may obtain visas at their own convenience by submitting their applications through any of ten designated travel/courier companies operating throughout the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. . . Applicants will no longer have to take time off from work, no longer have to wait in long lines under the hot sun and in crowded waiting rooms, and no longer be limited by any time constraints. Effective immediately, ALL APPLICANTS will be expected to use the US VISA EXPRESS service offered by any of the selected companies listed below."
To make this very clear, under this new rule instituted by the Bush Administration, both Saudis and non-Saudis could obtain U.S. visas without being photographed or having to apply in person just by going through one of ten designated travel agencies in The Kingdom.
Three of the Saudi hijackers in the September 11 attacks came into the U.S. on visas they obtained through the VISA EXPRESS program.
Still, the Visa Express program was not closed after September 11. In fact, in the first 30 days after 9/11, the U.S. Embassy at Jeddah, one of three offices in Saudi Arabia, issued 104 visas through the program, denying none.
It was not until Joel Mowbray, a journalist from The National Review, broke the story in June of 2002, pointing out that the Visa Express program was still in place, that the State Department found it necessary to make some changes.
Secretary of State Colin Powell asked Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, Ambassador Mary Ryan, the longest-serving career diplomat at the department, "to retire," announcing this change on the same day when two committees in Congress would be voting on legislation to remove the State Department’s visa authority.
Two days later, after questioning spokesman Richard Boucher at a State Department press briefing, Joel Mowbray was detained for about 30 minutes, as security demanded he reveal his sources. Yet a year after 9/11, the State Department had still not interviewed the single Foreign Service Officer in the Jeddah consulate who issued 10 of the visas to the Saudi hijackers.
To research/verify, Google "Bush +Visa Express."
- May 14, 2004