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Context of 'June 12, 2001: 9/11 Hijacker Obtains US Visa, despite Lying on Application'

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Jeddah consular officer Shayna Steinger (center) and eight of the 10 hijackers she issued visas to. Clockwise from top left: Wail Alshehri, Hani Hanjour, Ahmed Alnami, Salem Alhazmi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Khalid Almihdhar.Jeddah consular officer Shayna Steinger (center) and eight of the 10 hijackers she issued visas to. Clockwise from top left: Wail Alshehri, Hani Hanjour, Ahmed Alnami, Salem Alhazmi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Khalid Almihdhar. [Source: FBI / Facebook]Shayna Steinger, a consular official who issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 US visas, arrives at the US consulate in Jeddah to start her first Foreign Service assignment. [Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Steinger will issue visas to future 9/11 hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi (see September 3, 2000), Saeed Alghamdi (see September 4, 2000), Hani Hanjour (see September 10, 2000 and September 25, 2000), Wail and Waleed Alshehri (see October 24, 2000), Ahmed Alnami (see October 28, 2000), Ahmed Alhaznawi (see November 12, 2000), Alnami again (see April 23, 2001), Saeed Alghamdi again (see June 12, 2001), Abdulaziz Alomari (see June 18, 2001), Khalid Almihdhar (see June 13, 2001), and Salem Alhazmi (see June 20, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2] The 9/11 Commission will not refer to Steinger in its main report, but will say that a single official issued multiple visas to the hijackers in Jeddah in its Terrorist Travel monograph. The Commission gives the number of visas issued as 11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 33 pdf file] However, a list found in the Commission’s records will give 12 visas as being issued by Steinger. [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2] That list appears to be accurate as there is no information indicating one of these 12 visas was issued by another consular officer. The Commission makes another apparent error with the hijackers’ visas, claiming that Salem Alhazmi did not receive a US visa in April 1999, when other sources indicate he did (see April 3-7, 1999).

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Saeed Alghamdi obtains a visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] However, Alghamdi will later get another visa using a different passport, also from Steinger (see June 12, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that one or possibly both of his passports may have fraudulent features, presumably related to travel stamps, although it is not certain of this. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 525, 564; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After acquiring a new Saudi passport (see April 21, 2001), future 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami obtains a new US visa at the US consulate in Jeddah, even though he already has a valid US visa in his old passport (see October 28, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 21 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000) and had issued Alnami’s previous visa. [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] A handwritten note on Alnami’s application indicates that he is interviewed briefly, either by Steinger or another staff member.
Previous Visa - Alnami marks the “no” box in response to a question asking if he has ever applied for a US visa previously, but changes his answer to “yes,” possibly due to the brief interaction with Steinger or another consular official. However, he fails to specify when he applied for the visa. Had he done so, it would have been clear that he was applying for another visa long before his previous visa had expired, which would have raised questions. The information about his previous visa is available at the consulate, but is not accessed, as consular workers do not usually examine previous visa issuances, only refusals.
Not Interviewed - The 9/11 Commission will later say that Saudis were rarely interviewed at this time. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 21, 184-5 pdf file] However, according to a consular officer serving in Jeddah at the time, while most Saudis may not have been interviewed, “the majority” of males traveling alone aged between 16 and 40 are interviewed and officers are “not shy” of turning them down on security grounds. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 36 pdf file]
Suspicious Indicator in Passport - The 9/11 Commission will also suggest that one or more of Alnami’s passports may contain a suspicious indicator of Islamic extremism, but this is not certain (see April 21, 2001 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Alnami, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card. 
A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card. [Source: 9/11 Commission] (click image to enlarge)The US introduces the “Visa Express” program in Saudi Arabia, which allows any Saudi Arabian to obtain a visa through his or her travel agent instead of appearing at a consulate in person. An official later states, “The issuing officer has no idea whether the person applying for the visa is actually the person in the documents and application.” [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] At the time, warnings of an attack against the US led by the Saudi Osama bin Laden are higher than they had ever been before— “off the charts” as one senator later puts it. [Los Angeles Times, 5/18/2002; US Congress, 9/18/2002] A terrorism conference had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities in al-Qaeda. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 5/19/2002]
Suspect Travel Agency - Ten Saudi travel agency companies are allowed to issue US visas as part of the program. One company, Fursan Travel and Tourism, is a subsidiary of Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., a multibillion Saudi banking conglomerate. Fursan is also the only one out of the ten deputized to handle the collection and initial processing of US visas. After 9/11, the CIA will suggest taking action against Al Rajhi for its suspected support of Islamist militancy, but the Bush Administration will decide not to do anything (see Mid-2003 and Mid-2003). It is believed that al-Qaeda and other militant groups advised their operatives to use Al Rajhi for their banking needs (see Before September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
Used by 9/11 Plotters - Five hijackers—Khalid Almihdhar, Abdulaziz Alomari, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Fayez Ahmed Banihammad—use Visa Express over the next month to enter the US. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] Alomari has a bank account with Al Rajhi, but it is unknown if he or any of the other hijackers use Fursan, the Al Rajhi subsidiary, since the names of travel agencies do not appear on copies of the hijackers’ visa applications that are later made public. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003] Even 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will successfully get a US Visa through the “Visa Express” program in July (using a false name but real photograph), despite a posted $2 million reward for his capture. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004]
Saudi Visas Almost Never Rejected - Only three percent of Saudi visa applicants are turned down by US consular officers in fiscal 2000 and 2001. In contrast, about 25 percent of US visa seekers worldwide are rejected. Acceptance is even more difficult for applicants from countries alleged to have ties to terrorism such as Iraq or Iran. [Washington Post, 10/31/2001] The widely criticized program is finally canceled in July 2002, after a public outcry. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khalid Almihdhar, Fursan Travel and Tourism, Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Alomari, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Saeed Algahdmi, in a video apparently made in December 2000.Saeed Algahdmi, in a video apparently made in December 2000. [Source: As-Sahab]Future 9/11 hijacker Saeed Alghamdi obtains a US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The application is made through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), using a passport issued two days earlier. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003]
Lies on Application - Alghamdi lies on his application form, claiming that he has never before applied for a US visa, when in fact he obtained one the previous year, also from Steinger (see September 4, 2000). Fellow hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Ahmed Alnami make similar false statements on their visa applications around this time (see April 23, 2001 and June 13, 2001), although Alnami corrects his application. The information about his previous visa is available at the consulate, but is not accessed, as consular workers do not usually examine previous visa issunces, only refusals. The 9/11 Commission will speculate that he lied on purpose to conceal the previous application. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 pdf file]
Fraudulent Features - The Commission will also suggest that one or more of Alghamdi’s passports may contain fraudulent features, but will claim that this is not certain, as Alghamdi’s passport was not recovered after 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 42 pdf file] This is an error by the Commission, as Alghamdi’s passport will actually be found after 9/11 and the Commission will be aware of this (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
KSM's Travel Agent - The travel agency used for the Visa Express application is Minhal Travel, which will also later be used by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to obtain a US visa (see July 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24, 29 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Minhal Travel, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a second US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-25 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Almihdhar’s passport, which was issued two weeks previously (see June 1, 2001), lacks an expiry date, but contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation used by the Saudi authorities to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). His application form is incomplete, as it lists his occupation as “businessman,” but does not give his employer’s name and address.
Lies on Application Form - The form, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), meaning Almihdhar is not interviewed, contains two lies: Almihdhar says he has never received an American visa or traveled to the US, whereas he received a visa in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999) and traveled to the US on it in 2000 (see January 15, 2000). As Almihdhar’s first visa was also issued by the Jeddah consulate, through which the CIA sent radical Arabs to the US for training during the Soviet-Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989), consular officials could discover he is lying, but information about prior visas issuances is not automatically displayed to them.
Known Terrorist - By this time, several intelligence agencies are aware that Almihdhar is an al-Qaeda operative; for example, the CIA (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), NSA (see December 29, 1999), FBI (see January 5-6, 2000), a US Army intelligence program (see January-February 2000), the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (see 1997), Malaysian Special Branch (see January 5-8, 2000), and an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates (see January 2-5, 2000)).
Parallels to Case of Blind Sheikh - Almihdhar will re-enter the US on the visa three weeks later (see July 4, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will find that the series of missteps preceding the issuance of visas to Almihdhar and the other future 9/11 hijackers has some “eerie parallels” to the “series of exceptional failures” that led to US visas being issued to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see December 15, 1986-1989 and July 1990). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-27, 33, 49 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi obtains a US visa from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There are some problems with his visa application, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001):
bullet The application is incomplete;
bullet Alhazmi gives his occupation as “unemployed” (this does not concern consular staff because Saudi Arabia is a rich country);
bullet His passport is only four days old;
bullet The passport contains a suspicious indicator of Islamic extremism placed their by Saudi intelligence in order to track him (see June 16, 2001 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25-6 pdf file]
bullet Some of the other future hijackers who apply for visas around this time lie on their applications, claiming never to have received a US visa before, although the opposite is true (see April 23, 2001, June 12, 2001, and June 13, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will not discuss whether Alhazmi claims on this application to have received a US visa before or not, as the Commission will appear to be unaware of any such previous application by him. However, according to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Alhazmi did previously obtain a US visa, in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999); [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004 pdf file]
bullet The NSA has been intercepting calls between Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen for at least two years (see Early 1999, Shortly Before December 29, 1999, and Summer 2000);
bullet The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003]

