Jose Padilla, a native born U.S. citizen, was detained on American soil as a declared enemy combatant for his alleged involvement in planning to launch an al-Qaeda radiological bomb attack within the United States. The Federal Government moved swiftly and decisively in the Padilla case, and his ultimate fate is yet to be determined. Yet there are many other known and suspected terrorists holding U.S. citizenship who were bestowed that high honor through naturalization by the very Federal Government that, in many cases, had information about their terrorism links even before they were naturalized.
Investigative reporter Lisa Myers revealed this incredible situation in a November 17 NBC News story. Myers? report identified how lack of communication among Federal agencies and mismanagement within various agencies allowed this to occur over many years. Among the causes was an Intelligence Community culture highly reluctant to share its information with law enforcement and regulatory agencies, particularly a notably ill-managed agency like the now-abolished Immigration and Naturalization Service. However, even when the INS had access to the information, as it did in many such cases wherein Special Agents of its Investigations Division participated with the FBI in counter-terrorism investigations, the convoluted structure and mismanagement of the agency all too often guaranteed that the information would not be appropriately utilized to block the naturalization process, notwithstanding the fact that procedures existed to allow for the delay of that process while the information was evaluated for possible declassification or to allow further non-classified investigative efforts against the suspect.
Effective March 1 of this year, the INS was appropriately decommissioned and its major functions divided among three new agencies within the Department of Homeland Security. The Investigations Division, the primary interior law enforcement arm of INS, became part of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). A Department of Homeland Security official stated on the November 17 NBC News report that old policies and procedures have been reviewed and changed and that such lapses would not happen again. Hopefully that is true.
It is interesting that the official did not address the many cases, likely at least in the hundreds, of those terrorist suspects who were improperly naturalized in the past who remain unmolested by the Federal Government. These are suspects who are by no means untouchable. With the passage of the USA PATRIOT ACT, the use of intelligence information for Federal criminal prosecution purposes is made easier. Interestingly, while most Federal criminal violations carry five-year statutes of limitation, those related to naturalization fraud and unlawful procurement of naturalization have ten-year statutes of limitation, therefore significantly extending the period of potential prosecution against such suspects. Additionally, 1996 changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act increased the potential penalties for naturalization crimes that are linked to international terrorism. Finally, even in cases where criminal prosecution may be deemed inappropriate, civil revocation of naturalization is a possibility, and when successful such action would render the suspect once again an alien subject to potential deportation proceedings.
The necessary investigative and prosecution tools are readily available to the Federal Government to pursue this target population of criminal terrorist suspects. Given the circumstances surrounding how many of these suspects gained their citizenship, the aggressive pursuit of these cases by the newly created ICE, a Federal immigration investigative agency dedicated to homeland security as its top priority, would appear to be more than appropriate. The question is, do senior Federal law enforcement managers now have the will to launch the effort?
Bill West recently retired as the Chief of the National Security Section for the INS in Miami, Florida and is now a consultant for the Investigative Project, a Washington DC-based counterterrorism research institute.