Safeguards enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks may have damaged long-term national security goals by making it harder for foreign visitors to enter the United States, two former high-ranking Reagan administration officials say.
In separate interviews with The Associated Press, the officials _ former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci and former FBI and CIA chief William H. Webster _ agreed Monday that some security measures remain necessary. But they pointed to a drop in visa applications and widespread stories about long immigration delays as risks to future diplomatic, scientific and economic ties with other nations.
“We’ve erected bureaucratic obstacles, created delays and engendered frustrations _ particularly right after 9/11,” said Carlucci, who headed the Pentagon from 1987 to 1989 and is now chairman of the Carlyle Group, an international investment firm. “The message was, ‘Don’t try to go to the United States. We don’t want you.'”
Said Webster, “We have to have some common sense about what will really help us and what will have, in the long run, a more negative approach that leaves people in some parts of the world, who can’t get in, more readily hostile to us, and believing all of the bad things that are being said about us in their part of the world.
“We simply can’t let that happen any more than it’s already happened,” said Webster, a former federal judge who was director of the FBI from 1978 to 1987 and the CIA from 1987 to 1991. He is now a partner in the international law firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy.
Carlucci and Webster work for international firms whose clients include foreign-based companies. Still, it is unusual for such former high-ranking Republican homeland defense officials to criticize Bush administration security policies as going too far.
Following the attacks on New York and Washington, the State and Homeland Security departments created enhanced security systems to identify high-risk foreign travelers or those who were otherwise ineligible for entering the United States. Generally, however, only 2.5 percent of visa applicants are delayed, for up to 30 days, because of additional security checks, said Janice Jacobs, deputy assistant secretary of state for visa services
“We have to pay a lot of attention to make sure that we are protecting U.S. borders, but at the same time that we are continuing to facilitate legitimate travelers _ recognizing the low-risk legitimate travelers who need to come here and making sure they get through the system as quickly as they can,” Jacobs said in an interview Monday.
Though the number of visas awarded has dropped dramatically since the attacks, so too has the number of applicants, according to the most recent State Department data available.
In the 2001 fiscal year that ended three weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, 7.5 million foreigners were given U.S. visas out of 10 million who applied. By comparison, preliminary numbers for 2004 indicate that 5 million visas were awarded out of out of 6.6 million applicants.
The State and Homeland Security departments have reduced the time it takes foreign students and scholars to clear a visa review _ from an average of 67 days to less than two weeks, according to recent government reports. But Jacobs acknowledged that business travelers in some counties where consulate offices are understaffed, like China and India, still face delays in getting an interview to apply for a visa.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated last year that visa problems have cost the U.S. economy $30 billion in lost revenues and other indirect costs. Carlucci said the delays have promoted international business colleagues to schedule meetings in locations like London to avoid the visa hassle.
He also criticized customs agents with the Homeland Security Department for what he called rude treatment of foreigners who are subjected to lengthy questioning at U.S. entry points. Last year, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner imposed a “professionalism initiative” within the Homeland Security agency in an effort to curb complaints by quickly and courteously processing foreign visitors.
“That’s where you get the ‘keep the foreigners out,'” Carlucci said. “We don’t need that kind of approach.”