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The photograph of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on his 2001 US visa application.The photograph of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed on his 2001 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is granted a visa to enter the US, despite being under a federal terrorism indictment, having a $2 million reward on his head, and being one of only a dozen people in the world on a US domestic no-fly list (see April 24, 2000). There is no evidence that he actually uses his visa to travel to the US. Investigators speculate that he may have considered a trip to shepherd some aspect of the 9/11 plot. He applied for the visa using a Saudi passport and an alias (Abdulrahman al Ghamdi), but the photo he submitted is really of him. He uses the new, controversial Visa Express program that allows Saudis to apply for US visas without having to appear in person at any point during the application process (see May 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004] Just a month earlier, the CIA passed a warning to all US intelligence agencies, certain military commanders, and parts of the Justice and Treasury Departments saying that Mohammed may be attempting to enter the US (see June 12, 2001). However, either this warning isn’t given to immigration officials or else they fail to notice his application. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of the Treasury, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Saudi passport of Saeed Alghamdi, said to be discovered in the wreckage of Flight 93.The Saudi passport of Saeed Alghamdi, said to be discovered in the wreckage of Flight 93. [Source: FBI]According to the 9/11 Commission, the passports of two hijackers are discovered in the wreckage of Flight 93. One passport, belonging to Saeed Alghamdi, is damaged but still readable. The other passport, belonging to Ziad Jarrah, is burned most of the way through, but part of his photograph is still visible. In addition, the passport of hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari is recovered because apparently it was put in Mohamed Atta’s luggage and the luggage did not get put on the flight Alomari and Atta were hijacking before it took off (see September 11-13, 2001). The recovery of these passports will not be made public at the time and will only be mentioned in passing in 2004 by the 9/11 Commission. A fourth passport, that of Satam Al Suqami, was also recovered on a street near the WTC (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). That did become immediate news and caused skepticism by many who wondered how a paper document could survive such a crash (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Abdulaziz Alomari, Satam Al Suqami, Ziad Jarrah, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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