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"Don't Question Whether [They] Deserved Them or Not."
October 23, 2002 8:39 PM   Subscribe

"Don't Question Whether [They] Deserved Them or Not." Not only was no one held accountable for the visas unlawfully issued to the 9/11 terrorists, but now the State Department has rewarded officials responsible for the lax visa policies — that paved the way for the deaths of 3,000 innocent Americans — with large cash bonuses. [More Inside]
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood (56 comments total)

 
200 some senior members of the foreign service at the State Department were awarded bonuses of $10K to $15k, including 4 of the 5 top officials at Consular Affairs, and the person who implemented the "Visa Express" program for Saudi Arabia. Consular Affairs is the agency within the State Department that oversees consulates and visa issuance

The "Department Performance Pay Awards" are for "outstanding performance" for the period of April 16, 2001 to April 15, 2002, the same period that 5 of the 9/11 highjackers received visas that should have been denied by law.

On Monday of this week, the GAO released a report confirming that there was unlawful negligence by the State Department officials that issued the visa, and the lack of the State Department to hold people accountable in that last year, since the information has surfaced.

At a State Department Briefing yesterday reporters asked Richard Boucher, State's spokesperson, a about the GAO Report and the bonuses:

QUESTION: Do you think that it is — that it constitutes outstanding performance to have visas applications that were not filled out properly still being issued to terrorists during this period? This was April 16th of last year to April 15th of this year, and it includes 9/11. Do you think that that track record from Consular Affairs — in particular, Mary Ryan got the bonus as did Thomas Furey, who was the Consul General at Riyadh who helped establish visa express, which let in three of the 9/11 terrorists — what exactly about that constitutes a track record of outstanding performance worthy of these bonuses?

MR. BOUCHER: I want to stop this right here. You've said things that I disagree with and I've said things that you disagree with. I have not gone after your paycheck.

QUESTION: They are government officials. They owe a certain responsibility to the country.

MR. BOUCHER: People who dedicate their lives to their government and their country.

QUESTION: That's fine, but they don't have — they don't owe accountability?

MR. BOUCHER: If you want to talk about the GAO report, we'll talk about the GAO report, but I'm not going to talk about whether or not they deserve their bonuses. It's an established procedure. It's done very carefully by the government. It's done under an open set of rules that have been around for a long time. If you want to question those rules, you can go question those rules. But don't question whether these individuals deserved them or not.


Don't question? Do these people remember who they work for?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 8:39 PM on October 23, 2002


Do these people remember who they work for?

Are you contending that they work for a right-wing internet troll?
posted by goethean at 8:42 PM on October 23, 2002


No, they work for the American People...

But hey, thanks for not trying....

toll
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 8:49 PM on October 23, 2002


Now, that's the way to start the discussion off right.

As for the question: No, they don't. They are career bureaucrats.
posted by moonbiter at 8:49 PM on October 23, 2002


That's inappropriate, goethean. It's uncool to attempt to derail someone's legitimate thread due to antagonism arising in previous threads. Let's try to stay on topic, shall we?
posted by rushmc at 8:49 PM on October 23, 2002


Sigh. More "conservative opinion=troll" logic. Grow up, goethean.
posted by Karl at 8:52 PM on October 23, 2002


Why do you do that, goethean?

Frankly, I was expecting to hear that the issuers would be punished for criminal negligence at the very least. Besides, who gets bonuses in a government job? Or any job?

The fact is these individuals did not deserve the visas, and the paperwork was so sloppy that I can't see how a semi-literate fourth-grader wouldn't have at least had a hunch that something was amiss.

Back to frisking geriatric American war veterans at the airports, I suppose.
posted by hama7 at 8:53 PM on October 23, 2002


Are you contending that they work for a right-wing internet troll?
Give be a damn break. I don't always agree with S@L, but he raises a good point, where is the accountability - and why the evasiveness that seems to pervade the whole of the executive these days?
posted by plemeljr at 8:53 PM on October 23, 2002


That would be, "give me a damn break." Man, I have been agreeing with S@L more than 3 times today...something must be wrong. ;->
posted by plemeljr at 8:56 PM on October 23, 2002


To follow up: how can US citizens make non-elected, career bureaucrats accountable for their actions? Do they write their Congresspeople? Do they write their President?

