Pitfalls of the Visa Waiver Program

A serious threat to U.S. national security and public safety.

Immigration is a major factor in ever so many of the issues confronting America and Americans, but all too frequently the media neglects to identify or acknowledge the nexus between those issues and immigration. Consequently, many folks fail to recognize just how significant and pervasive the immigration issue is in their lives and why failures of the immigration system have the potential to profoundly impact them and our nation.

On December 23, 2018 the CBS News program, 60 Minutes aired a report, Inside The Corruption Allegations Plaguing Malta.

At first glance, it would be hard to imagine that Malta’s alleged corruption could have relevance to the immigration issue or that Americans should be concerned about the alleged corruption in Malta.  Malta is a small, indeed, tiny nation located on an archipelago in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast with a population of fewer than a half-million citizens (460,297 in 2017 according to Eurostat).

However, diminutive as it might be, Malta presents a serious threat to U.S. national security and public safety because of an ill-conceived program known as the Visa Waiver Program that was first implemented as a pilot program by the Reagan administration.

Over the years this program became a permanent program and the number of countries that participate in this program, which enables the citizens of participating countries to enter the United States as tourists for up to 90 days.  Malta is one of those countries that participates in the Visa Waiver Program.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the 60 Minutes report:

Perhaps in that same entrepreneurial spirit, the government (of Malta) has launched a program, some call it a scheme, to sell passports to the world’s super-rich. Have a spare million? You too could buy Maltese citizenship, and as this promotional video shows, the European Union passport that comes with it.

Promotional Video: As citizens of Malta, successful applicants can enjoy visa-free access to approximately 170 countries.

Jon Wertheim: Who’s buying these passports?

Manuel Delia: Russian tycoons, Chinese tycoons, Saudi tycoons, Nigerian tycoons.

For Manuel Delia, an online journalist and longtime critic of the current government, the program, estimated to have brought in almost a billion dollars, is essentially a Trojan horse, allowing those with dubious aims to breach Europe’s borders.

Jon Wertheim: Why would they want a Maltese passport?

Manuel Delia: Because they want to go in the rest of the world, hiding where they’re really from. Maltese passports give them not only free movement for themselves through European airports, but it gives their money, their capital free movement throughout Europe.

And free movement to the United States.

Jon Wertheim: American airport, you’ve got that Maltese passport validated by the EU, you go right through passport control?

Manuel Delia: Visa-free. Absolutely. So, that’s a big reason to have it.

Applicants to the “golden passport program,” as it’s come to be known, are supposed to show that they’ve established residence in Malta for at least a year, but when we checked the listed address for a Russian tycoon it led us here. To a modest suburb and rundown basement apartment that had been divided in two.

Jon Wertheim: let’s just call this what it is. This– this is a fraud.

It is important to note that on September 11, 2001 citizens of the 26 countries that participated in the Visa Waiver Program were able to enter the United States without first applying for and receiving visas. 

During the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama the number of participating Countries climbed to 38 participating countries, in large measures spurred by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Discover America Partnership that blithely ignored that the first paragraph of the preface of the official report known as 911 and  Terrorist Travel that was prepared by the federal agents and attorneys assigned to the 911 Commission stated:

It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United States if they are unable to enter the country. Yet prior to September 11, while there were efforts to enhance border security, no agency of the U.S. government thought of border security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Indeed, even after 19 hijackers demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security policy. We believe, for reasons we discuss in the following pages, that it must be made one.

In 2015, I wrote an article, Inviting Catastrophe Through Our Ports Of Entry, that focused on the deadly threats to the homeland posed by the legal immigration system, including the Visa Waiver Program.  My article included the six major ways that a properly administered visa program could help enhance national security, public safety and even airline safety that are all lost to the Visa Waiver Program:

1.  The Visa adjudications process screens airline passengers flying to the United States, enhancing aviation safety.

2.  The inspections process conducted at ports of entry by CBP is supposed to be conducted in one minute or less. The visa requirement requires aliens to be vetted overseas helping to provide  more integrity to this process.

