House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul and the panel’s subcommittee chairmen are calling on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to explain why DHS has extended a trusted traveler program to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In a letter to Napolitano released Thursday, the seven GOP lawmakers voiced their concerns about “potential risks” associated with opening the Global Entry trusted traveler program — which “allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States” — to Saudi Arabia
“Of the 19 individuals who hijacked American planes on September 11, 2001 — 15 were from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the committee members wrote in the letter dated March 27 but released the following day. “More recently, following the plot to blow up an international flight over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, the Department saw fit to increase the scrutiny of passengers from countries like Saudi Arabia. This must be a factor in determining who to admit into the Global Entry Program.”
Napolitano and Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef announced the agreement to expand the trusted traveler program to Saudi Arabia and begin plans for a similar program for American travelers to Saudi Arabia in January.
“In effort to reaffirm the extraordinary bond between them and advance this partnership, [Ministry of Interior] and DHS have signed an arrangement to begin implementation for each nation’s trusted traveler programs,” the pair said in a joint statement. “The trusted traveler programs will facilitate trade and travel between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America and will help authorities from MOI and DHS more effectively identify potential threats to keep their borders and countries secure.”
“The objective will be to start implementation within the next six months with full operations starting in 2014,” they added.
The addition of Saudi Arabia to the trusted traveler program has received increased attention in recent days following a report from the Investigative Project on Terrorism. That report highlighted concerns about giving travelers from the repressive monarchy easeri access than is given to citizens of many close U.S. allies. Only a few other countries are currently a part of the program — Canada, Mexico, South Korea and the Netherlands. Meanwhile American friends of long standing — including France, Great Britain and Germany — have not been included, and an agreement with Israel has yet to be implemented.
In their letter to Napolitano, McCaul and his Republican cohorts — New York Rep. Peter King, Michigan Rep. Candice Miller, Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Meehan, South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan, North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, and Indiana Republican Rep. Susan Brooks — requested information on the decision making process and assurances that steps will be taken to ensure the program is not manipulated by terrorist operatives.
“This Committee is supportive of the Department’s efforts to expand trade and increase travel to the United States. However, we remain vigilant for vulnerabilities that our enemies can exploit to gain access to the Homeland. Expanding Global Entry to high-risk countries may represent such a risk,” they concluded.