Trump’s Muslim Ban Ignored the Most Dangerous

The NYT has a long piece describing how Saudi Lieutenant Mohammed Alshamrani managed to get recruited into an elite flight training program, accepted into training in the US, granted a diplomatic visa and then the hunting license that allowed him to murder three sailors on a base in Pensacola last year, all with social media and call records making it clear he had ties to al Qaeda.

The entire thing is worth reading, both for the seeming Saudi indifference to their own vetting and for the discussion about ongoing tensions as DOD attempts to vet those it trains. The key problem, however, is that Alshamrani fell through the holes on both of the vetting programs purportedly set up to keep out people like him. Not only did Trump’s Muslim ban not exclude Saudis (from where more terrorists have come to attack the US than any other country, with the possible exception of Pakistan), but the increased vetting he demanded did not apply to diplomatic visas like the one he came in on. 

After passing through the hands of Saudi authorities, Lieutenant Alshamrani’s application for a visa to the United States landed in the consular section of the American Embassy in Riyadh in the summer of 2017.

The lieutenant’s information was first fed into a database kept by a special Department of Homeland Security vetting unit that has operated in Saudi Arabia after the Sept. 11 attacks. A consular officer used his passport and photograph to run still more checks — including facial recognition searches — on powerful databases fed by the American government’s central repository of information about terrorist identities.

It is not uncommon for the searches to turn up information that prevents military trainees from obtaining visas. But American Embassy officials, who are largely restricted from knocking on doors and taking other steps associated with deep background investigations, did not check the lieutenant’s social media history because such checks were not required at the time. Lieutenant Alshamrani’s application raised no suspicions.

One problem was that he was applying for a diplomatic visa as part of the elite training programs that are often important components of multibillion-dollar arms sales. In the last five years alone, Saudi Arabia has bought more than $45 billion in American weapons and training.

Although the State Department had cabled all embassies at Mr. Trump’s orders earlier in 2017 to step up screening of visas, the extra scrutiny was applied to immigrant visas and not to diplomatic applications, a senior American Embassy official in Riyadh said.

And the Insider Threat program set up in the wake of the Nidal Hassan killings focused exclusively on Americans, not foreign trainees.

The Pentagon system to monitor insider threats — created after the fatal shootings at Fort Hood and the Washington Navy Yard — was focused only on American service members, not on the 5,000 international military students who were training in the United States, including some 850 Saudis.

Normally, I’m of the mind that the national security dragnet will not catch every potential terrorist. But in this case, Alshamrani succeeded precisely because Trump’s racist ban was focused not on efficacy, but on bigotry, exempting precisely those who posed the most risk.

This should be a focus of bipartisan hearings — and it should draw more focus than whether or not Trump can drink a glass of water. Not because we need more dragnets, but because we need existing vetting programs to be focused on the most dangerous threats.

29 replies
  1. dude says:

    Muslim or Muslm? Also bad or ban in the body?

    I shouldn’t criticize. I am notorious for my own typos. Yours are rare.

  2. BobCon says:

    Black Lives Matter protests have gone international, and I am very curious to what extent there will be a similar huge imbalance in the use of surveillance of peaceful BLM organizers vs. violent international white nationalist conspiracies.

    • Dana says:

      Tobe fair, for a lot of participants, they are not attending Black Lives Matter protests. They are attending black-lives-matter protests. There is an important difference.

    • JamesJoyce says:

      No need at all to moderate this comment.

      Frank Church?
      Sam Erving?

      Chris Pyle style?

      “He testified to Congress about the use of military intelligence against civilians, worked for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, as well as the Senate Committee on Government Oversight. “

      This is all Deja Vu..

      BLM has gone international. Watch a premiere league soccer game?

      Some understood Martin Luther’s poignant message.

      Some simply ignored him and his indictment of the Church…

      Nuremberg Laws stripped humans of constitutional protections then came the Gestapo.

      American Due Process is the opposite of Nuremberg Laws.

      Sadly some have no concept of reconstruction amendments and how when Americans are killed by those who protect serve
      and arrest, and there is no accountability, due process is effectively usurped.