How can they play a role?
posted by moonbiter at 8:57 PM on October 23, 2002


Also, what plemeljr said.
posted by moonbiter at 8:59 PM on October 23, 2002


Wow. 200 recipients, 4 of whom should be 'singled out for scorn' in the opinion of this author.

That's a whole 2%!!!!!

Almost $40k between them. If they pool their money they could buy a BMW! Just think about it, the people responsible for the lapses in our Immigration system tooling around in a German car once or twice a week.

Those bastards!

---

Seriously though, no one anticipated 9/11. There was no real reason to be reactionary before then. I don’t really think you can fault someone for not seeing something like that coming if they weren’t in the security sector anyway.
posted by delmoi at 9:03 PM on October 23, 2002


Well here at the 4 in question: Doesn't sound like "outstanding performance" to me.

On a side note, that is aprox $3 million in bonuses when State Department is complaining about understaffing at consulates... Not really prudent to give out bonuses when you are whining about needing more money to hire people.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:11 PM on October 23, 2002


On the other hand, Steve, there has been a growing movement in the last few decades to run government "more like a business". Given the current business climate, where executives at companies like Enron and Tyco are getting millions in bonuses while their companies go bankrupt, maybe that movement is taking hold.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:16 PM on October 23, 2002


"No one anticipated 9-11" (??!!) - Poppycock. The US gov. had at least a dozen reports and commission conclusions, some of which explicitly noted the potential use of airplanes as weapons. The '93 WTC bombers telegraphed their plans far in advance ("Project Boijinka") and the US was warned by the intelligence agencies of at leas a dozen foreign nations shortly before 9-11. The FBI had informers living with the 9-11 hijackers and ON AND ON AND.......seriously, though, just try reading this document (composed of mainstream news reports. It's very sobering to see it all in one place): the complete 9-11 timeline
posted by troutfishing at 9:19 PM on October 23, 2002


ok, since I've been slammed from all sides, I'll try to defend myself. First of all, I find Steve to be so irritatingly single-mindedly wrong-headed that I took an easy pot-shot. All apologies, lesson learned, etc.

2nd, I don't find Boucher's response inappropriate at all. He says: we assign visa by the rules. You don't like the rules? Change them and we'll abide by the new rules. Assuming that he intends to negatively reinforce those who don't follow the rules, that doesn't seem unreasonable to me.

Personally, I have no idea what does on in the decision to grant visas or not. I have no ability to make a judgement on whether the people involved are guilty of negligence, incompetence, or what. I find the US gov't comparable to nothing more than a corporation. The corporation I work at is barely competent. Lacking the visceral hatred for government that our right-wing friends find natural, I expect this sort of bureaucratic breakdown. In fact, it would worry me more if the gov't was more competent.

Once, when I worked at a bookstore, an old lady came up to me and ordered a hate-filled screed aimed at Hillary Clinton. "You've got to be careful...she'll be watching us all, soon", she warned. That's why I find gov't incompetency reassuring.
posted by goethean at 9:19 PM on October 23, 2002


Steve@Linnwood:

Has the president said a single word in opposition to Visa Express?

Why don't you hold him accountable?
posted by goethean at 9:21 PM on October 23, 2002


I don't see how Steve_at_Linwood's post is either "right" or "left" wing. Visa Express -and the later bonuses- were just appalling irregardless of ideology.
posted by troutfishing at 9:23 PM on October 23, 2002


He says: we assign visa by the rules.
Actually he is saying they gave out the bonuses by the rules...

Has the president said a single word in opposition to Visa Express?

He doesn't have to. That is why he has people under him, like Sec Powell that over see the State Department. It is call delegation of authority...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:27 PM on October 23, 2002


No. it's called selective criticism.
posted by goethean at 9:28 PM on October 23, 2002


I think all these people should be fired, quite simply. But that never happens in Washington.

