Commentary

Michelle Malkin: Stop Training Saudi Arabia's Jihad Pilots

By Michelle Malkin | May 20, 2020 | 11:23am EDT
Former U.S. Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses a press conference for the film "Hillary" screened in the Berlinale Special category at the 70th Berlinale film festival. (Photo credit: DAVID GANNON/AFP via Getty Images)
Former U.S. Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses a press conference for the film "Hillary" screened in the Berlinale Special category at the 70th Berlinale film festival. (Photo credit: DAVID GANNON/AFP via Getty Images)

I'm glad the FBI was able to crack the iPhones of the Pensacola naval air base shooter, which confirmed that radicalized Royal Saudi Air Force second lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani had communicated with al-Qaeda to carry out a "special operation." Three young American patriots died in Alshamrani's December 2019 attack. The more information we have to prevent the needless slaughter of U.S. military members on U.S. soil, the better.

But Attorney General William Barr's announcement of the Pensacola jihadist's unlocked phones yesterday raises more questions than it answers. Why haven't the American people been informed yet of basic details regarding how Alshamrani got into our country? Why have we resumed foreign flight training while lockdowns have put nearly 37 million citizens out of work — and while national security concerns about the A-2 visa for foreign military trainees remain unresolved? Why weren't all temporary foreign visa programs for both civilian and military pilots from around the world immediately frozen as part of President Donald Trump's so-called immigration ban?

In January, Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and fellow committee members Sens. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asked Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf for a "timeline of Alshamrani's nonimmigrant visa vetting process, the specific vetting actions conducted, whether he was interviewed by U.S. officials, and whether the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was made aware of any documents provided by the Saudi government indicating terrorist sympathies."

The letter also sought information on "how many A visa holders were refused entry by Customs and Border Protection and how many of those refusals were Saudi nationals, as well as details on DHS monitoring of visiting foreign military personnel's social media and any such monitoring conducted in Alshamrani's case."

Was biometric data collected?

Were any red flags shared by Saudi Arabia, and did our consular officials follow up on any warnings?

The three GOP senators also asked Wolf about what "diplomatic courtesies or other differences from regular nonimmigrant visa arrivals are afforded on arrival to individuals on an A visa?"

It's ancient history, but those of us who care about a functioning immigration and entrance system remember how lazy and pandering State Department bureaucrats didn't even bother to interview the 9/11 Saudi hijackers in person when they applied for fast-track visas. The Bush administration set up the so-called "Visa Express" program to allow Saudis to skip the lines and wait times.

We also remember that when the FBI was warned before 9/11 by Phoenix-based agent Kenneth Williams that Arab Muslim pilots should be monitored because his investigation found "a coordinated effort by Usama Bin Laden to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation universities and college," the FBI ignored Williams. He had called on his superiors to conduct nationwide sweeps of aviation schools and surveillance of suspicious visa applicants. Had the feds done so, of course, Muslim grievance-groups would have been up in arms and hindsight hypocrite columnists like former New York Times' finger-wagger Maureen Dowd would have screamed "Islamophobe" faster than a speeding bullet.

Instead, the Bush administration did nothing to stop the inflow of terrorists into our homeland through an alphabet soup of visa programs, including F-1 student visas, B-1 tourists visas, J-1 cultural exchange visas, diversity visas, and the A-2s. In 2018-2019, the number of foreign students from Saudi Arabia in the U.S. totaled more than 37,000, 30.2 percent of whom were admitted to study in STEM fields. Moreover, our U.S. military has been training Saudi airmen since 2012 at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Eglin AFB, Florida, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, and Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida.

Government officials insist that the vetting is rigorous. But a 2017 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction exposed how untold numbers of A-2 foreign pilot trainees from the Middle East have simply disappeared for more than a dozen years. In 2014, I reported on the alarming phenomenon of Muslim deserters in 2014 who had been granted visas for serving as interpreters in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"We generally don't know who we are training. We have little reliable information," one U.S. official told RAND Corp. researchers. Their study "found significant problems with current U.S. vetting practices in relation to security assistance."

Why would we continue to put our soldiers, pilots, sailors, and citizens at such unnecessary risk?

Follow the money.

The Pensacola joint training program was part of the $30 billion sale of F-15s to the Saudis — engineered by Hillary Clinton and her pay-for-play State Department.

Is it too much to ask President Trump, who campaigned on "America first," "build the wall," and "drain the swamp," to put some flesh on those bones and shut down the Saudi terror pilot pipeline?

Michelle Malkin is a conservative blogger at michellemalkin.com, syndicated columnist, author, and founder of hotair.com. Michelle Malkin's email address is MichelleMalkinInvestigates@protonmail.com.

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