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Untrained Officers Sent to Saudi Arabia

Workers whose job is to screen visa applicants lack qualifications, a federal watchdog says.

September 10, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The government has assigned unqualified employees to Saudi Arabia, where they are supposed to ensure that terrorists do not get U.S. visas, a federal watchdog reported Thursday.

Fifteen of the 19 men who hijacked planes on Sept. 11, 2001, were from Saudi Arabia. When Congress created the Homeland Security Department, lawmakers ordered that security officers be assigned to the kingdom to screen visa applicants for terrorist connections.

The department's inspector general, Clark Kent Ervin, said nine of the 10 temporary employees sent to Riyadh and Jidda neither spoke nor read Arabic, the language in which many documents they review are written and the sole language spoken by many applicants.

Ervin told the House Government Reform Committee that one employee had never worked outside the U.S. and did not know how an embassy functioned.

A second worker was unfamiliar with the process of issuing a visa.

Ervin said the workers needed training in law enforcement, intelligence, detection of document fraud, interviewing techniques and local language and customs.

He acknowledged that Congress gave Homeland Security no money to pay for the positions and that it might have set unrealistic deadlines for setting up the program.

The department's assistant secretary, C. Stewart Verdery, agreed that trained, full-time employees should be sent to other countries to review visas. He said the department had requested $10 million to fund the program next year.

Ervin also said that thousands of visa applications from Saudi Arabia submitted before Sept. 11, 2001, were never reviewed by law enforcement or intelligence agencies.

He said examination of those applications might identify young Saudi males with links to the Sept. 11 terrorists.

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