And what about the American generals, and presidents - who armed Saddam Hussein and the Mujahadeen in the '80s? I think they owe us money.
posted by owillis at 9:29 PM on October 23, 2002


how can US citizens make non-elected, career bureaucrats accountable for their actions?

Well, this is actually pretty tricky. if we look at American History for century or so, the bureaucracy was run by the spoils system, a highly effective crony system. In 1871 the first series of Civil Service Commission was formed, and with the enactment of the Pendleton Civil Service Act of 1883 1 | 2 which set to move the bureaucracy away from the direct control of the Executive and to wit the Senate has to approve and oversee parts of the bureaucracy. This was to make the bureaucracy more stable, and [it was thought] less partial to the whims of the Executive. The offshoot is that the rise of the professional bureaucrat occurred, an unintended consequence. In 1949 and 1955 two separate reports were issues [the Hoover Commision] streamlining the bureaucracy by creating the General Services Administration [GSA] which was established through the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act in 1949. The GSA is the government's HR department, and as such is huge. So that pretty much takes us up to now. So the bureaucracy is accountable to the Senate and to the Executive [which the President heads] and since we elect both [no Florida jokes, please], the GSA and bureaucracy is accountable to the people.

So, what Mr. Boucher said is out of line, and of course we have the right to question our government. In fact, I would say it is our job. But the whole of the bureaucracy is set up and maintained so that the ripples of the people do not interfere with the daily workings of government.
posted by plemeljr at 9:29 PM on October 23, 2002


goethean: I refuse to let you drag me in to the muck tonight. This is not a partisan issue.. don't try to make it one.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 9:31 PM on October 23, 2002


...irregardless...

Aaaarrgggghhhhhh, my eyes!!!

The word is "regardless", people! As in "without regard"!

(Sorry to snap, but it's like the fifteenth time I've heard it today...)
posted by oissubke at 9:34 PM on October 23, 2002


owillis :"I think all these people should be fired, quite simply."

I couldn't have said it better myself. To institute a policy like Visa Express in a country that is the prime mover behind much,if not most, of the Muslim fundamentalist terrorism in the world is beyond stupid, it's sick. Is there anything in the world that oil/oil money can't buy?
posted by MikeMc at 9:38 PM on October 23, 2002


Goethean, I'm worried. Are you obsessed with Steve?
posted by Karl at 9:38 PM on October 23, 2002


And as much as you accuse him of trolling, you certainly appear to do your share.
posted by Karl at 9:41 PM on October 23, 2002


I don't think the government works for us, per se. It's more like it's a service organization, and we pay taxes to receive the services it gives.

I sort of wish it was a bit more ala carte sometimes, though. I don't think I'd buy the welfare service for myself, thank you.
posted by askheaves at 9:42 PM on October 23, 2002


He doesn't have to. That is why he has people under him, like Sec Powell that over see the State Department. It is call delegation of authority...

~guffaw~

Spin it. And I know you'll join us in demanding that if Powell can't run the State Department, we sack the dumbass who hired him.

No doubt the current administration will flail furiously to keep the damned buck as low as possible....on visas...on airline security....on intelligence failures.... Anything to shift attention away from the simple truth that it was on their watch that twenty fuckwits heavily armed with sophisticated boxcutters brought America to its knees.

It's called ducking responsibility.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 9:58 PM on October 23, 2002


This stands out only because 9/11 is a hot button issue, not because these people don't deserve raises. If we took a hard look at *any* of the people who got bonuses we'd be able to pick away until we found glaring reasons why they shouldn't have gotten them.

It's a falacy.

Irregardless, I'm a little peeved at my tax dollars going to bonuses like this.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:59 PM on October 23, 2002


askheaves - "I don't think I'd buy the welfare service for myself, thank you."

It's attitudes like that that make me relieved that it's not an a la carte operation. It sounds as though I'm making this up, but I swear it's true: both of my brothers have at one point relied on welfare; both are multi-millionaires today, the taxes they pay on their incomes having vastly repaid the miserable $1600/month they took from the unwilling victims of our welfare system such as yourself for a few months as one enrolled in law school and applied for student loans and the other started a small business.
posted by jonson at 10:01 PM on October 23, 2002


I don't understand how the opinion that these people don't deserve bonuses, and should in fact be punished in some way, is labeled a conservative opinion?

