Jewish World Review March 19, 2002 / 6 Nisan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Last week the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) formally notified a flight school in Florida that student visas had been approved for Mohamed Atta, leader of the hijackers on Sept. 11, and for Marwan al Shehhi, one of his accomplices.
This suggested that vigilance at the agency upon which we primarily rely to keep potential terrorists out of this country is not all that we might hope for.
Among those who are disappointed in the performance of the INS are President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"I could barely get my coffee down when I opened up my local newspaper," said Bush.
"Individuals will be held responsible for any professional incompetence that led to this failure," said Ashcroft, to whom INS reports.
If Ashcroft meant what he said, this will be a huge departure from recent practice in government.
Americans believe corporate executives like those at Enron and at Arthur Andersen, Enron's accountant and auditor, should be held accountable for their misdeeds. And it appears they shall. Criminal investigations are proceeding. Civil lawsuits are proliferating. Enron is bankrupt, and Arthur Andersen seems headed in that direction.
Nothing Enron or Arthur Andersen did led to the violent deaths of more than 3,000 Americans. It took collective gross negligence by the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs (which is responsible for issuing visas); the INS (which is responsible for letting people into the country); the Federal Aviation Administration (which then was responsible for oversight of airport security); and the FBI and CIA (which were stingy in sharing information on potential terrorists with State and INS), to do that. But can you name a single public official who has been called to account for the negligence that made 9/11 possible?
We are not speaking only of the bureaucrats who run executive branch agencies. Mark Krikorian, executive director for the Center for Immigration Studies, reminds us that many of the measures discussed since Sept. 11 - such as a foreign student tracking system, computerized entry/exit tracking for visitors, and federal standards for state drivers' licenses - were actually passed by Congress more than five years ago, but were repealed or watered down in the interim.
"Not one lawmaker has been called to task for his actions in weakening our defenses against terrorism," Krikorian notes.
That's chiefly because of negligence in my profession, journalism. At the top of our pecking order are political reporters, who are engaged, essentially, in gossip. We do a good job of reporting what politicians promise, but a poor job of reporting on whether or not they keep those promises. We report on how much Congress spends on this or that, but not very well on how it is spent.
While we focus on who is ahead of whom in some straw poll in Iowa, we've missed a lot. Our borders are essentially out of control. The equivalent of the population of New York City is in this country illegally. Among the illegals, according to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, are at least 100 Al Qaeda terrorists. Deportation orders have been issued for 314,000 illegal immigrants, but the INS doesn't know where they are. Only about 2 percent of the thousands of shipping containers which enter the United States each day - any one of which could contain a bomb - are inspected.
The deficiencies in the agencies responsible for border control, airport security, and intelligence collection long predated the Bush administration, and worsened greatly in the eight years preceding it. But President Bush has so far done little to turn things around. And he is doing something that may make matters worse.
Bush supports a partial amnesty for people waiting for green cards but who are already here illegally. There would be some merit to this at a different time. But its effect now would be to overwhelm an already demonstrably incompetent INS.
It's time the safety of the American people be put ahead of politics. And
it's time that politicians and government bureaucrats were held to the same
standard of accountability we insist upon for corporate
03/15/02: Khaki Throat