History Commons Groups

February 28, 2010

9/11 Commission Documents about the US Consulate in Jeddah (updated 13 April 2010)


This post lists all the documents we are finding in the 9/11 Commission’s archives about the US Consulate in Jeddah, at which numerous visas were issued to the 9/11 hijackers.The documents have been posted at the 9/11 Document Archive at Scribd. I am reading through the commission’s documents gradually and highlighting interesting information. This post will be updated if I find any more information related to the consulate.

Interviews of Officials

(-) A memo of a January 2003 intervew by the State Department’s inspector general of consular officer Shayna Steinger, who issued 11 visas to the 9/11 hijackers. She discusses visa policy in general towards Saudi Arabia and the Visa Express programme, which she was not keen on.

Steinger says:
(1) This is only her second interview about what happened, the first being Congressional testimony. She expressed surprise at this.
(2) It did not matter that visa applications were incomplete, because Saudis were eligble for visas anyway.
(3) She did not interview most of the hijackers she issued visas to and even if she had interviewed them, she would probably have issued them with visas.
(4) She did interview Hani Hanjour, and said he seemed “middle-class” and not “well-connected.” In this context she said that Saudis were not asked to provide documents to support their applications. (Note: she had previously told other investigators that Hanjour did have to provide documentation and had in fact provided it).
(5) She criticized the other consular officer issuing visas David El-Hinn for a high refusal rate.
(6) After 9/11 she wrote a cable saying that nothing had changed at the consulate in Jeddah, and was criticised for this after it was leaked to the press (apparently the Wall Street Journal).

(-) Another version of the same memo.

(-) A third version of the memo, this time with a table showing the times the hijackers’ visas were issued. The note to the table states: “For Hanjour’s second visa, the visa application shows that he applied for and was granted a student visa by the adjudicating consular officer. However, accounting to testimony by the Staff Director of the Joint Inquiry Staff on September 20, 2002, the post erroneously issued the hijacker a tourist/business visa but the Immigration and Naturalization Service recognized and corrected this error when he arrived in the United States.”

(-) A memo of a December 2003 interview by the 9/11 Commission of a consular officer Shayna Steinger who issued at least 11 US visas to the 9/11 hijackers at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Much of the memo is redacted, including the place of the interview, although it discusses US visa policy for Saudis, the operations in Jeddah and events after 9/11.

Steinger says that although she was aware of the threat environment before 9/11 she was “never aware of the level of disaffected extremism in Saudi society,” and thought an attack would be carried out by Yemenis or Egyptians. Although she knew some Saudis were in al-Qaeda, it never occurred to her they might apply for US visas in Jeddah. She had no idea about suspicious indicators in terrorists’ passports.

The case of Hani Hanjour is discussed and Steinger says she would not have denied him a visa even if she had known he had a change of status application pending. The other hijackers are not mentioned by name, but she says she would have issued them with visas even if she had interviewed them all.

(-) Various documents about the issue of visas to the 9/11 hijackers.
(1) Interview request no. 9 for the State Department for individuals involved in visa issuance;
(2) A brief commission e-mail about the interviews;
(3) Typed notes for an interview of consular officer Shayna Steinger, who issued multiple visas to the hijackers with handwritten annotations. The notes indicate that Mohand Alshehri had “the terrorist organization stamp,” altough it is unclear what this means;
(4) Handwritten notes about what Steinger said at the interview;
(5) Another set of handwritten notes about the interview.

(-) A memo of a February 2003 interview by the US State Department’s inspector general of Robert Waller, a consular officer who issued visas to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He says he does not recall whether he interviewed the two of them or not. If he did not interview them, then an interview may not have resulted in them being refused a visa. 9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi was issued a visa at the same time and place, but there is no mention of him in the memo.

(-) Another version of the same memo with different redactions.

(-) A memo of an October 2003 interview by the 9/11 Commission of a former official at the US consulate in Jeddah. He was there when the consulate issued several visas to the 9/11 hijackers. The officer discussed the issuance of visas in Jeddah, the Visa Express program and visa fraud.

According to the memo, “there was a program for interviewing people in Jeddah that he did not want to discuss.” The commission asked somebody else about this program, but the name is redacted.

(-) Various documents about the issue of US visas to the 9/11 hijackers in Jeddah.

A memo of an October 2003 interview by the 9/11 Commission of a consular officer who served at the US consulate in Jeddah until July 2000, apparently Robert Waller. Waller issued visas to at least two 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, but the unredacted sections of the memo do not mention this. The memo describes the consular section at the Jeddah embassy and US visa policy in Saudi Arabia. He says that on one occasion Ambassador Wyche Fowler stormed into the consular section and demanded he issue a US visa to the servant of a Saudi diplomat.

