Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Step in the wrong direction

The President's announcement yesterday in the Baltics of his intent to expand the number of countries whose citizens do not need visas to visit the United States is a step in the wrong direction. It is not for nothing that terrorists like shoebomber Richard Reid and would-be 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui were carrying passports from visa waiver countries like Britain and France. Terrorists have been known to steal passports from visa waiver countries and/or to buy or produce fake ones. Why?

Visa waiver travelers are not subjected to the scrutiny of the post-9/11 visa issuance process. Nowadays, most applicants are interviewed at our embassies and consulates abroad, and interviewers tend to be conversant in the local language and customs and many are trained to detect fraud. As a consequence, the chances are greater that a potential terrorist can be caught and prevented from even arriving at a port of entry. At ports of entry, inspectors
are usually not trained to speak other languages (Spanish being the occasional exception, needless to say); they are generally unfamiliar with other cultures; and, they tend not to be fraud detection experts. And, in any event, they are under pressure to clear throngs of international visitors into the country as quickly as possible so as not to bog down travel.

We should be ending the visa waiver program, not expanding it. Sure, we would lose our reciprocal freedom to travel without visas, and it would cost a fortune to staff up adequately at our visa issuing posts overseas so as not to unduly slow down travel to the United States. But, this would be a small price to pay to increase our chances of spotting the next Reid or Moussaoui before it's too late.