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Panel: Some 9/11 Hijackers Used Bogus Passports - 2004-01-27

An independent commission probing the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, has concluded that some of the hijackers used fake passports, and that they should have been spotted.

At a public hearing on Capitol Hill, members of the commission said at least two and as many as eight of the 19 hijackers traveled on fake passports.

They said some of the hijackers made false statements on visa applications that could have been detected.

Customs agents questioned some of the men but did not prevent their entry into the United States. "Work on terrorist travel documents languished, older methods for training people to spot them were not sustained," said Thomas Kean, chairman of the commission. "So the visa system operated without adequate input from national security agencies, and terrorism was not a major priority in our immigration policy or enforcement efforts."

Maury Harty, assistant secretary for consular affairs in the State Department, said the U.S. visa application system has greatly improved since the terrorist attacks, with a majority of visa applicants now being questioned by a consular officer.

"We have implemented new regulations requiring that most visa applicants appear for an interview," he said.

Other commissioners said federal agencies had not adequately shared intelligence before the attacks, which may have made it easier for the hijackers to enter the United States.

Commission vice-chairman Lee Hamilton is worried that the situation has not improved. "We are still concerned about whether old problems in sharing information are being solved, or just replaced by new ones," he said. "For example the Terrorist Threat Integration Center coordinates analysis, not operations. Then we heard the Terrorist Threat Integration Center does not sift the information from domestic agencies like the FBI, just information from international sources. So the domestic-foreign divide takes on a new form."

The commission will continue its public hearing for a second day on Tuesday.