political journal National Review obtained the visa
applications for 15 of the 19 hijackers - and evidence that all of
them should have been denied entry to the country.
Almost all of the hijacker's visas were issued in Saudi Arabia,
at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh or the U.S. Consulate in Jedda.
Terrorist ties aside, the applications themselves should have raised
red flags, say experts. The forms are incomplete and often
incomprehensible - yet that didn't stop any of the 15 terrorists for
whom the visa applications were obtained from coming to the United
The only alleged would-be hijacker who failed to get a visa was
Ramzi Binalshibh, who was denied entrance to the United States
"This is a systemic problem," said Nikolai Wenzel, a former U.S.
consular officer. "It's a problem of sloppiness, it's a problem of
negligence which I would call criminal negligence because obviously,
having reviewed all these applications, there is a pattern here."
The pattern? None of the 15 applications reviewed was filled out
Brothers Wail and Waleed al Shehri applied together in October
2000. Under "occupation" Wail wrote "teater;" brother Waleed claimed
"student." The name and address of alleged employer and school was
listed as "South City," and the questionable U.S. destination named
Abdulaziz Alomari claimed to be a student but didn't name a
school; claimed to be married but didn't name a spouse; under
nationality and gender, he didn't list anything.
Three months later, Alomari followed his friend Mohamed Atta
through airport security . heading for the World Trade Center.
Khalid Al Mihdhar, who helped crash the plane into the Pentagon,
simply listed "Hotel" as his U.S. destination - no name, no city, no
state - but no problem getting a visa.
Just One Had a Slight Delay
Hani Hanjour, who also was on the plane that hit the Pentagon,
had only a slight delay in acquiring his visa. A consulate employee
flagged Hanjour's first application, noting that Hanjour wanted to
"visit" for three years, although the legal limit is two. When
Hanjour returned two weeks later, he simply changed the form to read
"They were handing these things out gift-wrapped with ribbons on
top," said Joel Mowbray, contributing editor of the National
Mowbray, who obtained the visas, said he was shocked by what he
saw. "I mean, I really was expecting al Qaeda to have trained their
operatives well, to beat the system," he said. "They didn't have to
beat the system, the system was rigged in their favor from the
The State Department insists that employees did nothing wrong -
that the questions raised about the applications amount to Monday
morning quarterbacking, and that extensive screening procedures have
now been implemented to improve the process.
The State Department would not allow interviews with current
consular affairs employees.