Every September 11, Americans ask each other where they were and what they were doing when they first heard that terrorists slammed four jumbo passenger jets into different U.S. locations, resulting in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.
I was on assignment in Naco, Arizona watching the border patrol monitor crossings from Mexico. After wrapping up about 3 a.m. and returning safely to my hotel, I fell asleep until I got a call around 7 a.m. telling me to turn on my television. Since I had worked directly across the street from the Twin Towers, the devastation hit home. Luckily, no friends were killed, but the planes destroyed subway stations, restaurants and shops that had once been part of my daily life.
Recent threats from ISIS that the organization is determined to destroy the U.S. are eerily similar to those made by Al Qaeda in the days leading up to 9/11. Even though the CIA warned the White House that Al Qaeda was credible and should be taken seriously, President Clinton ignored the advice and left America vulnerable.
The shocking Department of Homeland Security announcement earlier this month that it can’t find 58,000 foreign nationals who entered the U.S. on student visas should send chills down the backs of every American. Of the 58,000, DHS considers 6,000 whose visas have expired but who have apparently remained in the U.S. to be subjects of interest, a frightening thought in the context of 9/11 and ISIS threats.
Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn said, “They get the visas, and then they just disappear.”
More than 9,000 schools participate in the student visa program. Talk about lax federal oversight: the schools are responsible for reporting back to DHS if the students don’t show up. The problem, of course, is that they don’t. They collect the hefty tuition foreign-born students willingly pay, but fail to comply with the reporting requirement.
Peter Edge, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement official who oversees visa violations said that the so-called students “could be doing anything. Some of them could be here to do us harm.”
Edge has plenty of reason for concern. Hani Hanjour, one of the 9/11 hijackers that crashed American Airlines flight 77 into the Pentagon entered the U.S. on a student visa. And in 1993 during the first World Trade Center attack, Eyad Esmoil also got a student visa. Esmoil, who loaded a van with explosive chemicals and drove it into the WTC, dropped out after three semesters to plot with six other terrorists, including one who overstayed his tourist visa, to blow up the WTC.
In all, 48 Islamic terrorists associated with 9/11 exploited virtually every available immigration program to gain entry, including obtaining tourist, business and student visas.
Pursuant to 9/11 Commission recommendations, in 2002 DHS created the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System which required visa recipients from countries that represent a security risk to register with a local ICE office. Visa holders had to account for exactly what they were doing while in the country and could only leave the country through designated ports of entry. Hence, if a terrorist arrived on a student visa, but stopped attending school, DHS would have the necessary tools to track him down. To security officials’ bewilderment, Obama ordered DHS to abolish the program in 2011.
Last night, I watched an interview with Terry McDermott whose book “Perfect Soldiers” recounts the biographies of the 9/11 hijackers and explains how they carried out their murderous plot. McDermott said that the terrorists were neither especially intelligent nor diligent in the execution of their plan. “Ordinary” is how McDermott described them. The terrorists were, however, extremely devoted to their cause and to America’s destruction.
McDermott’s view, one that I share, is that another attack is probable. McDermott speculates that because of today’s mostly nonexistent security and the increased number of determined terrorists, killing thousands of innocent Americans might be easier to do than it was in 2001.