Lawmakers are livid that the Obama administration quietly added Saudi Arabia to the short list of countries in the Global Entry program to expedite screening for pre-approved travelers deemed to be a low security risk.
Currently, the trusted traveler program is open to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, Dutch citizens, South Korean citizens and Mexican nationals. Canadians can join through the NEXUS program. Travelers check in at a kiosk where they’re either allowed to breeze into the country or are flagged for a normal entry interview.
The Obama administration forged the agreement with the Saudi government in Washington this January, but Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s meeting with Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef largely flew under the radar on Capitol Hill.
“I am proud of the bond between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and today’s meeting marks another major step forward in our partnership,” Napolitano said. “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.”
The agreement allowed for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to begin implementing the program that fast-tracks prescreened travelers through security lines in Saudi Arabia, and “initiate discussions to establish a reciprocal program,” according to DHS.
Napolitano and the prince released a joint statement calling the “security and economic prosperity” agreement an “effort to reaffirm the extraordinary bond between [the U.S. and Saudi Arabia] and advance this partnership.”
“The trusted traveler programs will facilitate trade and travel between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America and will help authorities from MOI and DHS more effectively identify potential threats to keep their borders and countries secure,” the statement continued. “The objective will be to start implementation within the next six months with full operations starting in 2014.”
The pair also announced new agreements on cybersecurity, infrastructure protection and maritime security.
Napolitano signed a Global Entry agreement with Israel in May 2012, but it hasn’t moved forward to implementation.
Fifteen out of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, were Saudi citizens. The ultraconservative kingdom calls terrorists “deviants” and now runs a generously funded, luxe “rehabilitation” program for extremists that includes Islamic education, a wife and wedding paid for by the government, and a job.
“It’s difficult to understand the administration’s decision-making process to place Saudi Arabia as the next country to receive the status of ‘trusted traveler,’” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said today. “The administration needs to explain how it came to this decision and what steps it and DHS are taking to ensure our nation’s security will be safeguarded against any potential terrorist attack from those who would seek to take advantage of this upgrade in status. It also needs to explain why it has chosen Saudi Arabia to be ‘rewarded’ with such a status and placed on this list before many of our other, more trusted allies.”