House GOP to DHS: We're partnering on easy travel access with ... Saudi Arabia?

Less than twelve years ago, 19 al-Qaeda terrorists infiltrated the US, hijacked four planes, and killed nearly 3,000 people in attacks on New York City and Washington, DC. Fifteen of those Islamist terrorists came from one country — Saudi Arabia.  In response, the US tightened up its security profile in immigration and air travel, imposing a regime of inconvenience (and occasionally assault) on American travelers inside the US and outside as well.

Later, the Department of Homeland Security developed a program called Global Entry to allow for easier access to the US for travelers from trusted nations.  In January, DHS announced that it had signed an agreement to expand Global Entry to Saudi Arabia — and House Republicans want to know why:

House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) is pressing for answers about why the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has begun talks to allow air travelers from Saudi Arabia to use a pre-screening system to fly to the U.S.

In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, McCaul and nine other Republicans on the committee asked for more details about what steps the department is taking to guard against potential terrorists using the Global Entry to enter the United States.

The lawmakers pointed to the 15 hijackers involved in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks who were from Saudi Arabia as a key reason to be concerned.

“As members of the House Committee on Homeland Security, we seek assurances from the department that passengers from countries added to the program will receive the appropriate screening,” they wrote.

Maybe we’ve managed to expand the program with our regular allies to such an extent that we can handle the extraordinary security issues that will arise with Saudi Arabia.  How did the Global Entry system work when we partnered with nations that present a lower risk profile, like the UK, Germany, and France?  We must have seen considerable success with those long-standing allies before looking elsewhere, right?

Er … not exactly:

The addition of Saudi Arabia to the trusted traveler program has received increased attention in recent days following a report from the Investigative Project on Terrorism. That report highlighted concerns about giving travelers from the repressive monarchy [easier] access than is given to citizens of many close U.S. allies. Only a few other countries are currently a part of the program — Canada, Mexico, South Korea and the Netherlands. Meanwhile American friends of long standing — including France, Great Britain and Germany — have not been included, and an agreement with Israel has yet to be implemented.

Excuse me? Israel has some of the toughest security measures on air travel in place, if not the toughest. If we can’t partner with Israel on our system to ease the process for their citizens to enter the US, then this system cannot possibly be ready to deal with an influx of Saudis, a few of whom might possibly be looking to do serious harm to Americans.  And what exactly does it say about the seriousness and credibility of our security program that we’re looking to accelerate access to the US not among our closest friends, but with the nation whose lax standards helped terrorists infiltrate the US and stage the worst terrorist attack we’ve ever suffered?

Let’s stick with the Europeans and the Israelis first. When the Israelis say we’re ready for prime time, then we can open discussions with the Saudis.

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David Strom 8:41 PM on March 20, 2023