Monday, January 11, 2010

National security breeches plague U.S. ports of entry

By failing to put the pieces together this past Christmas it is clear the intelligence outfits haven’t learned their 9/11 lesson and continue to keep national security information close to their vests. By refusing to share intelligence with other agencies the U.S. government continues to play Russian roulette with American lives.

After 9/11 many changes began to take place, in typical scapegoat manner government officials decided to place the blame on airport screeners and started the process of nationalizing airport security leaving most security companies without a business and no choice but to fire employees.

Congress felt government workers would be more loyal and the increased pay and benefits would be just the incentive airport security staff needed to protect Americans from terrorist threats. Sounds reasonable, however during the first year of the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA), employees were commonly referred to by airline employees as “Thousands Standing Around.”

Once TSA took over airport security, the government doubled the workforce, started the bureaucratic machine and gave birth to several scandals. It turns out that TSA hired many private employment consultants to sign up airport security staff, the process cost the government and the taxpayer millions of dollars.

For example, The Washington Post broke a story in July 2005 that Sunnye Sims received a government contract to run screener-assessment centers in San Diego. When she started the process she was renting an apartment, however after nine short months she was buying a $1.9 million mansion from the $5.4 million she was paid. According to the story Sims had no prior experience in airport security and she billed the government $24 million for her no-bid contract. Federal auditors also reported $15 million in expenses submitted by her company could not be substantiated.

TSA also garnered a new reputation for dropping the ball where security is concerned. As a result Department of Homeland Security has sent endless amounts of uncover agents into airports to test TSA employees; it’s been reported that in most cases the undercover agents were successful in getting their weapons (guns, knives and bombs) through airport screeners. Not exactly the intent of the U.S. government regarding airport security, plus the bloated government program spends billions of taxpayer money each year and TSA continues to fall short on airline safety.

Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), who once supported the move from private airport security companies to nationalize the airport security said, “The inadequacies and loopholes in the system are phenomenal.”

The No-Fly Lists blues

The Christmas day terrorist incident further spotlighted the need to connect the dots and for government agencies to share information with each other in a timely manner. One of the misconceptions about the no-fly databases is the information is not classified as secret, but sensitive.

As the Christmas day bomber illustrated, State Department officials didn’t share the information with the FAA or FBI and a known terrorist was able to slip through security with a bomb sewn into his underpants, and pass through security without any special screening.

In an effort to get terrorists into the United States many groups claim to use stolen identities. This is never more apparent as 14 of the 9/11 terrorists who remain on the no-fly list nine years after the attack and their deaths.

“There is evidence to suggest that the Saudi government is tacitly behind all of this identity nonsense. They have a form of Islam called Wahhabiism, which practices a form of Sha'ria law. As such, they'd possibly issue a ‘legitimate’ passport in another name, one that is not on the watch list. Then the Saudi resident would go to the American Consulate and get a visa, either tourist or student,” says John Sampson, a retired ICE agent with 27 years of experience in ICE as well as immigration law enforcement.

Sampson now runs a private consulting and investigative firm out of Colorado specializing in immigration fraud issues. His company, CSI Consulting and Investigations, deals primarily with sham marriages that seek to defraud U.S. citizens and their attorneys with legal cases regarding immigration law.

“If I were a terrorist, I'd steal or ‘buy’ the identity of a Muslim living in the UK, Australia, Germany, France, New Zealand, or some other country that is a signatory to the Visa Waiver Program (VWPP). Why? Because it's easier to get into the country. As such, they don't undergo the vetting process one goes through if they apply for a tourist, student or other form of visa. They are admitted for 90 days, cannot change status or extend their stay,” Sampson says. “The only thing they can do is marry a U.S. citizen and adjust status to a conditional permanent resident.”

Sampson explains if a terrorist steals a passport of a VWPP country citizen and photo substitute the passport with their own photo, they’re home free. No visa issues. No pesky interviews and if the terrorist is smart, they’d have a round-trip ticket, enough money to tide them over and a cover story all set up replete with address as to where he is going.

“Now, if the terrorist is going to be a ‘sleeper,’ one who stays hidden for some time and then resurfaces when he needs to complete his assignment, I'd go the green card route and I'd allege that my U.S. citizen spouse abused me so I could get out of the marriage quickly and still get my green card,” Sampson explains.

Another Perspective

"As a former INS Inspector/Customs and Border Protection Officer, I am deeply concerned with abuse of the Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) cards, also known as Green Cards. LPR status is a pathway to American citizenship and essentially a carte blanche to immigration benefits. A Green Card also ensures travel in an out of the United States virtually without scrutiny. This status should not be granted carelessly or taken lightly,” Julia Davis, former Customs and Border Protection Officer, National Security Whistleblower.

Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services is entrusted with adjudicating applications for various immigration benefits. To date, the agency has amassed a dubious track record of allowing individuals with terrorist ties to immigrate to the United States. Background checks that are critical to ensuring that potential immigrants qualify to be admitted into the United States as permanent residents, are often incomplete, inaccurate or sometimes completely omitted. For example, an investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that A-files are sometimes missing during adjudications, resulting in LPR cards and even American citizenship being granted to aliens associated with terrorist organizations.

GAO report number GAO-07-85 entitled 'Immigration Benefits: Additional Efforts Needed to Help Ensure Alien Files Are Located when Needed' uncovered that of the naturalization applications adjudicated in 2005, about 30,000 or about 4 percent of them may have been adjudicated without A-files, because staff were not using the automated file-tracking system. Missing A-files hinder USCIS' ability to uncover immigration fraud and the limit Department of Homeland Security's ability to take enforcement actions.

In 2002, USCIS's predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), granted naturalization to an alien who was later identified to be associated with a terrorist organization. In this case, the adjudicator had not obtained the A-file in adjudicating the application for naturalization and deciding to grant the benefit. Indeed, background checks conducted as part of USCIS's naturalization process continue to reveal instances where individuals who pose a potential risk to national security have been granted an LPR status and later applied for American citizenship.

GAO's investigation uncovered that amongst the 14 district offices included in their review, about 111,000 A-files were lost. Such a state of the immigration system may explain why ineligible aliens are being granted permanent resident status and are able to obtain permanent resident status. For example, terrorist and Lebanese national Mohammad Kamal Elzahabi was able to obtain a Green Card and was driving a school bus. Since he had a permanent resident status, this key Al Qaeda operative moved in and out of the United States, established a viable business that transferred combat gear from New York to Al Qaeda, made it through an FBI background check subsequent to his travel to terrorist countries, obtained driver licenses in more than one state that included driving school children in the Minneapolis school system for four months.

Sheik Omar, who is likely to have played a role in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, came to America on a visa and (at a time when he was on the State Department's Terrorist Watch List) obtained a Green Card as a "Minister of Religion." Once this status is obtained, the government faces great difficulty in appealing their own decision to grant permanent residency with immigration courts. For example, the Department of Homeland Security attempted to deport Mohammad Qatanani because, according to the DHS, he has ties to Hamas (which the US classifies as a terrorist organization) and failed to disclose an arrest by Israeli authorities on his Green Card application. After a four-day trial last year, an immigration judge in Newark rejected the DHS' accusations and granted Qatanani permanent residency. This decision is currently being appealed by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Agency that was created seemingly to protect us in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks seems to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) by allowing for the exploitation of loopholes in the immigration law by the terrorists. One of such aliens, El Sayyid A. Nosair married an American citizen to avoid deportation for overstaying his visa. He acquired U.S. citizenship and was later convicted for conspiracy in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that claimed six lives.

Another terrorist, Ali Mohamed, obtained his immigration status by marrying a woman he met on a plane trip from Egypt to New York. Mohamed became a top aide to Osama bin Laden and was later convicted for his role in the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Africa that killed over 200 people. Two other embassy bombing plotters followed similar paths: Khalid Abu al Dahab obtained citizenship after marrying three different American women. Wadih el Hage, Osama bin Laden's personal secretary, married April Ray in 1985 and became a naturalized citizen in 1989. Fifty nine (59) of the ninety-four (94) terrorists who were identified as operating in our country in the decade leading up to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were found to have engaged in immigration fraud as a means of obtaining their immigration status.

In July 2004, the 9/11 Commission Final Report made the following observations and recommendations: "All points in the border system – from consular offices to immigration services offices – will need appropriate electronic access to an individual's file. Scattered units at Homeland Security and the State Department perform screening and data mining; instead, a government-wide team of border and transportation officials should be working together. A modern border and immigration system should combine biometric entry-exit system with accessible files on visitors and immigrants, along with intelligence on indicators of terrorist travel."

Alarming faux pas' by the DHS/USCIS show that these recommended systems regarding electronic access to an individual's file are not being used adequately, allowing ineligible individuals to obtain permanent resident status. The formation of the Department of Homeland Security further hindered an already overburdened system and created additional obstacles for immigration officials. In my opinion, mandatory background checks of the potential permanent residents must include intra-agency access to relevant intelligence information, to prevent future abuse of the system by the criminal elements and terrorists."

Security problems at JFK

One airport that has seen its fair share of problems is JFK. Reported drug and gun possession by TSA screeners have garnered little to no changes at the airport. Even Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said, “When even our police don’t fully trust our federal security officers, we have a problem.” The scope of the problems at JFK is alarming and yet the discovered security issues haven’t led to any changes.

