Aides of crown prince, Ashcroft huddle over WND Saudi scoop

By Paul Sperry

WASHINGTON – Saudi Arabia claims to have forced the Bush administration to back away from an Oct. 1 plan to add Saudi nationals to an anti-terrorist tracking system after reading about the new policy on, a spokesman for the government says.

The day after the newssite posted an internal Justice Department memo detailing the plan, the foreign policy adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah huddled with Attorney General John Ashcroft’s chief of staff, WorldNetDaily has learned.

The adviser, Adel Al-Jubeir, claims to have walked away with assurances from top Ashcroft aide David T. Ayres that Saudi visitors to the U.S. will not be fingerprinted, photographed and monitored like visitors from the five known Mideast terrorist-sponsoring countries – Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Syria.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, which is still viewed by the State Department and White House as a U.S. ally.

In their Sept. 20 meeting, Ayres apparently declined to get into specifics with Al-Jubeir about the posted documents.

But in a Sept. 23 follow-up letter, the Justice official addressed the documents. And at first glance, he appeared to contradict the official written policy and assured Al-Jubeir that Saudi visitors would not be targeted by U.S. immigration inspectors.

“During our visit, you provided me with copies of some documents from the Internet,” Ayres wrote Al-Jubeir in a Sept. 23 letter recapping their meeting. “I later learned that the documents, if they were legitimate, would have been classified as law-enforcement sensitive. Therefore, it would have been inappropriate for me to comment on the specific documents which you provided from the Internet in any way.”

“I do want to reiterate, however, my comments on the Department of Justice’s role in the immigration system of the United States and the enhanced security measures we will take to protect against the threat of terrorism,” Ayres added in the two-page letter, a copy of which was obtained by WorldNetDaily.

“As we discussed, all citizens of only five countries which are designated as state sponsors of terrorism will be required to be registered and fingerprinted under the National Security Enter Exit Registration system (NSEERS),” he said. “Any citizen of any nation visiting the United States can be included in the NSEERS, but all citizens of no other nation, including Saudi Arabia, will be subject to NSEERS as required by current U.S. law. We do expect all citizens visiting the United States from other nations to be included in our border security system.”

The Saudi government took that to mean no Saudi citizens will be singled out for special registration alongside citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Syria.

“The Department of Justice has informed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that in regard to entry into the United States, Saudi citizens will not be treated any differently than citizens of any other nation,” the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia said in a Sept. 23 press release.

The release initially quotes Ayres’ letter accurately, without naming him, saying that “all citizens of only five countries … will be required to be registered” under NSEERS (it left out the phrase “which are designated as state sponsors of terrorism”).

Then it says “all citizens of no other nation, including Saudi Arabia, will be subject to NSEERS.”

But that’s not what Ayres said in his letter to Al-Jubeir.

Ayres said: “All citizens of no other nation, including Saudi Arabia, will be subject to NSEERS as required by current U.S. law.”

The Saudi government removed “as required by current U.S. law,” changing the original meaning. It attached the phrase to the beginning of the next sentence in its prepared statement.

When Ayres said that Saudi Arabia won’t be subject to NSEERS – “as required by current U.S. law” – he was parsing. Yes, current law under Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 264.1(f) subjects only Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Libya to special registration. And the list was amended earlier this month in the Federal Register to include Syria.

What Ayres didn’t say is that Ashcroft can secretly target other countries when just a portion of their citizens are singled out for registration. All citizens of the five nations mentioned above will be registered. In the case of Saudi Arabia, however, only young men will be. And regulations require Ashcroft to publish a federal notice only when all of a country’s citizens must register.

According to page 3 of the confidential Sept. 5 memo disclosed by WorldNetDaily, Ashcroft has in fact added, beginning Oct. 1, male citizens of Saudi Arabia between the ages 16 and 45 to the registration list. He also adds young male citizens of the kingdom’s southern neighbor, Yemen, and another putative U.S. ally, Pakistan – both hotbeds of anti-American terrorism.

“The Attorney General has determined under his authority set forth in 8 CFR 264.1(f)(2)(iii) to established pre-existing criteria warranting special registration of certain nonimmigrant aliens, other than those applying for admission under 101(a)(15)(A) or (G) [foreign diplomats and government officials], who are citizens or nationals, or who an inspecting officer has reason to believe are citizens or nationals, of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen who are males between 16 and 45 years of age,” states the memo, written by Johnny N. Williams, head of INS field operations.

Note the targeting of Saudi men ages 16 to 45. This is how Ayres could sound like he was denying his boss’ own policy. In saying “all citizens” of Saudi won’t be subject to NSEERS, he was right. Only young Saudi men will be.

Ashcroft is so concerned that Saudi Arabia may send more potential terrorists to the U.S. that he’s even given immigration inspectors the discretion to register any visiting aliens who have taken suspicious trips to Saudi Arabia or any of the 14 other mostly Muslim nations listed in the same memo.

