A congressman whose district suffered the loss of dozens of people in the 9/11 terror attacks is criticizing a plan that would allow the Saudi Arabian government to decide who should be admitted to the U.S. "trusted traveler" program and bypass normal passport controls.
After all, as Rep. Frank Wolf., R-Va., pointed out, 15 of the 19 terrorists who hijacked airliners and killed nearly 3,000 people were from Saudi Arabia.
"I think you have radical Wahhabism in certain elements in Saudi Arabia, and I think to be more lenient there than in other places would be a mistake," Wolf said. "There were 15 [hijackers] from that country, and there is a lot taking place in that region.
Wolf's comments on the plan by Janet Napolitano's Department of Homeland Security were reported by The Investigative Project.
"Some of the people who went back to Saudi Arabia through Guantanamo – we find that they are in battlefields in Afghanistan or some other place, so I don't think it's a good idea," Wolf said.
IPT reported that the move will allow the Saudi kingdom to have a direct role in vetting who is eligible for fast-track entry into the United States.
Napolitano announced the program a few weeks ago.
"I am proud of the bond between the United States and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and today's meeting marks another major step forward in our partnership," Napolitano said at the time. "By enhancing collaboration with the government of Saudi Arabia, we reaffirm our commitment to more effectively secure our two countries against evolving threats while facilitating legitimate trade and travel."
Napolitano said she agreed with Saudi Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef to "an arrangement to begin implementation of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's trusted traveler program, Global Entry, in Saudi Arabia."
The program "streamlines the screening process at airports for trusted travelers, allowing customs authorities to focus on those travelers they know less about, in order to more effectively identify potential threats and keep our borders and country secure."
The deal also includes an effort to "initiate discussions to establish a reciprocal program" that presumably would allow trusted Americans to enter Saudi Arabia with ease.
IPT reported that questions were being raised about the move, since residents of friendly nations, including Germany and France, are not yet allowed in the program, and "a program for Israeli travelers was reached last May but has not been implemented."
Travelers in the program will bypass ordinary Customs and Border Protection lines starting next year and enter the country after providing their passports and fingerprints at a kiosk.
Only people from Canada, Mexico, South Korea and the Netherlands currently enjoy the benefit.
Sharon Premoli, a 9/11 survivor who has sued the Saudis for allegedly helping finance the 9/11 terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, told IPT that adding Saudi Arabia to the program "before a full vetting of the kingdom's involvement in 9/11 is very unwise."
She said, "We don't know if what they tell us is correct. Why should we trust them?"
The IPT report noted the "trusted traveler" plan comes only some 36 months after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed in his attempt to bomb a Detroit-bound jet in 2009, and Saudi Arabia subsequently was placed by U.S. officials on a list of nations whose travelers would face increased examination.
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., is one with continuing questions.
He wrote: "Based on my experiences as the co-chair of the joint inquiry, and the evidence collected by the joint inquiry during the course of its investigation into the events of September 11, 2001, the information contained in the final report of the 9/11 Commission, and reports and published material I have reviewed, I am convinced that there was a direct line between at least some of the terrorists who carried out the September 11th attacks and the government of Saudi Arabia."
Graham pointed out to IPT the U.S. has gone far out of its way to accommodate and please the Saudis, including arranging flights out of the U.S. for them when other air traffic was grounded following 9/11.