9/11 and Terrorist Travel: Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States Page: 6
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It is perhaps obvious to state that terrorists cannot plan and carry out attacks in the United
States if they are unable to enter the country. Yet prior to September 11, while there were
efforts to enhance border security, no agency of the U.S. government thought of border
security as a tool in the counterterrorism arsenal. Indeed, even after 19 hijackers
demonstrated the relative ease of obtaining a U.S. visa and gaining admission into the
United States, border security still is not considered a cornerstone of national security
policy. We believe, for reasons we discuss in the following pages, that it must be made
Congress gave the Commission the mandate to study, evaluate, and report on
"immigration, nonimmigrant visas and border security" as these areas relate to the events
of 9/11. This staff report represents 14 months of such research. It is based on thousands
of pages of documents we reviewed from the State Department, the Immigration and
Naturalization Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice,
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of
Defense, approximately 25 briefings on various border security topics, and more than 200
interviews. We are grateful to all who assisted and supported us along the way.
The story begins with "A Factual Overview of the September 11 Border Story." This
introduction summarizes many of the key facts of the hijackers' entry into the United
States. In it, we endeavor to dispel the myth that their entry into the United States was
"clean and legal." It was not. Three hijackers carried passports with indicators of Islamic
extremism linked to al Qaeda; two others carried passports manipulated in a fraudulent
manner. It is likely that several more hijackers carried passports with similar fraudulent
manipulation. Two hijackers lied on their visa applications. Once in the United States,
two hijackers violated the terms of their visas. One overstayed his visa. And all but one
obtained some form of state identification. We know that six of the hijackers used these
state issued identifications to check in for their flights on September 11. Three of them
were fraudulently obtained.
The chronology that follows in chapter 2, "The September 11 Travel Operation," is a
detailed account of how each hijacker acquired a visa and entered the United States. In
all, they had 25 contacts with consular officers and 43 contacts with immigration and
customs authorities. They began acquiring their visas in April 1999 and began entering
the country in December 2000. They successfully entered the United States 33 times over
21 months, through nine airports of entry, most of which were on the East Coast. Neither
the consular officers who adjudicated their visas nor the immigration inspectors who
admitted them into the country had any knowledge of fraudulent al Qaeda documents.
The next chapter, "Terrorist Entry and Embedding Tactics, 1993 to 2001," explores the
topic of fraudulent documents, which terrorists have long used to support their
international travel. Indeed, the CIA studied these documents and published their
commonalities as far back as the 1980s. They even made a training video for border
inspectors to help them detect such fraud. This effort was abandoned in the early 1990s,
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Eldridge, Thomas R.; Ginsburg, Susan; Hempel, Walter T., II; Kephart, Janice L. & Moore, Kelly. 9/11 and Terrorist Travel: Staff Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, report, August 21, 2004; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1213676/m1/6/?q=cornerstone: accessed May 18, 2021), University of North Texas Libraries, UNT Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.