      Sophie has no choice.

      Some had qualified immunity to act
      like animals rant et than humans…

      No liberty when your dead..

      Slaveowners were all about using preemption to protect their self interest at any expense.

      In a similar fashion there was considerable “culture”in Merker’s Salt mines “taken“ by assaulting due process and reason.

      This is rather unexceptional considering the very real influence of a pre-abolitionist John Leland, from Massachusetts…

      Trump has no concept of anything except his myopic narrow minded self-interest and abusing power to impose his version of miestenguizen….

      Senator Byrd warned America.

      The enablers didn’t care.

      We have done a face plant in historical pig’s dung blinded by dependency.

      Dred Scott was denied standing to protect monopoly …

      This is why George Floyd wanted to a be member of the SCOTUS as a child?

      Correcting an obvious injustice no different than the illegal implementation of “Nuremberg Laws“ under the color of law?

      Typos be damed.

  3. Rugger9 says:

    I wouldn’t say “ignored the most dangerous” as “selected the ones not on Team Trump”. Let’s not forget that MBS has significant $$ leverage on DJT, Ivanka and Jared even before we find out what went on in the Seychelles. This was a deliberate blind eye, nothing accidental about it which would be the inference from being ignored. “Mistakes” are a staple GOP excuse even though every time “mistakes” were made it benefited the GOP instead of random entities. So, it should be framed as the selection of his team as it was, and for whatever reason MBS wanted this guy in there which no one here knows.

    So, how does it profit MBS to have one of his officers shoot up Pensacola on a jihad? I do not think anyone is really looking into this like no one is looking into Khashoggi’s murder because MBS would doubtless become a suspect or an accessory. Was it a message to keep DJT in line?

    OT: Isn’t the head of the SEC (who will replace Berman if DJT gets his way) Senator Loeffler’s husband?

  4. bill says:

    I agree that the Muslim Ban was about promoting bigotry, not stopping terrorists
    from entering the US. The Saudis were excluded from the ban and given special treatment precisely because
    they had bought $45 billion of US weapons in the previous five years. The weapons, in part,
    were used to wage a genocidal war against Yemen, a Middle East country included
    in the ban.

  5. Pajaro says:

    Yes, willful blindness in exchange for $$$ to Trump family and the bought company of murderous Saudi royals. The other danger being carefully ignored and fostered are the right wing militias, our homegrown Taliban. It is beyond insane that this cancer has not been removed to date.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It’s one thing to not expansively vet the average tourist, entering on a short-stay visa. They would get no further into Pensacola, say, than the air museum, and would not be circulating among pilots, instructors, specialist advisers, or upper echelons of the chain of command.

    It’s another not to vet someone who would spend months among those people. If national security and humanitarian issues are not your thing, then there are the millions invested in each pilot and instructor, not to mention avoiding a reputation for being dangerously sloppy. The latter is the sort of thing that can tarnish every aviator, her service, and the government that runs it.

  7. MB says:

    If Congress ever gets around to setting minimum standards for who will be allowed to run for president in future elections, it definitely has to include a threshold for adequate one-handed water-drinking ability. And while they’re at it, require that tax returns be released to the public. Oh, and maybe a psychological test to determine whether the candidate’s emotional development is significantly north of a bratty 8-year old…

    • bmaz says:

      I am not at all sure that would even be Constitutional. The minimum standards are set by the Constitution, and doubt they can be altered by common legislation.

      • MB says:

        I agree it would be a tricky business attempting to legislate what were previously informally agreed-upon “norms”, but something needs to be done to address reckless norm-busting done for its own sake rather than for good (or even principled ideological) reasons. I don’t think Trump is a total aberration – there are others out there who would be happty to act out in the same fashion, given the chance.

      • Alan Charbonneau says:

        True, the minimum standards are set by the Constitution, but the GOP could’ve required a release of tax returns to participate in the primary debates. That would’ve eliminated Trump from the get go.

  8. PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

    It would be nice if house and Senate Dem leadership were vigerously pushing investigations and issuing subpeonas/holding hearings, if nothing else to keep this stuff front and center. But I guess that is too much to expect.

