Persistent Inaction: Inviting International Terrorism (2007)

Why does the United States remain at risk six years after the mass murder and mass destruction of the September 11, 2001 attacks on our country by al-Qaeda terrorists? The only clear answer to that question is that interests that benefit from maintaining our borders open to a largely unrestricted flow of foreigners into and out of our country have effectively deterred measures that would close major loopholes that perpetuate our continuing vulnerability.

The nation’s major continuing vulnerability falls into three categories:

  • Inadequate screening of travelers entering and leaving the country.
  • Inadequate control over illegal entry into the country and enforcement of the law denying employment to illegal workers.
  • Lack of identity security.

Whether or not Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s “gut instincts” are correct and a new al-Qaeda attack occurs this year, the American public should know why our vulnerability in each of those three areas has not been adequately addressed, and who is responsible for hindering those efforts. It is clear that security against infiltration of international terrorists — or smugglers or illegal workers — will never be absolute in an age of international trade, and travel, but that does not mean that we should tolerate unnecessary loopholes in our defenses against the terrorism threat simply because doing so benefits business interests. The adoption of legislation in August this year to further implement recommendations of the 9/11 Commission does not close the loopholes identified in this report, and actually widens the loophole created by the Visa Waiver Program that admits foreign travelers from certain countries without in-country scrutiny by our consular officers.

We cannot assess whether the nation’s ability to detect and disrupt terrorists plotting abroad for an attack on America has improved. However, the judgment that we are still unnecessarily vulnerable to attack indicates that whatever improvement there may have been is not sufficient protection. We must therefore focus on the domestic situation in which an attack will be prepared and executed and ask whether adequate efforts are being made to prevent terrorists from operating on our soil.

A major challenge to protecting the nation’s homeland is the enormous stream of hundreds of thousands of foreigners illegally crossing our borders or otherwise taking up illegal residence in our country annually. Identifying and intercepting the intending terrorist in this flow is the age-old problem of finding the needle in the haystack.

Similarly, the presence of 12 million or more illegal residents in the country hampers the surveillance of terrorist cells. The presence of these millions of foreigners is defended by vocal interest groups representing civic, religious, ethnic, and employer associations and like-minded politicians, and in some locations has led to the adoption of sanctuary policies that constrain the vigilance of police forces. This constitutes an environment within which intending terrorists may easily operate. The illegal alien population is one that that hides from authority, owes its presence to knowingly violating our immigration laws, engages in the use of fraudulent identity documents — increasingly on the basis of identity theft of U.S. citizens — and often comes from cultures where law enforcement agencies are seen as oppressors.

The symbiotic relationship between the illegal alien population and terrorists is best demonstrated in the fact that some of the 9/11 terrorists used the same channel regularly used by illegal workers to fraudulently obtain driver’s licenses in Virginia.1 That fact led the 9/11 Commission to identify the urgent need to adopt a national system of secure identity documents.2 The law enacted in 2005 to implement that recommendation has not yet entered into force. The provisions of the REAL ID Act that were to enter into force in 2008 but have been delayed to 2009 as a number of states have objected to the law’s requirements as an unfunded mandate. A number of fringe groups on the right (libertarians) and the left (ACLU and other civil libertarians) are working to overturn the law, thereby perpetuating a major weakness in the nation’s defense against terrorism.

The announcement on August 10 by the Bush administration of a package of stepped-up enforcement measures at the border and at the worksite offers the prospect of limiting the flow of illegal immigration into the country and encouraging return migration of those here illegally, but, as is discussed below, loopholes remain that jeopardize national security.

Read the full report in pdf format.

September 2007