It sounds like common sense to me, and justice. From what I've seen justice isn't very high on the conservative agenda.
posted by Eyegore at 10:02 PM on October 23, 2002


Karl, it's sexual tension disguised as bickering. Any competent evil overlord would have them both shot immediately, Rule 98.

I can't believe a link to the Evil Overlord list was only posted to MeFi for the first time yesterday.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 10:07 PM on October 23, 2002


johson: You know that was a joke. It's a worthwhile service that I could be legally be applying for this instant... actually, even 8 months ago.

We have the right to demand better service out of our government if their employees and policies are allowing a bad service to be performed. We would get pissed if they gave the guy who designed the gas tank on the Pinto a raise right after they all simultaneously started on fire. Maybe we can report them to the Better Business Bureau.
posted by askheaves at 10:07 PM on October 23, 2002


"the simple truth that it was on their watch that twenty fuckwits heavily armed with sophisticated boxcutters brought America to its knees."

Dude, yer on crack.

1) How is this "truth" simple? Because facts and details suck?
2) Their watch? This whole thing was planned and set in motion on Clinton's watch. They had a damn good plan. Who's watch would have foiled this?
3) Knees? Really? I think you need to buck up and get some self-esteem.

Look, I think Bush is an evil, stupid tyrant. But let's not make that viewpoint look stupid by spinning vacuous sound bites. Um-kay?
posted by y6y6y6 at 10:10 PM on October 23, 2002


Wonder if they handed out bonuses at the intelligence services last year? Wonder if they'll be getting them this year after North Korea apparently surprised them, yet again. They're so surprised so often they look like they've been getting botox shots.

Somebody should investigate what those services are doing that results in such blatant incompetence. These agencies work for us, and they are spending our money. Anyone in government attempting to prevent us from finding out how our money is apparently being misspent by these agencies is obviously against basic accountability.

Hey, this could be fun! And it's non-partisan, too? Next you'll tell me it vibrates.
posted by dglynn at 10:23 PM on October 23, 2002


Y6cubed, I actually think that f_and_m got this one right on the button.

1) Exactly. Because we had warning that this type of attack had happened before, and the facts and details (properly analyzed) could have avoided this.

2) Somebody other than an arrogant schoolboy-baseball-club-owning ingrate who hadn't the first idea of what it takes to protect a nation without sacrificing its values?

3) We're on the imperialistic verge of attacking a nation that is NO threat to us whatever. If that isn't the desperate cry of a people on its knees, what is? Yes we have strength, but if we react in that strength without justice or wisdom, then how can you call for a self-esteem check?

Foldy, please don't interpret this as a post that says I like you. I just think that the softened down version of your "stuff" has something to add here.
posted by Wulfgar! at 10:46 PM on October 23, 2002


blah, I think you people are all reactionary morons.

so there.
posted by delmoi at 11:08 PM on October 23, 2002


Strangely compelling and exceedingly frustrating: I'm describing both this thread and the initial link. Maybe my brain is too small but I could not find anything to actually sink my teeth into in the article unless one wants to react emotionally.

I've looked briefly into the report but did not find exactly who broke what law. Could someone help me out?

Most of what I found in the report, is reflection upon how to better protect the current citizens of a nation-state, whose whole existence represents a mass migration of people* that continues to this day, by examining said migration. (Did that make sense?)

*With apologies to those who arrived on the North American continent long before the mass migration rooted in the 17th century.
posted by Dick Paris at 11:12 PM on October 23, 2002


Or should that be the 16th? Anyone for 15th? Bof!

From the top Google search of: what is the Visa Express program?

Why do I shudder when I read comments that include references like this to the Department of Homeland Security?
posted by Dick Paris at 11:21 PM on October 23, 2002


With apologies to those who arrived on the North American continent long before the mass migration rooted in the 17th century.

They were immigrants too.

The visa express program was a Saudi deal in which visas could be obtained easily and not directly though the U. S. embassy, but through travel agencies and things. (I guess when this was when Saudi Arabia was considered an actual ally.

