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A new staff report from the 9-11 commission says the failure of federal authorities to detect numerous violations of immigration law by the September 11 hijackers allowed the men to execute their deadly plot.
If those violations – which included fraudulent passports held by as many as seven of the 19 hijackers – had been detected, many would have been arrested before the attacks, says the report, which was released Saturday as the commission officially closed up shop.
According to the Los Angeles Times, also noted in the report was the fact that U.S. intelligence had linked at least three of the hijackers to terrorist groups, but officials never placed their names on the watch lists used by border inspectors.
The report further explains that hijacker leader Mohamed Atta was allowed back into the United States in January 2001, even though he had previously overstayed a tourist visa and was not eligible to enter the country.
“Targeting travel is at least as powerful a weapon against terrorists as targeting their money,” the commission concluded. “The United States should combine terrorist travel intelligence, operations, and law enforcement in a strategy to intercept terrorists, find terrorist travel facilitators, and constrain terrorist mobility.”
The commission noted the CIA had begun to take steps to counter terrorist border encroachment in the 1980s but abandoned those efforts in the early ’90s, just as threat of attacks on U.S. territory was mounting.
A CIA manual at the time stated: “If we all screen travelers and check their passports … terrorists will lose their ability to travel undetected, and international terrorism will come one step closer to being stopped!”
In discussing the CIA emphasis, the commission reports, “No government agency systematically would analyze terrorists’ travel patterns until after 9-11, thus missing critical opportunities to disrupt their plans.”
The report was critical of immigration enforcement, even since that function was moved to the Department of Homeland Security.
“Border inspectors today still do not have basic intelligence and operational training to aid them in detecting and preventing terrorist entry, or adequate access to databases important to determining admissibility, or even viable options to prevent documents known to be fraudulent from being returned to travelers denied entry into the United States,” the report said.