Saudi Arabia, the nation which produced 15 of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks, is about to become one of a handful of countries whose travelers can bypass normal passport controls at major U.S. airports. Sources tell the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) that this will mark the first time that the Saudi government will have a direct role in vetting who is eligible for getting fast-tracked for entry into the United States.
An agreement to accept Saudi Arabian applicants into the Global Entry trusted traveler program drew little notice when it was announced in January. Now, some officials question why the country merits such a benefit – which is similar to a theme park “fast pass” to avoid long lines – when other allies like Germany and France are not yet included. A program for Israeli travelers was reached last May but has not been implemented.
Travelers approved for the program can skip the normal Customs and Border Protection (CBP) lines starting next year and enter the country after providing their passports and fingerprints at a kiosk. Only Canada, Mexico, South Korea and the Netherlands currently enjoy the benefit, although pilot programs could expand it to a handful of others.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the agreement in January after meeting with Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. It “marks another major step forward in our partnership,” Napolitano said at the time. “By enhancing collaboration with the Government of Saudi Arabia, we reaffirm our commitment to more effectively secure our two countries against evolving threats while facilitating legitimate trade and travel.”
Details about how the plan will work with the Saudis have not been released. Nayef’s ministry, however, will be responsible for screening which applicants will be considered when the pilot program begins next year. It’s not known whether the Saudi ministry will share its raw intelligence about applicants with its American counterparts. What is known, based on information provided by a Homeland Security source, is that each individual who makes it into the program will have been vetted by both the CPB and by the Saudi Interior Ministry against various databases.
The Department of Homeland Security declined to make anyone available to answer questions about Saudi Arabia’s inclusion in the Global Entry program after repeated requests throughout last week, and after indicating someone would provide more details.
The Global Entry deal comes three years after U.S. officials briefly placed Saudi Arabia on a list of 14 countries whose travelers would face enhanced scrutiny when entering the United States. It followed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab‘s failed attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009.
A cable sent from the American embassy to the State Department that was published by Wikileaks reported that Saudi government officials expressed “shock to be included on the list” and threatened to “to re-evaluate areas of cooperation, including counter-terrorism cooperation” if it was not rescinded.
The policy was dropped three months later, replaced with a new program designed to use threat assessments and intelligence of traveler’s behavioral traits and travel patterns.
Much more, read it all at IPT.
Back in in January we told you this, Obama ends restrictions on Saudis entering U.S., 60% increase since 2010.
Diplomats said the administration of President Barack Obama has removed most restrictions on the entry of Saudis to the United States. They said the percentage of visa approvals for Saudis has reached unprecedented levels.
The U.S. consulate in Dhahran reported issuing 100 visas per day to Saudis. In 2012, the total number of visas reached 21,000, nearly 30 percent of which went to Saudi students or their relatives.
The administration decision came amid a series of incidents in which Saudis were implicated in criminal and security offenses. In February 2011, a Saudi student was arrested on charges of plotting to bomb the home of former President George Bush in Texas. Diplomats said more than 70,000 Saudis were registered as studying in the United States.
But diplomats said the rate and process of approvals would be enhanced in 2013. They said the United States has approved more than 95 percent of visa applications for Saudi Arabia.
Re-read that post again too.