More details in this article by Joel Mowbray.
posted by hama7 at 12:01 AM on October 24, 2002


The standard of debate on this thread is truly depressing. The first thing that needs addressing, which the article glossed over, is the visa applications that were made by the terrorists.
How exactly were they filled out wrong? What warning signs were there that should have meant these men being denied entry to America? What, specifically did the US State Department do wrong?
posted by salmacis at 12:37 AM on October 24, 2002


which the article glossed over
This is one of a series of investigative reports, starting in mid June, written by Joel Mowbray on this subject. For the complete story you have to start at the beginning:


June 14:Open Door for Saudi Terrorists
June 21:Visa Express No More?
June 25:The Visa Affair
June 27:Closing Visa Loopholes
July 9:State Defense
July 10:Visa Express Axed
July 11:Visa Fraud, Uninterrupted
July 15:Prelude to Detainment
July 16:Visa Express, Expanded?
July 17:Visas For Suspected Terrorists?
July 18:State of Deception
July 19:Decision Day in the House
July 22:Visa Express, History
August 7:Mary Ryan Redux
October 3:Little Change at Consular Affairs
October 9:Visas that Should Have Been Denied
October 10:State of Denial
October 11:State’s Culture Rot
October 17:The Fifth Hijacking that Wasn’t
October 18:Defending the Indefensible Terror Visas
October 21:GAO Confirms
October 22:Perverse Incentives
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 1:30 AM on October 24, 2002


What is missing from this thread is any reference to the manner in which the bonuses were calculated. From a non-partisan perspective (?), the 'best' approach would seem to be some form of independent process that assesses candidates and awards bonuses accordingly. If such a process is in place, then it seems likely that (given when it would have been implemented) it was probably focused on issues like the speed with which visa applicants received a decision, etc., rather than on how many terrorists got through.

In general (and I think that this applies to many 'big corporate' bonus schemes as well), remuneration schemes are set up 'before the fact', rather than as a response to events. The drive for this has been to ensure objectivity and fairness, but the fairness is subject to sensible targets being put in place at the start.

-------

btw - I often (usually?) disagree with Steve@'s take on things, but this seems an excellent FPP, which got semi-derailed by goethean's initial response.
posted by daveg at 1:30 AM on October 24, 2002


Are you kidding me? These guys singlehandedly gave Bush carte blanche to do whatever the fuck he wants! Without them, no September 11th; without September 11th, Bush's approval ratings drag.

Damn right they deserve a raise!
posted by dogmatic at 1:33 AM on October 24, 2002


Have you guys _read_ the actual Visa applications? They look like the're part of a SNL skit, they'd be hilarious if that negligence didn't provoke the death of 3,000 innocent people:

the hijackers gave answers like "I'm going to live in SOUTH CITY", no State mentioned. "South City"?
Or: "I'd like to stay in the US for 3 YEARS", and he didn't even mention how he was going to support himself while in the States
posted by matteo at 3:39 AM on October 24, 2002


I'm suprised I haven't heard mention of Michael Springman in this post:

(interview, BBC's Greg Palast, NewsNight)
"MICHAEL SPRINGMAN:
In Saudi Arabia I was repeatedly ordered by high level State Dept officials to issue visas to unqualified applicants. These were, essentially, people who had no ties either to Saudi Arabia or to their own country. I complained bitterly at the time there. I returned to the US, I complained to the State Dept here, to the General Accounting Office, to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and to the Inspector General's office. I was met with silence.

PALAST:
By now, Bush Sr, once CIA director, was in the White House. Springman was shocked to find this wasn't visa fraud. Rather, State and CIA were playing "the Great Game".

SPRINGMAN:
What I was protesting was, in reality, an effort to bring recruits, rounded up by Osama Bin Laden, to the US for terrorist training by the CIA. They would then be returned to Afghanistan to fight against the then-Soviets.

The attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 did not shake the State Department's faith in the Saudis, nor did the attack on American barracks at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia three years later, in which 19 Americans died. FBI agents began to feel their investigation was being obstructed. Would you be surprised to find out that FBI agents are a bit frustrated that they can't be looking into some Saudi connections?"


