NEW YORK — At last, a head has rolled since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Mary Ryan, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, has "retired" from the State Department. She was pressured out on July 9 after suffering severe criticism for a program she pioneered called Visa Express. Unique to Saudi Arabia, it fast-tracked visa applications for Saudi citizens and alien residents hoping to come to America. Rather than visit U.S. diplomatic posts, visa applicants were expected to hand their papers to Saudi travel agents who would deliver them to American consular personnel. So long as they could afford passage and did not have criminal records or appear on watch lists, these applicants were greenlighted to enter America, usually with neither interviews nor any other contacts with U.S. officials until they actually landed here.
This program was particularly convenient for Salem Alhamzi, Khalid Almihdar and Abdulaziz Alomari. These Saudi citizens were among the 19 hijackers who killed 3,056 innocents on September 11. Without even being interviewed, these three mass murderers reached U.S. shores through Mary Ryan's brilliant initiative.
Visa Express is gone. So is Ryan and her "I'm OK, You're OK" approach to visa applicants from a hostile, anti-western, anti-American, anti-Semitic country that she embraced like a sandier, flatter Switzerland.
Ryan's departure should force State to practice vigilance rather than hospitality when it screens people eager to come to America — not to see the sights, but to detonate them. State now says it will interview Saudi visa applicants. While it is hard to believe this was not always the case, it is unforgivable that this did not become policy on September 12, 2001 rather than July 10, 2002.
Better yet, visa approval — at least for applicants from pro-terrorist nations like Saudi Arabia — should be shifted to the new Homeland Security Department. Congress is weighing this radical, but prudent, reform of U.S consular operations.
If Mary Ryan is this tale's vanquished villain, its hero is Joel Mowbray, my colleague at National Review Online (NRO). He deserves enormous credit and the nation's gratitude for discovering the Visa Express story and sinking his teeth into it as if he were a pit bull that caught up with a jogger. His initial piece, "Catch the Visa Express," was published in National Review's July 1 issue, which appeared on June 17. The State Department that day changed the program's name and its description on State's web page. Ignoring such cosmetics, Mowbray followed up his scoop with additional NRO and newspaper dispatches, media appearances and testimony before a House panel eager to learn more about the idiocies he unearthed.