“Congress along with the new DHS Commissioner Alan Bersin need to look into the daily workings at JFK,” says one airport employee. “We need to keep those with specialized skills whether it is Passenger Operations, Tactical or Trade Ops alone and not subject them to harassment while trying to do their assigned duties without proper skilled training. Management must be held accountable for government and private sector overtime funding and the management should be fired for misusing funds to line their pockets. Sexual expectations, retaliation and nepotism, should not be tolerated at JFK because it is hurting our national security,” said an agent who wished to remain anonymous because work place retaliation is common at JFK.

Another security threat to this country and the mission of the Department of Homeland Security seems to be reassigning officers to job assignments which they are not completely knowledgeable. For example, Legacy Customs Officers from cargo are given only two weeks training for Primary Passport Control yet they are required to know what fraudulent documents like passports, green cards and visas look like.

However many CBP agents explain many officers with more than four months training are sent to company offices and are not required to work the primary booths- a job which they were trained to perform. In addition to new under-prepared CBP agents, Internal Affairs is sending role players into the terminals, mingling undercover with the arriving passengers in order to catch on-duty officers who allow passengers into the U.S. with false documents.

“The fear new CBP agents face is the two weeks training period isn’t an adequate amount of time to decide if documents presented at customs is fraudulent or good,” a senior CBP agent explains. “These new officers are being made to rotate once a month to Primary Control with this limited training and are expected to function properly.”

Port Authority Police, Airport Police as well as NYPD who are in charge of the security at the domestic airport terminals have no respect for CBP because they work outside the rules, according to many CBP agents who work at the JFK airport.

Lawful Permanent Resident or Green Cards

A United States Lawful Permanent Resident Card (LPR), also known as a green card, is an identification card that demonstrates permanent resident status of an alien in the America. The green card serves as proof that its holder, a Lawful Permanent Resident has been officially granted immigration benefits, which include permission to reside and gain employment in the U.S. The holder must also maintain permanent resident status and can be removed from the US if these conditions are not met.

Many CBP officers have extensive experience with LPR cards, in fact many believe it is the most exploited benefit the U.S. grants to foreign nationals who want to come to the U.S. and often abuse the benefits. “If a foreigner is issued a LPR card he/she can work, obtain social benefits and gain access to the social security system. Some foreigners come to the U.S. to begin a better life for themselves and their families; they are sincere about their status and hope to become U.S. ‘naturalized’ citizen. However, many use these cards as a never ending visa with no intention of settling or contributing to American society,” says a CBP agent.

It is these applicants the U.S. should be concerned with as they get there green card and essentially live in another country only traveling to the U.S. to keep their LPR card status. When an LPR card holder is outside the U.S. for more than one year they should lose their green cards as the law requires.

“An LPR holder who shows up in the U.S. port of entry after residing outside the U.S. for more than a year is in violation of law. The card should be taken and the individual should be sent home. We call this an ‘expedited removal’ however approximately 90 percent of LPRs that return to the US in violation of green card requirements are admitted without any enforcement,” says another Custom and Border Protection agent.

“People who wish to do us harm, do not need to hide plastic explosives in their underwear and blow themselves up while on board a commercial aircraft. They can simply obtain a LPR card, return to their home country, like Yemen, train in a terrorist camp and fly back to the U.S. anytime they want,” a CBP agent explains.

Again, just as many rank-and-file CBP agents work to protect our country on a daily basis the best way to begin securing the country is simply to start tightening up the way U.S. issues LPR documents. “We should enforce LPR regulations immediately, and we should start to enforce immigration laws already on the books,” according to CBP agents. “We also need management at DHS and CBP to step away from the ill advised ‘customer service mentality.’ CBP Officers are not customer service agents, we are not the ‘welcome wagon,’ we are the law enforcement officers standing guard at our nation’s Borders.”

Business as usual

As the Obama Administration prepares to decipher all the bureaucratic webs that have now become known as Department of Homeland Security, Americans can only hope that the president will change the practice of ‘business as usual.'

Nearly 10 years after 9/11 and the U.S. is no closer to capturing or killing the world’s most famous terrorist Osama bin Laden. Adding to this frustration is the fact American remains trapped in a Middle East War quagmire with nothing on the horizon but billions of dollars in costs.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that DHS management has designed rules to get around the federal government’s law regarding lobbying. According to The New York Times; “one provision was drawn up by department executives to facilitate their entry into the business world.” The roster reads like a who’s who in the endless world of career politicians; Tom Ridge, former DHS secretary; John Ashcroft former attorney general; Admiral James Loy, former TSA administrator; as well as Asa Hutchinson, former DHS under-secretary.

For these reasons it is understandable that Americans are angry with the politics as usual and will be looking to change the way Washington does business in November of this year, let’s hope the change doesn’t come too late.

For more stories;

No comments:

Post a Comment