“In determining whether to exercise his or her discretion to require a nonimmigrant alien to comply with the special registration requirements … the inspecting officer may only consider the following pre-existing criteria established by the attorney general: 1) The nonimmigrant alien has made unexplained trips to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, North Korea, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, Somalia, Pakistan, Indonesia or Malaysia, or the alien’s explanation of such trips lacks credibility …,” the memo says.

Still, Saudi Arabia is under the impression that Saudi nationals will not be registered by immigration officers until all foreign travelers to the U.S. are registered in about five years, mirroring existing immigration policy in Britain, Germany, Spain and France.

A Saudi spokesman in Washington contends that while Ayres refused to comment on the specifics in the memo, he nonetheless assured Al-Jubeir that “it wasn’t accurate, and the policy does not include Saudi Arabia.”

“If they were just telling us what we want to hear, then the chief of staff of the Justice Department is lying to the foreign policy adviser of Saudi Arabia,” he said. “That’s highly improbable.”

The Saudi Embassy also claims in its press release that the Saudi officials “continue to work closely” with Justice investigators to “enhance security measures to protect against the threat of terrorism.”

However, in his letter, Ayres solicited Prince Abdullah’s adviser for leads on terrorists, indicating Saudi cooperation in that area may be more novel than the embassy portrays.

“Any intelligence that Saudi Arabia shares about specific individuals of concern will be greatly appreciated and will assist our targeting,” he said.

More than anything, the Saudi government appears to be concerned with maintaining the image that Saudi is a friend of the U.S. and condemns terrorism, rather than seeds it, as the actual case may be, judging from mounting evidence produced by U.S. investigators and lawyers suing Saudi Arabia on behalf of families of Sept. 11 victims.

“Being singled out and lumped in with those other nations (that sponsor terrorism), that’s a problem,” said the Saudi spokesman.

Remarkably, the State Department also has a problem with that image.

Sources say the new INS registration policy has caused friction between State and Justice, which oversees INS. Diplomats are worried it will offend what they view as allies in the fragile Arab coalition. And they have fought to limit the number of Mideast countries Justice keeps tabs on at the borders.

State recently tightened rules for issuing visas to Saudis only after taking heat in the press and Congress. Previously, the department let travel agents rubberstamp Saudi applications. Now they most be vetted by consular officers.

The White House also continues to look at Saudi Arabia as a partner.

Despite evidence Saudi Arabia has bankrolled al-Qaida operations through Islamic charities, such as the Muslim World League and the International Islamic Relief Organization, President Bush maintains that the kingdom has been an ally in the war on terrorism and does not sponsor terrorism.

The Bush family has been in business with the House of Saud for years and has been loath to criticize its longtime friends in the royal family.

“What I don’t like is demonizing Saudi Arabia,” said former President Bush earlier this month. “It’s not true. They are not enemies of ours. And to come under that kind of criticism, I think, is ridiculous.”

Ayres’ letter to the Saudi adviser is laced with flattering language that reflects the Bush administration’s deferential position toward Saudi Arabia.

“It was wonderful to have the opportunity to spend some time with you on Friday afternoon,” he opened his letter. “After hearing so many good words about you, I was impressed to see that you lived up to these expectations.”

“I look forward to continuing our relationship in hopes of advancing the friendship that our nations share,” Ayres closed.

The Saudi spokesman says Ayres and other senior Justice officials “were very upset that this internal memo is out there,” referring to the politically radioactive document lumping Saudi Arabia in with other terrorist-sponsoring countries.

Justice spokespeople quoted by the media have refused to talk about the four-page department memo, claiming it is “classified” This suggests its secrecy has more to do with national security than diplomacy.

In fact, the document was not marked “classified.”

And the U.S. policy adding Saudi to the blacklist had already come under fire from American Arab-rights groups days before WorldNetDaily posted the document.

The Associated Press ran a story yesterday on the memo without crediting WorldNetDaily.

AP claimed it obtained the same memo on its own – even though the author of the premiere news wire’s story, Suzanne Gamboa, who is AP’s INS beat reporter, received by e-mail a copy of WND’s exclusive, copyrighted story with the links to the memo four days earlier, on Sept. 19.

Previous stories:

Saudi ‘shocked’ to be added to INS watchlist

U.S. gets tough with Paki, Saudi visitors

INS to vet Indonesia, Malaysia travelers

New INS limits on Mideast visits not so strict

INS crackdown yields few foreign fugitives

U.S. holding Canadian teen in Afghanistan

U.S. still resettling Afghan refugees here

INS agents: Ashcroft’s visa-check plan flawed

INS hasn’t closed terrorist loopholes at airports

INS profiling some young Mideast men

INS terrorist database often crashes

Don’t arrest terrorists, INS tells LAX agents in memo

INS to deport 6,000 Arab aliens on commercial jetliners

INS hasn’t closed terrorists loopholes at airports

FBI shadowing suspect passengers