August 5, 2009

Springtime For Michael Springman Or How A Visa Bureau Chief In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Learned To Love Denying Visas To Terrorists

I suspect nothing about the year 1987 would cause anyone to associate it with the attacks of September 11, 2001. For me 1987 is the year Arnold Schwarzenegger took the war on illegal immigration (extraterrestrial) south of the border in Predator; the year The Bangles were still making pyramids of money with Walk Like An Egyptian; and the year I had orthognathic surgery to correct a jaw misalignment and returned back to university. For Michael Springman, however, 1987 is intimately linked to the attacks of September 11, 2001. Not that Michael Springman lost friends he first met in 1987 in the attacks. No, Springman’s association of 1987 with the September 11, 2001 attacks was, shall we say, professional in nature.

With an employment history of over twenty years with the federal government,1 Springman joined the State Department in 1986 and was assigned to the American Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1987.2 His position was chief of the visa bureau section there.3 Before leaving for Jeddah, Springman was contacted by the American ambassador in Saudi Arabia, Walter Cutler, who passed on to Springman rather ominous forewarnings (or friendly advice not to rock the boat) concerning his new position. Cutler, Springman says, "kept talking about visa problems. And how I should do my best to make sure that everything ran smoothly".4 This conversation with Cutler would prove to be the initiation of a fourteen year odyssey for Springman that culminated on September 11, 2001.

No sooner was Springman in Jeddah than he was ordered to issue visas to people who were unqualified for them under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). For instance two Pakistanis wanted to go to an American trade show in the United States claiming they were part of a Commerce Department-sponsored trade mission, yet these two Pakistanis couldn’t tell Springman what the name of the trade show was nor the location of the city it was to take place in. Minutes after he declined their visa requests, a CIA case officer at the Jeddah Consulate called Springman asking that he reverse his decision and grant the two Pakistanis their visas. Springman refused. Soon after refusing, the case officer went to the Chief of the Consular section and had Springman’s decision reversed.5

Another unqualified person, this time from the Sudan, was denied a visa on multiple occasions by Springman. Springman was told to issue the Sudanese the visas on the grounds of national security, however no one would explain exactly what those national security grounds were. So Springman declined to issue the visas.6

It should be noted that according to Springman’s observation, the United State’s Consulate in Jeddah was for all intents and purposes really a CIA Consulate in Jeddah. Of the fifteen to twenty American employees working there at any one time, maybe two or three weren’t with the CIA, including Springman.7

Could Springman have stumbled upon visa fraud at the Consulate in Jeddah? This was the conclusion Springman first arrived at. In fact, Springman had been told that there was visa fraud going on at the American Consulate in Jeddah, and that the price of a visa was $2,500.8 However visa fraud doesn’t fit the particular facets of the case. If it were visa fraud Springman would have been interviewing a wider range of persons; persons of different backgrounds, classes, and income. As it was, Springman’s suspect applicants invariably followed a repetitious pattern of young jobless and skill less Moslem men in their 20s or 30s, usually from Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, or of Palestinian ethnicity.9 With this archetype profile more or less cemented in place, we can say with high confidence that whatever was going on at Springman’s visa desk in Jeddah, it was not a case of simple visa fraud.

Upon returning back to United States in 1989 after his assignment in Jeddah was up, Springman learned from contacts within the government that the American Consulate in Jeddah was one of several conduits to the United States of young Moslem men who were destined to be trained at American military basses in hit and run operations and terrorist tactics, and then sent off to Afghanistan to employ their newly acquired skills against Soviet troops there.10 Springman was also told by his government contacts that Osama bin Laden, a name not then widely known in the West, was an asset of the CIA and was working for the agency in Afghanistan.11

So here we have an interesting scenario of young, out of work, Moslem men with no visible skills traveling from other Moslem countries to Saudi Arabia in order to obtain a visa for entry into America rather than obtaining that visa in their native country? Very curious, to say the least.

Then came September 11, 2001. 

Several weeks after the 9/11 attacks it was reported in the press that of the nineteen hijackers who commandeered aircraft on the morning of September 11, 2001, fifteen had obtained their visas at the American Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.12 Springman was surprised to read this. He had thought that the CIA operation in Jeddah had been closed down long before the 9/11 attacks, considering he, "had complained to the diplomatic security in Washington…had complained to the General Accounting Office…had complained to the State Department Inspector General's office, and…had complained to the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department."13 It would seem that Langley takes little notice of storm warnings emanating from Foggy Bottom.

Interestingly enough, in November 2001 an Yemeni citizen who worked at the Jeddah Consulate was arrested in Las Vegas for providing fraudulent visas to foreigners.14 He was in America accompanying a trade delegation from the Mideast. Well, does "trade delegation" ring any bells? It should. Remember the two Pakistanis who said they were part of a Commerce Department-sponsored trade mission, but couldn’t remember the name of the trade show they were going to, nor the location of the city it was to take place in?















National Review had six experts analyze the visa applications of the fifteen hijackers who obtained their visas at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. All six experts agreed that all fifteen visa applications "...should have been denied on their face."