Why the Bombing in Boston Just Sent Shivers Down Janet Napolitano’s Spine
According to at least one media report, a 20 year-old Saudi citizen who is currently visiting the United States on a student visa is a suspect in yesterday’s horrific Boston Marathon bombing. The New York Post reported that the suspect has been questioned by authorities. The attack must have sent shivers down the spine of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who recently led efforts to ease travel restrictions for students between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, in January Napolitano officially added Saudi Arabia to the list of countries approved for Global Entry, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) travel program that allows approved travelers to skip Customs and Border Protection lines and enter the country after providing their passports and fingerprints at a kiosk. The accord was struck during the visit of Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef and is set to take full effect in 2014.
According to the signed statement, the program “will facilitate trade and travel between Saudi Arabia and the United States and will help authorities from the MoI and DHS more effectively identity potential threats to keep their borders and countries secure.”
Almost immediately after the accord, Republican lawmakers in Congress warned Napolitano about the potential dangers of opening up the Global Entry Program to Saudi Arabia. Yet, in typical Cassandra fashion, Napolitano ignored the warnings. Only, now, the GOP’s contentions about the program have proven to be prescient.
Representative Frank Wolf (R-Va.) was the first of many GOP lawmakers to call the pact a bad idea. “I think you have radical Wahhabism in certain elements in Saudi Arabia, and I think to be more lenient there than in other places would be a mistake,” Wolf said. “There were 15 [hijackers] from that country, and there is a lot taking place in that region. Some of the people who went back to Saudi Arabia through Guantanamo – we find that they are in battlefields in Afghanistan or some other place, so I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Two months later, on March 29, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul and the panel’s subcommittee chairmen asked Napolitano to explain why the Department of Homeland Security extended a trusted traveler program to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In a subsequent letter to Napolitano, seven GOP lawmakers expressed deep concerns about “potential risks” associated with expanding Global Entry to Saudi Arabia. “Of the 19 individuals who hijacked American planes on September 11, 2001 – 15 were from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the letter stated. “More recently, following the plot to blow up an international flight over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, the Department saw fit to increase the scrutiny of passengers from countries like Saudi Arabia. This must be a factor in determining who to admit into the Global Entry Program.”
“This Committee is supportive of the Department’s efforts to expand trade and increase travel to the United States. 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,” the GOP lawmakers concluded.
However, instead of acknowledging the dangers associated with opening up the program to Saudi Arabia, Napolitano noted that “the accord marks another major step forward in our partnership. 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.”
It is clear from yesterday’s horrific bombing in Boston the depths to which Napolitano’s words now ring false. Republican lawmakers must be fuming. And President Obama – if he hasn’t already – should certainly take note.
Mr. Raskas served in the Israel Defense Forces and is a research analyst for SecureAmericaNow.org.