Also two sets of hand-written notes about the interview. The first set of notes state that before going to Saudi Arabia, Waller received a briefing at the CIA, although he did not remember much of it. In addition, he said he thought the computer system would display a visa applicant’s prior visas.

Also Interview Request No. 9 from the commission to the State Department, for the interviews of 14 people linked to Jeddah.

Finally, a sketch of the visa issue section in Jeddah.

(-) A memo of a February 2003 interview by the State Department’s inspector general of a consular officer who issued a visa to 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 1997. She does not recall much about issuing the visa.

(-) Another version of the same memo with slightly different redactions.

(-) A 10-page memo of a 2004 9/11 Commission interview of the consular official who issued a US visa to 9/11 hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour in Jeddah in 1997. The officer was unsure why the application survived until 9/11, as old visa applications were routinely destroyed at the post. She suggested it might have survived because somebody had pulled it later when Hanjour applied for another visa. An additional question stamped on to the visa application form about whether Hanjour was a member of a terrorist organization was not answered, but this was apparently no bar to issuing the visa. The officer also said it was not unusual to ask “another agency,” presumably the CIA, to look into an applicant’s background.

(-) A memo of a January 2003 interview by the US State Department’s inspector general of David El Hinn, a consular officer at the US consulate in Jeddah at the time it issued multiple visas to the 9/11 hijackers. El Hinn discusses US visa policy for Saudis. He also says that the reason the other consular officer, Shayna Steinger, processed the hijackers’ visas was because he was an Arabic speaker, so he dealt with third country nationals, whereas she could not speak Arabic, so she dealt with Saudis, who did not need interviews for tourist/business visas (note: Steinger said that she could speak Arabic, but not that well).

El Hinn denied a relatively high number of applications, but says this is because he dealt with visa applicants that were not so good. He says he got into trouble with management not for his generally high refusal rate, but for refusing visas to Saudis.

El Hinn says: “We were issuing visas to people who, if you just covered the ‘nationality’ block on the application form with your thumb, we would deny in any other country.” He adds that a person whose name was redacted, possibly Steinger, was unwilling to disagree with Consul General Richard Baltimore on visas. He also says that Ambassador Wyche Fowler threw his weight around on bad visa cases and pointed to a memo drafted by a former Jeddah official, possible Robert Waller, that outlines a particularly egregious case.

(-) A memo of an October 2003 interview by the 9/11 Commission of a consular officer who served at the US consulate in Jeddah until July 2000, apparently Robert Waller. Waller issued visas to at least two 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, but the unredacted sections of the memo do not mention this. The memo describes the consular section at the Jeddah embassy and US visa policy in Saudi Arabia. He says that on one occasion Ambassador Wyche Fowler stormed into the consular section and demanded he issue a US visa to the servant of a Saudi diplomat.

(-) A memo of a December 2003 interview by the 9/11 Commission of Richard Baltimore, consul general at the US consulate in Jeddah at the time it issued multiple visas to the 9/11 hijackers. Baltimore discusses his general duties, the position of Jeddah and the Visa Express system.

The memo says that Baltimore “was never told of a terrorist threat posed to the United States from Saudis, nor did he recall being told about jihadist activities of Saudis.”

The memo also says that it is not a full description of what Baltimore told the commission and readers should refer to handwritten notes of the interview for classified material.

He recalled an incident where Ambassador Wyche Fowler threw his weight around to get a visa issued to an unqualified applicant, apparently a servant of a powerful Saudi.

After 9/11, the consulate collected the paperwork for the visas it had issued to the terrorists for the various investigating agencies: consular affairs; the FBI; and another agency whose name is redacted.

After leaving Jeddah, Baltimore became Ambassador to Oman.

(-) A memo of an interview by the State Department’s inspector general of Miguel Ordonez, the Consular Section Chief at the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from August 2001. The consulate previously issued multiple visas to the 9/11 hijackers. Ordonez calls Shayna Steinger, the official who issued most of the visas, a “good, hardworking officer.” The memo states Ordonez’s opinions were confirmed by two foreign service nationals in Jeddah, Maha Adra and Azzam Yayha.

(-) A 6-page memo of a 9/11 Commission interview of Thomas Furey, consul general in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the run-up to 9/11. The memo discusses the reasons for the implementation of the Visa Express program and the issue of visas to the 9/11 hijackers. Furey says he did not know Saudis could be a security risk before 9/11.

