Skip to comments.Powell Defends Visa Consul Nominee (Maura Harty,Visa Express)
Posted on 11/02/2002 3:02:10 PM PST by USA21
Powell Defends Visa Consul Nominee
W A S H I N G T O N, Nov. 1 In the face of harsh criticism by relatives of Sept. 11 victims, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday the department is working hard to upgrade its visa-issuing system and defended the foreign service officer chosen to head the consular service.
The relatives' group accused the nominee, Maura Harty, of incompetence and negligence and demanded that she resign. They said Harty was a top official in the Consular Services Bureau when visa applications were approved in Saudi Arabia for 15 of the 19 hijackers.
"What we find most disturbing... is Ms. Harty's refusal to review the visa application forms of the terrorists who murdered our loved ones," the executive committee of the group said.
But, Philip T. Reeker, a State Department spokesman, said Harty had left the post and was not involved with visas at the time because she had become Powell's executive secretary.
The General Accounting Office, in a report issued last week, criticized the procedures for issuing visas.
"The visa process can be an important tool to keep potential terrorists from entering the United States," said the GAO, Congress' investigative arm. "While changes to the visa process have been implemented, ... weaknesses remain that limit the effectiveness of the visa process as an anti-terrorism tool."
In a statement read Friday by Reeker, Powell said, "We have worked very hard to improve our system to make sure we weed out those who mean us harm."
He said he had read the GAO report, and upgrading security was of high priority. He deals with it daily, Powell said.
As for Harty, Powell described her as an experienced leader and firm decision-maker and asked the Senate to approve the nomination promptly.
Powell did not appear in person to give further details, but Reeker said the statement was intended to respond to "a lot of talk recently about consular affairs, about visas and about the president's nominee to be assistant secretary of state."
"It's truly unfortunate that the families who have suffered such grievous losses had been misled by reporting that distorted Ms. Hardy's record," Reeker said later.
She has been the excecutive secretary of the State Department since May 2001 and in that capacity was not involved with visas and had no reason to review them, the spokesman said.
But in preparing for her new post, Hardy has examined the applications and reviewed the GAO report on the visas process, as well, Reeker said. And, he said, Harty has agreed the report is a thoughtful blueprint for further stengthening the visa process as an anti-terror tool.
Organized as 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism, the relatives are trying to block Harty's nomination.
Group spokesman Peter Gadiel of Connecticut, whose son, James, died in the attack on New York's World Trade Center, said Powell's statement did not change his mind.
Gadiel, in a telephone interview, said Harty had failed to screen visa applications of the hijackers and said the State Department "showed contempt for the safety of Americans."
If Powell thinks this is the best thing he can do in the State Department, "he ought to join her in resigning, which she ought to do forthwith. She has no business being there," said Gadiel, who is on the group's executive committee.
"A lot of people are angry," he said. "We know the government let us down in a lot of ways."
Harty could not be reached for comment.
Officials of the group, which represents the families of more than 600 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, mailed letters this week to senators expressing deep concern about Harty.
"There is little indication that she has the leadership and strength of character necessary to implement tough policies designed to screen out potential terrorists," the letter said.
In fact, the letter said, Harty "was intimately involved in forming the open-door policy exploited by the terrorists."
It cited Visa Express, a program that the letter said permitted all Saudis, including three of the terrorists, to submit applications for visas to private Saudi travel agents. The State Department, which stopped in July using the shortcut procedure in Saudi Arabia, insists the travel agents had no say in determining who would receive visas.
By David R. Sands
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The largest organization representing relatives of the victims of the September 11 attacks has come out against the troubled nomination of Maura Harty to head the State Department's consular service. Officials of 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism mailed letters Tuesday to senators expressing "deep concern" about Ms. Harty's role in the issuance of visas to the terrorists who carried out the attacks last year.
