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Context of 'August 1, 2002: Consular Officer Who Issued 9/11 Hijackers with 12 Visas Gives Incorrect Testimony to House Committee'

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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

Hani Hanjour’s September 10 US visa application, which was rejected. The fact he requested permission to stay in the US for three years is highlighted on the right.Hani Hanjour’s September 10 US visa application, which was rejected. The fact he requested permission to stay in the US for three years is highlighted on the right. [Source: National Review] (click image to enlarge)Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour applies for a US tourist/business visa at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Hanjour, who has already spent a good deal of time in the US (see October 3, 1991-February 1992, Spring 1996, October 1996-December 1997, and 1998), uses a passport issued on July 24, 2000. His application is incomplete, as he says he is a student, but fails to give his school’s name and address. After his application is screened, he is referred to a consular officer for an interview. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13, 174-5 pdf file] This consular officer is Shayna Steinger, who issues a total of 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Hanjour’s application is denied as he says he wants to stay in the US for three years, raising concerns he might become an immigrant. Hanjour also says he wants to attend flight school in the US, changing his status to “student” from “tourist” after arrival. However, this is another reason Steinger denies the visa application, “because he has been in the States long enough to decide what he wanted.” Hanjour will return to the consulate two weeks later and successfully obtain a visa from Steinger using a different application (see September 25, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13, 174-5 pdf file] Steinger will later give a series of conflicting explanations about why she reversed her decision and issued the visa (see August 1, 2002, January 20, 2003, and December 30, 2003). After 9/11, a former consular official named Michael Springmann will say that while serving in Jeddah during the Soviet-Afghan War he was sometimes pressured to reverse denials of visa applications by the CIA for apparent mujaheddin (see September 1987-March 1989).

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Hani Hanjour, Michael Springmann

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour again applies for a US visa at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. An application two weeks earlier had been rejected (see September 10, 2000), but he is successful this time. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13-14 pdf file] The application is dealt with by consular officer Shayna Steinger, who issues a total of 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000) and who rejected Hanjour’s previous application. [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Hanjour apparently applies for a student visa, not a tourist visa, as he had done previously, saying he wishes to attend a language school in California. Steinger will later recall that Hanjour, or someone acting on his behalf, submits an I-20 INS school enrollment form, the documentation required for the visa. She will say: “It came to me, you know, at the end of the day to look at it. I saw he had an I-20 and it [his visa] was issued.” This apparently allows Hanjour to overcome his previous rejection, as the two applications are treated as one case. The INS had approved a change of status for Hanjour to attend the same school in 1996, but Steinger does not know of this. She will later say that, if she had known, she might have denied the visa. Although a photocopy of a student visa in Hanjour’s passport will later be made public, Steinger now enters the visa in the State Department’s records as a business/tourist visa. (Note: the visa in Hanjour’s passport may be changed upon his entry to the US (see December 8, 2000).) [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 13-14, 38] Steinger will later give conflicting accounts of her issuance of this visa. She will first falsely claim to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that she issued the visa under the Visa Express program and that Hanjour was not even present during the first application on September 10 (see August 1, 2002), but will later change her story for the State Department’s inspector general (see January 20, 2003) and the 9/11 Commission (see December 30, 2003). After 9/11, a former consular official named Michael Springmann will say that while serving in Jeddah during the Soviet-Afghan War he was sometimes pressured to reverse denials of visa applications by the CIA for apparent mujaheddin (see September 1987-March 1989).

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

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

Shayna Steinger, a consular officer who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000), gives incorrect testimony about one of the visa issuances to the House Committee on Government Reform. The incorrect testimony concerns the issue of a visa to Hani Hanjour, the alleged pilot of Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon. Steinger initially refused to grant Hanjour a visa (see September 10, 2000), but then reversed her decision two weeks later (see September 25, 2000). Steinger claims that she initially denied Hanjour a visa because he applied under the Visa Express program. However, the visa was denied in September 2000 and the Visa Express program did not begin until May 2001 (see May 2001). Steinger claims to have a memory of the event which cannot be correct. “I remember that I had refused him for interview, because he had applied for a tourist visa and he said that his reason for going to the United States was to study,” she tells the committee. The denial was “for administrative reasons,” she adds. It meant: “No. Come in. I want to talk to you.” The 9/11 Commission will point out that this cannot have been the case, stating, “In fact, the date Hanjour applied (as shown on his written application) and the date he was denied (as shown both on the application and on [the State Department’s] electronic records) are the same: September 10, 2000.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 37-38 pdf file] This is apparently the first time Steinger has been interviewed by anyone about the 12 visa issuances. [Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Steinger will be interviewed twice more about the visas, changing her story about Hanjour. One interview is by the State Department’s inspector general (see January 20, 2003), the other by the 9/11 Commission (see December 30, 2003).

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, 9/11 Commission, House Committee on Government Reform

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shayna Steinger, a consular official who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers at the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (see July 1, 2000), is interviewed by the State Department’s inspector general. The interview is part of a probe into the issuance of visas to the 9/11 hijackers and the questions asked are the standard ones put to all consular officers that issued visas to the hijackers. Steinger says:
bullet This is only her second interview about what happened, the first being Congressional testimony in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). She expresses surprise at this.
bullet It did not matter that all the hijackers’ visa applications were incomplete, because Saudis were eligible for visas anyway.
bullet She did not interview most of the hijackers she issued visas to and, even if she had interviewed them, she would probably have issued them with visas.
bullet She did interview Hani Hanjour (see September 10, 2000 and September 25, 2000), and says he seemed “middle class” and not “well-connected.” In this context she adds that Saudis were not asked to provide documents to support their applications. It is unclear why she says this as she said in her Congressional testimony that Hanjour did have to provide documentation and had in fact provided it.
bullet She criticizes David El-Hinn, the other consular officer issuing visas in Jeddah at the same time, for his high refusal rate (see Early Fall 2000).
bullet After 9/11 Steinger wrote a cable saying that nothing had changed at the consulate in Jeddah, and she was criticized for this after the cable was leaked to the press. [Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003]

Entity Tags: US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Office of the Inspector General (State Department), Shayna Steinger, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shayna Steinger, a consular official who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (see July 1, 2000), is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, represented by staffers Thomas Eldridge and Joanne Accolla. Regarding the issue of a visa to alleged Flight 77 pilot Hani Hanjour, where Steinger initially refused the visa and then granted it (see September 10, 2000 and September 25, 2000), Steinger says Hanjour was “typical of many Saudi students” in that he switched between schools in the US. [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2003] The Commission is aware that Steinger made incorrect statements about the issue of the visa to Hanjour to a Congressional committee (see August 1, 2002), but apparently it does not ask her about this, although these statements will be mentioned in its Terrorist Travel Monograph. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13-14, 37-38 pdf file] Steinger also says she remembers “press accounts of the ‘chatter’ surrounding a possible impending attack” before 9/11, but thought it was more likely to be carried out by Egyptians or Yemenis. Before 9/11 she was “never aware of the level of disaffected extremism in Saudi society,” she says. She knew Saudis were al-Qaeda members, but, according to a memo of the interview drafted by the Commission, “she never made the connection between this fact, and the idea that the Saudis applying for visas were possible terrorists.” Despite the fact that Steinger was unaware Saudis could be terrorists, on some occasions she sent Security Advisory Opinion cables warning about a visa application in connection with terrorism. [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2003]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Thomas Eldridge, Joanne Accolla

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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