(-) A memo of a January 2003 intervew by the State Department’s inspector general of Thomas Furey, who was consular section chief at the US embassy in Riyadh in the run-up to 9/11. Furey says that the numerous visas issued to the 9/11 hijackers in Saudi Arabia were issued in accordance with the rules, and that he introduced the Visa Express programme to deal with problems he found at the post, based on his previous experience in Mexico.

(-) A memo of an October 2003 interview by the 9/11 Commission of Carl Cockburn, consular section chief at the US Consulate in Jeddah from August 1998 to August 2000. Cockburn says that there was some political pressure to issue visas and recalls receiving a memo about Ambassador Wyche Fowler trying to influence a visa issuance. Sometimes the consulate issued visas to people it thought were religious extremists, but sometimes they were denied visas. He was well aware that Osama bin Laden came from Saudi Arabia and they would sometimes get watchlist hits.

Other Documents

(-) A cable from the US consulate in Jeddah praising the Visa Express program. Presumably, the cable was drafted around August 2001. The cable appears to be a draft and there are some sections that have handwritten notes. A phrase that says the system created an “inherent bias to issue” is crossed out.

(-) An unredacted copy of interview request no. 9 for the State Department. The names Shayna Steinger and Robert Waller, consular officers who issued visas to the 9/11 hijackers in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, are usually redacted in copies of this document, but are spelt wrongly here and are not redacted.

Also a 9/11 Commission e-mail about the interview request.

(-) A undated, unsigned memo proposing alterations to the implementation of the Visa Express program in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Other documentation indicates that the memo was drafted by Jeddah Consular Section Chief Miguel Ordonez shortly after 9/11.

(-) A dated version of the same memo.

(-) An August 2001 cable from the US embassy in Riyadh to the State Department in Washington praising the Visa Express program the embassy had recently implemented at some length. Four 9/11 hijackers entered the US under the program.

(-) Another version of the same cable.

(-) A table showing visas issued to the 9/11 hijackers prepared by the 9/11 Commission.

(-) An undated, unsigned State Department memo about findings of an investigation at the US consulate in Jeddah, which issued multiple visas to the 9/11 hijackers. The memo says that people at the consulate feel betrayed by the department, it is understaffed and it is not receiving all the cables it should.

(-) The 9/11 Commission’s staff statement number 1 about the issue of US visas to the 9/11 hijackers and their entry into the US.

(-) Two cables sent by by US facilities in Saudi Arabia. The first was sent by the US embassy in Riyadh in July 2000 and is about low-level visa fraud. The second was sent by the US consulate in Jeddah shortly after 9/11 saying that locals were cancelling plans to travel to the US. The document states that the consulate is conducting “business as usual,” a statement that later became controversial when it found its way into the media. The cable has Consul General Richard Baltimore’s name under it.

Also a covering letter sent with the cables when they were forwarded to the 9/11 Commission.

(-) Various documents about an investigation of the issuance of visas to the 9/11 hijackers by the State Department’s inspector general.
(1) A memo from the State Department’s inspector general summarising its investigation of the issuance of visas to the 9/11 hijackers, from the 9/11 Commission’s files. The memo deals with issues like which of the hijackers’ visa applications were destroyed, the imcompleteness of the applications, and other issues.
(2) A November 2002 letter from the inspector general to the State Department’s Consular Affairs section about the start of the investigation.
(3) A November 2002 letter from the inspector general to Congressman Frank Wolf, who requested the review.
(4) A November 2002 letter from Wolf to the inspector general asking for the investigation.
(5) A list of 28 questions to be put to the consular officers who issued visas to the hijackers.
(6) A 3-page document entitled “Factors Influencing the Visa Process.”

(-) An October 2002 memo inside the State Department’s office of the inspector general from the 9/11 Commission’s files. The memo sets out a “message agreement” about survey of visa operations the office is conducting, as well as details of the survey and preliminary results.

(-) A December 2002 notification from the State Department’s inspector general that it is to conduct a review of the issuance of visas to the 9/11 hijackers.

(-) State Department cables about consular activities in Beirut and Riyadh for 2002 from the 9/11 Commission’s files.

The masterlist for all documents the History Commons has obtained and is analysing can be found here.

2 Comments »

  1. […] 9/11 Commission Documents about the US Consulate in Jeddah. […]

    Pingback by 9/11 Commission Documents Masterlist « History Commons Groups — February 28, 2010 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

  2. […] And spend money here, of course.  Perhaps anticipating a possible blow-back, a reminder from Visa Express post 9/11, the Fact Sheet adds this:  “…. given that national security remains this […]

    Pingback by Visas for Dollars Pilot Program Needs a Catchy Name, Just Don’t Call It Visa Express, Please | Diplopundit — February 23, 2012 @ 1:40 am | Reply


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