"The only way to make sure that our loved ones did not die in vain is to have only people of the highest caliber safeguarding our nation," said the letter, signed by committee executives Bill Doyle and Peter Gadiel, both of whom lost relatives in the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.
"Ms. Harty does not fit that description."
The group represents the families of more than 600 people killed in the September 11 strikes. In August, Families United filed a $1 trillion lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington against several Middle Eastern banks, three Saudi princes, a number of Islamic charities and the government of Sudan, saying they were financial sponsors of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.
The letter contends that Ms. Harty, who was principal deputy assistant secretary of state for consular affairs from August 1999 to April 2001, bears some responsibility for the visa program that allowed expedited entry into the United States for the 15 September 11 hijackers from Saudi Arabia.
Ms. Harty, a career Foreign Service officer, has declined public comment since her nomination.
The State Department has acknowledged problems and omissions in the visa applications of the hijackers but has defended Ms. Harty's nomination to be assistant secretary for consular affairs. The department says programs have been tightened considerably in the wake of the attacks.
The General Accounting Office, in a report released last week, found that the State Department should have rejected the visa applications for every one of the 15 Saudi hijackers.
"We determined that the hijackers had presented little information to prove their eligibility for a visa under [existing law]," the watchdog agency found. "None of their applications had been completely filled out and only two of the 15 hijackers had been interviewed before receiving a visa."
The State Department, in its response, said the consular officers who approved the visas had acted in good faith and within the law.
"Based on the information available to the interviewing consular officers, and, in fact, all information available to the department at that point, the applicants qualified for visas," the department said in its official response.
The GAO said visa screening had improved since September 11, but added that "weaknesses remain that limit the effectiveness of the visa process as an antiterrorism tool."
Ms. Harty would replace Mary Ryan, the senior woman in the U.S. diplomatic corps, who abruptly announced her retirement in August.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said at the time Mrs. Ryan's departure was part of a normal diplomatic rotation, but she had been the target of strong criticism in Congress over her oversight of the visa service.
Earlier this month, the State Department announced that Mrs. Ryan had received a $15,000 bonus for outstanding performance during the period in which the September 11 hijackers were given visas.
Ms. Harty's nomination was already under attack from a coalition of conservative and family rights groups, who objected to her management of the consular service's Office of Children's Issues, in particular her record in handling of custody disputes involving an American parent and a foreign spouse.
In one particularly bitter case, Patricia Roush, a Sacramento, Calif., mother, said U.S. consular officials have done little to help her recover her two daughters, taken to Saudi Arabia by their father in 1986.
The 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism cite the child custody cases and the visa problems in their decision to question the Harty nomination.
"What we find most disturbing is Ms. Harty's refusal to review the visa application forms of the terrorists who murdered our loved ones," the group writes. "Her refusal can only be construed as an act of intentional disrespect to the victims of [September 11] and of disregard for preventing future terrorist attacks."
The Senate adjourned without acting on the Harty nomination last month, but a confirmation vote still could take place in the lame-duck session to be held after next week's congressional elections.
Special Adviser, to the Secretary of State, and Executive Secretary
Term of Appointment: 05/01/2001 to present
Maura Harty is the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State and Executive Secretary of the Department of State. She assumed this position on May 1, 2001.
Ambassador Harty entered the Foreign Service in 1981. Her first assignment was vice consul at the embassy in Mexico City. She then returned to the State Department, where she served tours in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the Operations Center, and the Secretariat Staff. From 1987-88, Ambassador Harty served as Special Assistant to then Secretary of State George P. Shultz.
Ambassador Harty returned overseas in 1988 for consular tours in Bogotá, Colombia, and Madrid, Spain. She then returned to the Bureau of Consular Affairs as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary (1992-93), Director of Citizens Emergency Center (1993-94) and Managing Director of the Office of Overseas Citizens Services (1994-95). After serving as Deputy Executive Secretary in the Secretariat, she served as Executive Assistant to then Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
Ambassador Hartys most recent overseas tour was as Chief of Mission in Asuncion, Paraguay (1997-99). She returned to the Department to serve as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs from August 1999 through April 2001.
