WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Wednesday urged the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand its program that sets visa policy and places law enforcers in consulates around the world to oversee visa issuance.
DHS and the Department of State said that of the 57 high-risk consular posts around the globe, only 14 have Visa Security Program (VSP) offices, and one of the impediments to expanding the program is the reluctance by some ambassadors to allow VSP offices at their posts.
Some of these posts include countries key to fighting terror, such as the United Kingdom, Turkey and Indonesia.
“Securing the homeland is now a global enterprise,” Lieberman said. “It begins well before people come to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department need to work together to ensure that prospective travelers are fully vetted before boarding a plane bound for this country. Expanding the Visa Security Program is a key part of this global enterprise, and we are prepared to be the bad cops if that’s what it takes to make sure that this happens.”
Collins said: “It is clear that terrorists will continue to seek to exploit any vulnerabilities in our visa system. We must continue to strengthen our visa issuance and revocation process. Since this is a primary means of preventing terrorists from traveling to our nation, it must work effectively and it must be a priority. Visa holders with possible connections to terrorism should shoulder the burden of proving they do not intend to harm this nation or its citizens. If they cannot meet this burden, then we cannot take the risk of permitting them the privilege of traveling to our country.”
This was the fifth in a series of hearings HSGAC has held to examine the intelligence and security systems that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a U.S. bound airliner and attempt to blow it up.
The State Department witness, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs, described changes that have been implemented since Christmas Day to strengthen the visa issuing and revocation process. She said State has put measures into place to more swiftly revoke visas to people linked to terrorism and has deployed software to check multiple possible name spellings for visa records to avoid the error that occurred in the Christmas Day case when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s name was misspelled, leading officials to believe he didn’t have a visa and thus did not pose an immediate threat.
But, even if his visa-status had been known when his father raised concerns to the embassy in Nigeria, it would not necessarily have been revoked.
Jacobs noted that as a result of the changes State has implemented, the concerns expressed by Abdulmutallab’s father would now lead to the revocation of his son’s visa.
Gaps remain, however.
“Nine years after September 11, we still do not have an automated system in place to check for revoked visas as individuals board airplanes,” Lieberman said.
Also testifying at the hearing were DHS Assistant Secretary of Policy David Heyman and DHS Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement John Morton.