One employee at a US consulate allowed 12 of the 19 9/11 hijackers to enter the United States. She made one of the biggest mistakes in American security history, yet she has since been promoted. Was she told to grant visas to potential terrorists?
July 1, 2000: Consular Official Who Issues 9/11 Hijackers with 12 Visas Arrives in Jeddah
Shayna Steinger, a consular official who issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 US visas, arrives at the US consulate in Jeddah to start her first Foreign Service assignment.
Two consular officers at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Shayna Steinger and David El Hinn, argue over the eligibility of Saudi citizens for US visas. The consulate had instituted a policy of aggressively interviewing young Saudi males in the wake of the 1998 East African embassy bombings due to terrorism concerns (see (Late August-September 1998)). When El Hinn arrives in Jeddah in August 2000, the consulate is still interviewing a significant percentage of Saudi visa applicants and all first-time students. El Hinn will say that officers are suspicious of Saudi citizens who are from locations where they know extremists live and who have only a vague notion of where they are headed in the United States. In addition, officers at the consulate think that, because of trouble in the Saudi economy, Saudis perhaps should not be getting visas almost automatically. Therefore, El Hinn denies a significant percentage of Saudi visa applicants as well as third-country applicants. Steinger, who works full-time on visas and deals with most of the Saudi applicants, takes a different approach and issues visas to almost all the Saudis who apply for one. Despite the obvious terrorism concerns that had previously been known to US officials in Jeddah, Steinger will say that she is “never really afraid of Saudis” and never makes the connection between the known presence of al-Qaeda members in Saudi Arabia and the possibility that the Saudis applying for visas are terrorists. Steinger believes that El Hinn is denying Saudis visas for what she will call “the wrong reasons,” and the two clash over this. El Hinn is even rebuked by the consul general in Riyadh for his high refusal rate. Nevertheless, El Hinn does not change his practices. Steinger issues 12 visas to the future 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000). [OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL (US DEPARTMENT OF STATE), 1/23/2003; OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL (US DEPARTMENT OF STATE), 1/30/2003; 9/11 COMMISSION, 8/21/2004, PP. 125-126 pdf file]
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