Ambassador Harty has a bachelors degree from Georgetown Universitys School of Foreign Service.
Senate considers a status-quo replacement for Mary Ryan.
he Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday is holding a perfunctory hearing in advance of a likely rubber stamp for the nominated replacement of the pioneer of Visa Express, former Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Mary Ryan, with her protégé,
Maura Harty. Unless a senator on the committee is willing to stand up to the State Department, Harty could soon be confirmed as the head of Consular Affairs (CA), the agency within State that oversees consulates and sets policies for visas regarding who gets in this country and who does not.
Harty has been criticized by the parents of kidnapped kids for her management at the Office of Children's Issues (OCI), the division within CA responsible for recovering American children abducted to other countries by their foreign parents, while others raise serious doubts about her ability to provide dynamic leadership as the chief visa officer.
As a careerist at State, Harty has held positions throughout the world, ranging from a consular tour in Spain to two stints heading up OCI. Ironically, at the same time as Harty's confirmation hearing in the Senate Thursday, Rep. Dan Burton's Government Reform Committee is holding hearings about a mess Harty did virtually nothing to fix: the scandal of American children held hostage in Saudi Arabia. "Her record was one of indifference bordering on hostility to the interests of American parents," Patricia Roush, one of the most vocal of those parents, has said.
Despite the animosity parents of abducted children harbor for her, Harty is well-liked by her colleagues and she has hit it off with the staff director for the Senate committee's ranking member, Sen. Jesse Helms. With the conservative Helms in declining health, committee staff now handle most decisions not considered vital, and the staff director, Patricia McNerney, happens to be self-professed liberal. One senior State official quipped about the McNerney-Harty meeting, "They had a feminist bonding session."
People who have worked under and side-by-side with her describe her as "nice," "technically proficient," and "ambitious," but the word not used by any of them is "leader." One current consular officer who has worked for her noted, "Maura Harty is very good at doing what she is told and not rocking the boat." While such a go-along, get-along attitude has smoothed the path for her rapid rise through State's ranks, it could prove problematic when she is charged with restricting access to visas to keep out terrorists.
The damage that could result from Harty's instinctive embrace of stability can be seen on a smaller scale in an incident that occurred under her watch more than a decade ago. When she was chief of non-immigrant visas in Bogotá, Colombia, Harty had to deal with a conflict between two Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs), both of whom worked under her at the embassy. One FSN accused the other of visa fraud an allegation that was proved true after an investigation. But months before the investigation, Harty responded swiftly she fired the clean FSN who pointed the finger at the corrupt FSN. A person familiar with the case notes, "Maura Harty didn't want to have to deal with a messy situation, so she opted for a fix that made her life easier."
It's possible that what happened in Columbia was an anomaly, but even today Harty seems apathetic about the job of determining what steps are needed to keep visas out of the hands of terrorists.
Given that all 19 of the 9/11 hijackers came here on legal visas, the most important task for a new head of Consular Affairs should be plugging the holes in our border security that made possible the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. Harty does not seem to share that view, however, since a senior State official confirms that she has not even looked at the visa-application forms of the September 11 terrorists. "Her disregard for learning the important lessons of our utter failure in visa policy preceding September 11 shows that Maura Harty will follow in the footsteps of Mary Ryan and carry on business-as-usual for the visa power," says former consular officer Nikolai Wenzel.
In a time of war, when the enemy has his eyes set on gaining access into the United States, we need a bold and dynamic leader calling the shots at Consular Affairs. Maura Harty is not that leader.
Mr. Atomic Vomit
And, why keep mr. george tenet at CIA?
Because Mr. Bush is more interested in fairness than victory, a thing the bolshevik democrats and other enemies of our Republic use to their advantage.
Mr. Atomic Vomit
What a dufus Clone Powell turned out to be
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