And then there's Rober Baer: "A former US intelligence agent has alleged that the CIA ignored detailed warnings he passed on in 1998 that a Gulf state was harbouring an al-Qaeda cell led by two known terrorists.

When FBI agents attempted to arrest them, the Gulf state's government provided the men with alias passports, the former agent claims.

The allegation is contained in a controversial new book on US intelligence operations in the Middle East by Robert Baer, a former case officer in the CIA's directorate of operations....."
posted by troutfishing at 5:13 AM on October 24, 2002


So what do genuine visa applications look like in comparison? I'm pretty sure many of them are filled in poorly as well. Could it be that the terrorists would be drawing attention to themselves if they filled in the form better?

I've no point to make or axe to grind. I just want to know.
posted by salmacis at 5:18 AM on October 24, 2002


this thread is depressing. I'm off to the dump to collect some junk to fill up my house...or maybe I'll just drill a hole in my head...
posted by troutfishing at 6:44 AM on October 24, 2002


As a lowly government hack myself, I receive performance bonuses according to a standard formula. This year it totaled almost $800. I don't know how it works for management, so this may all be irrelevant, but for us troglodytes at the bottom, there are performance criteria for our position (basically, the job description broken into separate definable tasks). We are rated on a four-point scale on each of the tasks and the size of the bonus is determined by the lowest rating we receive (sort of). The performance pay is budgeted, of course, so I routinely receive all "excellent"s except for one "very good" to keep my bonus lower.

I had no idea that the performance pay could reach $10,000+. That's amazing.

The thing I find most alarming in this story is not that the bonuses were awarded, but that Mr. Boucher would tell us to question the bonus procedure but not to question whether the individuals warranted their performance ratings. Tell me what their performance criteria were, and I sure as hell am going to check how they did. I would be surprised if, for the positions described, performance criteria didn't include some sort of PR function; unlawful negligence and misleading Congress should almost certainly fall under the performance evaluation. But, without knowing the criteria, I suppose I can't rightly say...
posted by dilettanti at 6:59 AM on October 24, 2002


"I'm going to live in SOUTH CITY", no State mentioned.

oh please, i don't see you bitching that the Simpsons never reveal what state Springfield's in, which could have significant consequences considering the incompetence at the nucyular power plant. you obviously hold deep bias against non-animated 3D folk, and I, for one, will not stand for it.
posted by tolkhan at 7:34 AM on October 24, 2002


Thanks for all the links, Steve. Mowbray has been doing a great job of hounding State on this. His article and Leden's articles on Iran keep me coming back to NRO.

This administration's attitude towards accountability sucks. And it's attitude towards Saudi Arabia is infuriating. Just last week the Council on Foreign Relations reported that al Qaeda's primary source of funding is still from Saudi charities and individuals. If Bush was serious about fighting terrorism he would stop kissing Saudi Arabia's ass and hold them accountable.
posted by homunculus at 10:34 AM on October 24, 2002


[sigh.]

There you go again, making this into a partisan issue...

[heh.]
posted by goethean at 11:04 AM on October 24, 2002


People are getting raises despite 9/11 hapenning? This is only bad if one blames them for 9/11, which is what many people in this thread are doing. From what I've read (thanks to all the links) it seems that these people were only doing their job. If the visa was legit then they have to let the person in. No CIA or any such security source said "don't let them in". In that case it seems there's not much they could have done. Perhaps blame shouldn't be placed on the people whose job it is to do visa related work, but on the security agencies that failed to highlight the threat that these people were. Were there enough of a warning placed on these people, then the visa people would have picked them up. So let the people get their raises. Maybe they earned them for stuff unrelated to 9/11? (prepares to get put up against the wall and given a last cigarette...)
posted by dazed_one at 11:36 AM on October 24, 2002


troutfishing: Put down that drill! If you don't feel like going to the dump, join vorfeed and me in our tour of Mongolia, OK?
posted by languagehat at 11:48 AM on October 24, 2002


Or should that be the 16th? Anyone for 15th?

Not another MeFi user number pissing contest!!
posted by rushmc at 8:05 PM on October 24, 2002


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