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Euro-Jihadists Can Beat Our Border Security By: Bill West
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, July 11, 2005


As the investigation into the London terrorist bombings continues, it may become apparent that radical Islamic jihadists who are either long-term residents of Europe or native-born European citizens were involved. Europe, due to exceptionally liberal immigration policies since WW-II and the granting of independence to former colonies in the third world, has realized an explosion in its Muslim population. There is now an estimated 15 – 20 million Muslims on the European continent.

While the vast majority of Europe’s Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding people, that large population provides a fertile recruiting ground and easy operational cover for a dangerous and growing cadre of radical jihadists. Those jihadists, some of whom are recent newcomers from Arab and other predominantly Islamic countries, are increasingly “home-grown” Europeans.

Europe has an established core of radical fundamentalist Imams who preach violent jihad-based incitement in their mosques, and this serves as a recruitment base for young disillusioned Muslim men, not always poor and uneducated, who view “the West,” including their own secular European homes, as the enemy. Europe’s generally liberal free speech and freedom of religion laws, like in the US, make it difficult for authorities to aggressively monitor and investigate much of what happens inside those mosques.

British police and security services have been successful in preempting several planned attacks by radical jihadists in recent years. London has many examples of brazenly open radical “clerics” preaching their version of Islamic jihad. What occurs underground is no doubt many times more virulent. The London attacks, unfortunately, have signaled a shift from words to action by these barbaric thugs.

Of course, any terror attack against a US ally is a great concern to America. That radical Islamic terrorists based in Europe may well have conducted such an attack should be a special concern to us. Many European countries enjoy status under the US Visa Waiver Program. This allows citizens of those countries to visit the US for up to 90 days without obtaining a US visa. These European citizens can enter the US simply by presenting their passports.

Since there is now a significant cadre of radical Islamic jihadists who hold European citizenship, those people are also eligible to enter the US under the Visa Waiver Program…without any pre-screening by a US Consular officer overseas. If such a person has not surfaced on any Intelligence Agency or Law Enforcement radar screen and is not in a lookout system “watch list,” they would likely be admitted into the United States.

In recent months, there have been a number of media reports about the potential smuggling of terrorist-linked aliens across our borders with Mexico and Canada. Without doubt this has and continues to happen. The numbers of such people are unknown, since the Government can, at best, only estimate the overall number of aliens illegally entering the country over those borders including those being smuggled. The federal Government really does not control the borders of the United States; at best it provides a degree of “chaos control.” The terror-linked aliens surreptitiously crossing the borders are most likely those from the Arab and Muslim-prime countries; or, if they are Euro-jihadists, they are the ones already known to the Intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

The “clean” Euro-jihadists need only board a US-bound airliner and walk up to a border inspector to be admitted under the Visa Waiver Program. We do have what’s called the US VISIT system, which is the biometric border entry control system to take digital fingerprints and photographs and copies of entry documents for each nonimmigrant entrant attempting entry into the US. The system was initiated soon after the 9/11 attacks, and has had some success in identifying and capturing criminal and fugitive aliens and some who were previously deported.

US VISIT works to a degree, but is a system still under construction and evolution. It is linked to certain Intelligence and law enforcement databases, and the more information that can be front-loaded for comparison to alien entrants, the better. Arguably, the process of applying for a visa at a US embassy or consular office, affording a US official an opportunity to review documents and conduct an interview overseas before the alien ever sets foot in the US, provides an added layer of security coverage as well as potential intelligence gathering. This visa processing information could also be uploaded into US VISIT. The Visa Waiver Program does not allow for this.

US VISIT is only working at half speed at best. The departure control part of the system, wherein visiting aliens are supposed to present themselves for biometric and document departure verification when they leave the US, is only operational at a handful of ports and airports on a test basis. DHS claims it will likely be as much as five years before the system is fully operational nationwide. Departure control would provide some reasonable indication of how many alien entrants do not leave as required, and therefore violate their immigration status. Further, and perhaps even more importantly, the system would (or should) identify who those violators are.

Therein lies a big part of the rub. Even assuming the departure control part of US VISIT is made to work properly, DHS has not fully explained, yet, what it intends to do with all that violator information. Past Government studies have indicated as many as 40% of the illegal alien population within the US originally entered the country on temporary (nonimmigrant) visas. That means the US VISIT departure control system would presumably churn out very many violator leads in short order. DHS cannot be said to have the illegal alien situation under control as it is. What will it do when its own immigration supercomputer specifically identifies many thousands more clear immigration law violators…instantly providing electronic copies of the suspect’s identity documents, photograph, fingerprints and last known address? Maybe we are getting an idea why that departure control system is still a half-decade away from being fully operational.

That very system that is obviously problematic for overall immigration law enforcement might well be a treasure trove for counter-terrorism investigations. Even as it is currently established, US VISIT contains a huge quantity of information about foreign nationals who have entered the United States over the past several years. Most of these are nonimmigrant aliens who are not covered by the Privacy Act and FOIA provisions. Sharing this information with other Government agencies as part of a broader Intelligence data-mining effort to identify known or potential terrorist and other national security threats is something that is hopefully already being done. If not, we might ask why not?

When (if) the departure control system of US VISIT does become fully operational, it would appear to make sense to conduct appropriate Intelligence matrix processing on those violator leads and focus investigative efforts on those believed to be known or potential threats. But, that’s still years away. The London attacks happened yesterday. Madrid’s 3/11 happened just over a year ago. 9/11 happened almost four years ago. Europe’s jihadists have been evolving for many years. America’s borders and ports-of-entry have been as porous as Swiss cheese for decades and our interior immigration law enforcement has been deliberately and perennially kept to a minimalist and notably ineffective level. No one doubts the United States has an illegal immigration problem.

Will the attacks in London make the Europeans realize they need to pay closer attention to their own home grown and long-time resident jihadists and start cracking down on their immigration issues? It remains to be seen. Will the attacks in London remind us that terrorism is very much alive and well in the civilized world and that we could just as likely be next? If we are hit again, it is quite likely the perpetrators will be foreign nationals, or naturalized US citizens who were once aliens, who took advantage of our own exceptionally lax immigration system and under-enforced immigration laws. We should not take comfort in the hope that enemy terrorist aliens are not here yet. We should fully assume that very many are, and have been, walking among us for a long time.

On July 6, ICE announced the arrest of 48 illegal aliens, all with false documents, working for a defense contractor at Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. Unfortunately, this hardly made news and that’s because it is not uncommon for illegal aliens to be found working at what are supposed to be some of America’s most secure and sensitive Government facilities. Last month it was learned this happened at the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility in Tennessee.

European-bred and passport bearing radical Islamic jihadists can enter the US without a visa. Terrorist aliens from the Muslim third world can be smuggled surreptitiously across our land borders or on vessels over poorly secured coasts. Routinely, illegal aliens with false documents are discovered with access to and working on US military bases and other supposedly highly secured installations. One of the positive things to hopefully come out of the tragedy in London should be a redoubling of the efforts to make certain our intelligence is smart, shared and focused. That, combined with establishing the mechanisms to process that intelligence among the agencies that need it, is absolutely critical to connecting those notorious dots.

Bill West is a retired INS/ICE Supervisory Special Agent who is now a counter-terrorism consultant and freelance writer.


Bill West is a retired INS/ICE Supervisory Special Agent who ran organized crime and national security investigations. He is now a counter-terrorism consultant and freelance writer.


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