3. The application for a nonimmigrant (temporary) visa contains roughly 40 questions and biometric identifiers that could provide invaluable information to law enforcement officials should that alien become the target of a criminal or terrorist investigation. The information could provide intelligence as well as investigative leads. 

4. False statements on the application for a visa constitute “visa fraud.” The maximum penalty for visa fraud starts out at 10 years in jail and go to a maximum of 25 years in prison when the visa fraud is done to support terrorism.

5. The charge of visa fraud can enable law enforcement authorities to take a “bad guy” off the street without tipping their hand to the other members of a criminal conspiracy or terrorism conspiracy that the individual arrested was being arrested for his involvement in terrorism. 

6.  Even when an application for a visa is denied, the application and the biometric identifiers provided in conjunction with that application remain available for law enforcement and intelligence personnel to review to seek to glean intelligence from that application.

My article went on to discuss additional materials contained in that staff report, specifically Chapter 3, _Terrorist Entry and Embedding Tactics, 1993 to 2001_ which included this excerpt:

The relative ease with which the hijackers obtained visas and entered the United States underscores the importance of travel to their terrorist operations. In this section we explore the evolution of terrorist travel tactics and organization. We begin with terrorist plots in the 1990s and conclude with the 911 attack.

3.1 The Redbook

Since the early 1970s numerous terrorist organizations have provided their operatives with a wide variety of spurious documents. After showing their spurious passports and papers at border control, these terrorist operatives have proceeded to hijack airplanes, plant bombs, and carry out assassinations. These terrorist acts, however, can be stopped… .

If we all screen travelers and check their passports, as past experience proves, terrorist will lose their ability to travel undetected, and international terrorism will come one step closer to being stopped!

—The Redbook (1992)

By definition, transnational terrorist groups need to travel to commit terrorist acts. Indeed, without freedom of movement terrorists cannot plan, conduct surveillance, hold meetings, train for their mission, or execute an attack. Terrorists rely on forged passports and fake visas to move around the world unimpeded and undetected. This has been known for more than three decades. It is difficult today to judge with certainty what else was known about terrorist travel methods in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the existence of a CIA training video and manual is evidence of an understanding that terrorists relied on certain tactics when they traveled and that they could be stopped by alert individuals who recognized the use of those tactics.

Finally, consider these paragraphs:

The Redbook focused on five types of travel document fraud committed by terrorists: forgeries of some 35 national passports and the travel cachets of at least 45 countries; forged documents terrorists purchased from commercial vendors; stolen blank passports, which terrorists could fill in with biographical data of their choosing; information on genuine altered passports that had been photo-substituted or given an extended validity date (discussed in greater detail in the Passport Examination Manual, a companion to the Redbook); and genuine, unaltered passports, most likely procured with the knowledge of the issuing country or through a corrupt government official.

Thus, abuse of the immigration system and a lack of interior immigration enforcement were unwittingly working together to support terrorist activity. It would remain largely unknown, since no agency of the United States government analyzed terrorist travel patterns until after 911. This lack of attention meant that critical opportunities to disrupt terrorist travel and, therefore, deadly terrorist operations were missed.

Nevertheless, the Visa Waiver Program continues and Malta remains a member of this supposedly elite “club” of countries that participates in the Visa Waiver Program while sanctuary cities harbor and shield illegal aliens from detection, and the Democrats call for open borders and an end to interior enforcement of our immigration laws.

In the 1976 thriller _Marathon Man_ Dustin Hoffman’s character is tortured and repeatedly asked

“Is it safe?”

That is the question we should be asking our “leaders” where the current state of border security and immigration law enforcement are concerned.

Those leaders betray their oaths of office and their obligations to bow to the special interest groups who see in America’s borders an impediment to their wealth and not the first and last line of defense of our nation and our citizens that they truly are.

Of course, the answer to that question is clearly self-evident.