On February 6, The New York Times published a chilling report on the arrest in Oklahoma of a foreign national who had attended an al Qaeda training camp. The defendant in this case is Naif Abdulaziz M. Alfallaj, a 34-year-old citizen of Saudi Arabia who has been residing in the U.S. since 2011. Allegedly he attended a terror training camp in Afghanistan in 2000 when four of the 9/11 hijacker/terrorists also attended training sessions at that very same camp.
Here is an excerpt from the Justice Department’s press release on the arrest:
According to the (criminal) complaint, the FBI found 15 of Alfallaj’s fingerprints on an application to an al Qaeda training camp, known as al Farooq, which was one of al Qaeda’s key training sites in Afghanistan. The document was recovered by the U.S. military from an al Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan. The document is also alleged to include an emergency contact number associated with Alfallaj’s father in Saudi Arabia. Alfallaj is alleged to have first entered the U.S. in late 2011 on a nonimmigrant visa based on his wife’s status as a foreign student. According to the complaint, he answered several questions on his visa application falsely, including whether he had ever supported terrorists or terrorist organizations.
The indictment returned today charges two counts of visa fraud. Count One alleges that from March 2012 to the present, Alfallaj possessed a visa obtained by fraud. Count Two alleges he used that visa in October 2016 to apply for lessons at a private flight school in Oklahoma. The third count in the indictment charges Alfallaj with making a false statement to the FBI during a terrorism investigation when he was interviewed and denied ever having associated with anyone from a foreign terrorist group.
This is a “good news/bad news” story.
It is certainly impressive that our government was able to uncover the evidence upon which this criminal case is based, however, he was lawfully admitted into the United States in 2011, more than a decade after he received terror training. He has been in the United States for about seven years and his presence in the United States only came to the attention of the FBI when he sought pilot training in October 2016.
It was discovered that he had lied when he applied for his visa to enter the United States by concealing his connection to terrorism.
This case causes me to have a sort of flashback to the congressional hearing at which I testified on March 19, 2002. The title of the hearing was the “INS’s Notification of Approval of Change of Status for Pilot Training for Terrorist Hijackers Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi.”
The C-SPAN video of that hearing is one that every member of Congress and the leadership of DHS, the State Department and other agencies of the Trump administration should be required to watch, especially as they contemplate calling into action a bureaucracy that continues to demonstrate its ineptitude in effectively screening aliens applicants for immigration benefits.
I have frequently noted in many of my articles and in my testimony before congressional hearings that the 9/11 Commission identified immigration fraud as the key entry and embedding tactic of terrorists. This is why the second largest contingent of law enforcement personnel assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) are ICE agents.
As a former INS agent I don’t like to speculate, I certainly prefer to deal with facts, however, there are some very serious and obvious questions that the Alfallaj case raises.
While it may be that Alfallaj had no nefarious purposes for taking pilot training, it is impossible to not consider the that Alfallaj is a “sleeper agent,” that is to say, an enemy combatant who entered the United States with the ultimate goal of participating in a deadly attack. If so, was he planning to participate in a hijacking of an airliner with others who perhaps have yet to be identified? Or was he perhaps planning to complete his flight training and then use a rented airplane as a weapon?
Having considered the case of Alfallaj, we must contemplate President Trump’s offer to provide 1.6 million DACA aliens with lawful status and pathway to citizenship.
Purportedly these illegal aliens entered the United States as children and hence had no control over their situation. However, because they may be in their mid 30’s it is entirely possible that a significant number of them may lie about their actual dates of entry and that, although they claimed that they entered as children, they may well have entered relatively recently as adults.
Furthermore, these aliens are citizens from countries around the world, as reported by the DHS.
I addressed my misgivings about the the president’s plans in a recent article, DACA Solution Must Heed 9/11 Commission Findings. In conducting their deliberations about President Trump’s solution for DACA illegal aliens, members of Congress must take into account that the adjudications process would be conducted by a division of the DHS, along with other agencies that have failed, time and again, to properly vet aliens who have turned out to be terrorists and/or criminals.
President Trump ignited a firestorm, awhile back, when he issued executive orders to prevent the entry of aliens from countries that sponsor terrorism who could not be effectively vetted by our officials. President Trump’s stand on this issue was entirely proper and prudent, given the totality of circumstances. As I noted in an article back then, a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, Title 8 U.S. Code § 1182, provides the President of the United States with the discretionary authority to imposed such restrictions even though he was enjoined by judges from implementing his orders.
The President is still very much concerned about the vetting process for aliens seeking entry into the United States to prevent the entry of terrorists and criminals. Indeed, during his State of the Union Address, when he discussed the second of his “four pillars” for reforming the immigration system, he referred to the “loopholes” by which criminals and terrorists enter the United States. In reality, there are no “loopholes” but fraud that goes undetected and a lack of integrity of the immigration system.
Nevertheless the President is willing to rely on that same system to legalize 1.8 million DACA aliens. It is likely that even more aliens would file applications, many laden with fraud information and claims.
After the attacks of 9/11 we were frequently told that for America to be safe, our officials had to “get it right 100% of the time” while in order for the terrorists to succeed, they only had to “get it right once.” Every application filed by an alien for a visa or for lawful status provides terrorists with that opportunity of “getting it right.”
Consider this excerpt from Chapter 12 of the 9/11 Commission Report:
Before 9/11, no agency of the U.S. government systematically analyzed terrorists’ travel strategies. Had they done so, they could have discovered the ways in which the terrorist predecessors to al Qaeda had been systematically but detectably exploiting weaknesses in our border security since the early 1990s.
We found that as many as 15 of the 19 hijackers were potentially vulnerable to interception by border authorities. Analyzing their characteristic travel documents and travel patterns could have allowed authorities to intercept 4 to 15 hijackers and more effective use of information available in U.S. government databases could have identified up to 3 hijackers.
Looking back, we can also see that the routine operations of our immigration laws-that is, aspects of those laws not specifically aimed at protecting against terrorism-inevitably shaped al Qaeda’s planning and opportunities. Because they were deemed not to be bona fide tourists or students as they claimed, five conspirators that we know of tried to get visas and failed, and one was denied entry by an inspector. We also found that had the immigration system set a higher bar for determining whether individuals are who or what they claim to be-and ensuring routine consequences for violations-it could potentially have excluded, removed, or come into further contact with several hijackers who did not appear to meet the terms for admitting short-term visitors.
Our investigation showed that two systemic weaknesses came together in our border system’s inability to contribute to an effective defense against the 9/11 attacks: a lack of well-developed counterterrorism measures as a part of border security and an immigration system not able to deliver on its basic commitments, much less support counterterrorism.
The succession of terror attacks carried out by aliens who gamed the immigration system and acquired political asylum, lawful immigrant status and even citizenship, prove just how incapable that system is to deal with its current workload of 6 million applications annually, sounding alarms the President must hear.
False security is worse — far, far worse — than no security, particularly where terrorists are concerned.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in FrontPage Magazine.