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Trusted-Travel Status for Country that Produced Most of the 9/11 Hijackers

Global Entry agreement with Saudi Arabia speeds forward with little information on key security concerns available to Congress.

Bridget Johnson


April 2, 2013 - 6:51 pm

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.”

Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, said “several” of her colleagues are up in arms about the agreement and questioned the security protocols that will be used by Saudi Arabian and DHS officials in vetting trusted travelers.

She also noted the administration’s brief listing of Saudi Arabia among 14 countries from which travelers would receive extra airport security screening. “This is a stark turnaround that at the very least deserves some answers,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

That 2010 order was quickly lifted in the wake of interest groups such as the Muslim Public Affairs Council protesting the inclusion of mostly Muslim countries on the list. It also came a year after the White House complained about observations that Obama made a bowing motion when greeting  Saudi King Abdullah.

“The new TSA guidelines deliver a propaganda victory to al-Qaeda and other violent extremist groups, since they rob targeted groups of people from their civil liberties based on their ethnicity and country of origin,” said MPAC Government Liaison Alejandro Beutel in January 2010. “Call it whatever you want, but this is religious and ethnic profiling at its worst.”

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), along with all of the subcommittee chairmen, protested the Global Entry designation in a letter to Napolitano last week.

“Despite our longstanding relationship with the Kingdom, there are potential risks in opening this program to Saudi Arabia that must be considered,” McCaul wrote along with Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y.), Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.), Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), Candice Miller (R-Mich.), and Susan Brooks (R-Ind.).

“As members of the House Committee on Homeland Security, we seek assurances from the Department that passengers from countries added to the program will receive the appropriate screening.” That includes a request for explanations on why DHS decided to extend the agreement to the Saudis in the first place and how they’ll work with Saudi authorities to screen passengers.

“This Committee is supportive of the Department’s efforts to expand trade and increase travel to the United States,” the lawmakers wrote. “However, we remain vigilant for vulnerabilities that our enemies can exploit to gain access to the Homeland. Expanding Global Entry to high-risk countries may represent such a risk.”

Ros-Lehtinen singled out details yet to be learned as especially troubling.

“This is an administration that has consistently overpromised and under delivered on transparency,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “For an administration that claims that transparency is one of its top priorities, this is a perfect opportunity for it to show the American people how it came to this decision, and what it will do to ensure that our national security is its utmost concern.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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All Comments   (7)
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More stupidity from the politicians. It is our relationship with Saudi Arabia that earned us our hatred from Al Queda and Bin Laden. Think for just a minute.
What ideology is it that says 'We will destroy your culture with Jihad in it's many forms and install a Islamic culture in its place'?
Have any of our politicians ever read the Koran do you think? Of all of the Nations in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is the most radical form of Islam today. Are we all completely stupid, will we never learn anything about those who claim to be our sworn enemies? We keep trying to love them as if they are our closest friends. They keep telling us who they really are and we refuse to listen. Ben Laden told us for years and in every way possible and still we thought it was all just a misunderstanding of symantics.
NO it is not, they really hate us and our society of freedom.... They really plan on killing each and every one of us or converting us to Islam and Shariah. WAKE UP!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Meanwhile grandma and a veteran in a wheelchair are strip searched while in line for a flight to Orlando.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Our lawmakers can't even protect American citizens, who don't fit the profile, against being searched without cause at the airports. They haven't done anything in a long time to protect the privacy of American citizens. We now have drones, illegal wiretapping, collection of private information into databases, etc. Nothing is being done about it. They only have time to force citizens to buy health insurance, disarm American citizens (including military veterans), and squabble over pet causes for small segments of the population.

It appears they were one of the intended targets on 9/11, and I'm confident they won't even do anything to protect themselves in this situation. That's how ineffective and useless they have become. Maybe O doesn't care if the lawmakers are in danger, because their approval rating is so low.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Of what possible benefit is this to us? The State Department knows that they fund terrorists. The entire Obama Administration is filled with incompetent idiots and America haters.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Which Countries "Fast Track" US citizens ?? This is appalling and another example of the mindless people running this Country
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
DaOne bowed to the keeper of the Kaabba where allah, or my god lives. That might have something to do with it.

BLT Marxism, and Islam go hand in hand.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
According to U.S. Trade Relations website we imported $47.bil in Saudi goods - $46 bil of which was oil in 2011. How do you put a dollar value on Wahhabism?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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