  9. soothsayer says:

    I agree with the assessment that their needs to be more common sense and improved assessments here. I saw Dan Hoffman write an article on Lawfare that is pretty good.

    But, I think there is an inherent problem here in all of these analyses. It is like a game of whack a mole, and even moreso focused on symptoms and not underlying issues and who may or may not be guiding, enabling and catalysing some of these groups, which to me historically is a macro level issue while most people focus on the micro level issues. The macro? That Russia is historically a hand behind the curtain, not in all, but in many if not all of these occurrences, especially now with an open information space. I think it has become their bread and butter to be honest, I think if we fail to tackle the originations or enablers, we will be chasing our tails endlessly and cease to truly deal with this issue.

    Read this article below to understand what I mean.

    Also, to add, Russias satellite states have seem to be supporting them in this, hence why Chinas Huawei was caught with a subsidiary in Iran, supporting the regime and its malign information space activities, whatever they were exactly.

    I have to tell you, unless the Admin tackles Russia and its Satellite states and allies for all of their malign activities pushing division and violence against us, I do not feel we will ever truly address this issue. We need to find it, call it out, and hold them to account. I am in no way minimizing what the actual perpetrators do, but due to the fact that Russia and its satellites are in the back behind much of this activity, it is even more farcical how any one has said we should work with Russia to deal with this issue. What a joke, it is perverse and a slap in the face to the West, that anyone would pretend they are not part of the problem.

    • soothsayer says:

      Whoops apologies, I meant Bruce H. for who wrote the first article.

      I also meant there not their in the first sentence, my bad.

      I promise I’ll proof read my typos more before posting.

    • soothsayer says:

      Well, I feel I need to add a disclaimer here. My MO as originally from Canada and growing up in a very multicultural society, and being multicultural in my background and marriage as well, that I in fact very much appreciate both Russian and Chinese culture. I in no way think less of the people of these two very culturally rich mosaics, I enjoy their history, food, drink, architecture (from books!) and much else. But, all societies have good and bad moments in history, this is not what I am alluding to when I say they are in a bad period. Obviously, it is their current leadership, very authoritarian and malign. Now, I am not also saying that everyone in their leadership is perse malign, this would likely be false as well. But it is true that their current leaders are at a minimum not playing fair, and in the extreme are causing great harm to not only other countries, but even to their own citizens. This is also causes me frustration, because I wish that any country, even our own, would move towards more democratic norms for their own people and the inherent right of all humanity. Again, I am in no way relating our countries path to their current path, BUT obviously our current admin seems to favor and tend towards authoritarian leaders and malign decisions himself. But obviously we have freedoms here that they do not have, and we have actual elections. Get mad at me all you want Putin for what I say, but you need to ask yourself why you malign your own people in so many ways. So anyways, I am just looking to be diplomatic because that matters, and because truth matters. Cheers.

  10. Marinela says:

    So the reason Saudi Arabia was not on the list of banned countries, is, as the explanation went, they are able to vet the people coming to the US. This incident proves they are not serious or capable with the vetting.

    The second argument for Saudi Arabia to be on the list, in the past, the number of terrorists coming from SA, that acted as terrorists in US.

    So I understand why Trump administration didn’t add them to the list of banned countries, corruption in our own government, not sure why the Congress is not doing anything about it.

    Also the strange alliance between SA and Israel is puzzling to me.Some speculate it relates to their alignment against Iran.

    • Rugger9 says:

      As far as the arrangement between KSA and Israel, it is indeed present only to counter Iran (on the “enemy of my enemy” principle) and will fall apart once that threat is removed.

  11. Rapier says:

    Meanwhile a US passport is worth about as much as toilet paper except for a passports inferior absorbent properties. It can get you into many places but for the most part you can only go back to the US. Show up at a border with a third country and it’s likely they will not let you in. Even if as in the case of an acquaintance who has been in Croatia for 5 months. The first few by choice and now because about the only way to leave is by air with an itinerary back to the US. So in his case it isn’t because he is a possible carrier for which Americans are now famous. In many places Americans are simply not wanted.

Comments are closed.