Nearly six months after they slammed jumbo jets into World Trade Center Towers One and Two respectively, killer pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi received approval for flight training from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. Nothing better highlights the outrageous lack of accountability for the most calamitous intelligence and law-enforcement blunder in U.S. history. Holes large enough to accommodate Boeing 767s still plague federal security agencies. When will heads roll over 9/11?
Rudi Dekkers, owner of Huffman Aviation International in Venice, Florida, (where the two kamikaze hijackers took flight lessons) was startled to receive these notices on March 11, the very day Americans commemorated the six months elapsed since terror struck. The documents — mailed March 5 from an INS-contracted processing center in London, Kentucky — upgraded Atta’s and al-Shehhi’s tourist visas to student status, allowing them to study at Huffman. According to NBC News, one of the notices was addressed to Atta himself.
How on earth could federal authorities responsible for barring dangerous aliens from the United States see Atta’s and al-Shehhi’s names on federal forms and not trigger klaxons? This is akin to presidential aides sending Lee Harvey Oswald an invitation to a May 1964 White House state dinner. How many other known fanatics are receiving student visas so they can hone their mass-murder skills? Atta’s notorious name made no one at the INS say, “Hey, boss. Check this out!” so,why should such obscure names as suspected U.S. embassy bombers Saif al-Adel and Anas al-Liby raise eyebrows merely because they are on the FBI’s 22 Most Wanted Terrorists list?
The INS, for its part, says the visas were approved before anyone had ever heard of these suicide pilots. Still, the fact that these forms routinely traversed taxpayer-funded desks and computer screens a full half-year since September’s slaughter indicates that U.S. officials are not just napping in the cockpit; they’ve lapsed into a deep, collective coma.
And who can blame them? They can see clearly that no matter how badly they screw up, they can continue to collect their paychecks and plump up their pension funds. After consulting government sources, private-sector experts and Internet databases, I cannot name one federal employee who has lost his job over the 9-11 attacks.
The INS, for example, suggests it is too soon after this fiasco for anyone to be terminated. INS commissioner James Ziglar could snap his staff from their slumber by clearing out his desk. And the INS also should send people packing at the London, Kentucky facility.
“I am unaware of anyone who has been fired or dismissed based on” 9/11, said spokesman Bill Carter of the FBI, the agency in charge of domestic counterterrorism.
Asked if any of her colleagues had been sacked or had resigned in shame since 9/11, spokeswoman Anya Guilsher told me: “At the CIA, the answer is no.”
Director George Tenet, of course, still heads the CIA after America’s most catastrophic intelligence lapse ever. In February 6 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Tenet actually boasted about the CIA’s “record of discipline, strategy, focus, and action.” He added: “We are proud of that record.” Under the circumstances, one might have expected a bit more humility from Tenet. Apparently, working in Washington means never having to say you’re sorry.
This is an era without consequences, and nowhere more so than in the federal government. High profile, public, congressional hearings might begin to expose the people and systems that totally malfunctioned that late-summer morning. Those officials who did not do their jobs surely are well-intentioned patriots. But if they lack the imagination, intellect, energy or basic competence to have prevented 3,054 deaths, they should not remain at their stations. If they are merely victims of faulty procedures, excessive paperwork, antiquated computers, or other factors, those immediately must be streamlined and modernized.
Sweeping all this under a Persian rug while letting those who failed in their sensitive posts remain just won’t do. Vacuuming up this mess is a matter of national urgency. That may scuttle some careers and hurt some feelings, but how many more mass funerals are we prepared to stomach?