After former head of the American visa bureau in Jeddah, Michael Springmann, was fired for complaining to higher ups about being overruled and forced to approve unqualified travelers visas into the U.S., he observes his replacement fast track visas (including 15/19 alleged
“The CIA forced me to allow terrorists into the US.”
By J. Michael Springmann, former US Consulate Visa Officer in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Between 1987 and 1989, I had been assigned to what I call the CIA’s Consulate General at Jeddah, principal city of the Hejaz, Saudi Arabia’s western province. While nominally the officer in charge of the consulate’s visa section, I found that, out of some 20 Americans at the consulate, there were only three people (including myself) whom I knew for a certainty to have no ties, professional or familial, to any of the US intelligence services (chiefly, the National Security Agency (NSA) – the communications-intercepting and cipher-breaking arm of the US government – and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) – the American organization whose covert operations include spying on and overthrowing lawfully elected governments or, if need be, assassinating their leaders at the behest of US politicians).
The CIA’s Consulate General in Jeddah
Before leaving Washington, I had met with the then-US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Walter Cutler, who spent nearly 45 minutes telling me about all the problems my predecessor had caused him in refusing visas to various applicants. An administrative official in the Near East Bureau, Ellen Goff, also mentioned that there were odd issues involving visas at Jeddah. However, the State Department Desk Officer for Saudi Arabia, in response to my query about these strange statements, said he had no idea of what they were talking about, opining only that Cutler himself was a peculiar duck.
Upon arrival in Jeddah in September 1987, I learned the truth about the situation – very quickly and very unpleasantly. I was bombarded with demands (not requests) by the American Consul General (Jay Philip Freres), the Political Officer and his successor, a Commercial Officer and the head of the Political/Economic Section, to issue visas to people who had no ties (either to Saudi Arabia or to their own country) strong enough to cause them to return to Jeddah or their homeland once they had arrived in America.
When I refused them, because the US Immigration and Nationality Act and the State Department’s own regulations clearly stated that a visa applicant is an intending immigrant unless and until he can prove otherwise, I was repeatedly overruled by the chief of the Consular Section, Justice Stevens. Sometimes, in the face of very real and very vocal threats against me, I issued the visas with a notation on the application form as to why I had refused it and that I had reversed myself only upon direct order of the head of the consulate, Jay Philip Freres. Things got so bad that, on Freres’ order, I wasn’t allowed to issue any visas unless the CIA Base Chief had approved them. As an example of what I had to deal with, the following is but one instance:
Two Pakistanis came to me, seeking a visa to attend a US automotive parts trade show. They could not name the trade show or the city in which it would be held. I then refused the visa. A CIA Case Officer who worked in the Commercial Section called me within a few minutes, demanding that I give them visas. However, he could not provide me with any reason why I should overturn my decision. So I didn’t. But, within the hour, he had contacted Justice Stevens, chief of the Consular Section and had reversed my refusal.
Whistle-Blowing Does Not Advance Careers
I protested this state of affairs to Stevens, to Freres, to Stephanie Smith, Counselor for Consular Affairs at the Embassy in Riyadh, and, on the advice of Smith, to the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department in Washington, DC. I also questioned Jean Bradford, head of the Consular Section’s other office, Citizens’ Services, about this. She told me that Jay Freres “just liked giving candy to babies”. I also discussed this with the part-time consular officer assigned to my section, who professed dislike of the practice. (But then, he frequently issued visas to his own contacts, often saying “Mike, let me handle this next guy in line, he’s one of mine.”)
Mirabile dictu , upon my return to Washington, DC in 1991, I was fired. And the file I had maintained on the questionable visa candidates was shredded after my departure from Jeddah.
The Truth Does Not Set You Free
In DC, which I call the State of Confusion, I went to the US House of Representatives’ Committee on International Relations to protest both the visa issue and the CIA’s direct involvement in the visa process. There all I got was: “What’s the matter, don’t you think we need the CIA?” for a response. I also contacted GAO (then, the General Accounting Office, now, the Government Accountability Office), Congress’ investigative arm and watchdog over the Executive Branch. There was absolutely no interest in what went on at Jeddah (including the disappearance of roughly $1 million annually in funds derived from Consulate liquor sales to hundreds of Saudi and other Muslims, as well as to expatriates of all nationalities). 
I then contacted the FBI and the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, charging that US laws were being violated by US government employees and that I thought these people had been taking bribes for issuing visas to their contacts. Indeed, I had been told by one fellow that the price of a visa at the Jeddah consulate was the equivalent of $2,500. There was absolutely no interest in or any follow-up on this.
Next, I went to the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and its allegedly-independent Inspector General. I provided a lengthy statement, itemizing the issues and laws violated. I asked that the State Department investigate the abuse of the visa process, the questionable liquor sales, and, in one egregious incident, the Jeddah consulate’s attack on an American businessman who had questioned the money flow from the liquor sales (which had gotten him fired). The response was that, since I had a personality conflict with Jay Freres, there was nothing to investigate.
Freedom of Information (NOT)
Thwarted by the bureaucrats, I turned to the law, filing detailed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Department of State and the CIA about why I had been fired and demanding records referencing me and the visa problem. The CIA simply said it had no information. The State Department delayed its response, as is its practice, eventually providing few useful or even relevant documents and flatly refusing to give me any more, claiming that my requests violated national security.
Unsure how getting fired related to national security, I filed a lawsuit as the FOIA permits. The State Department naturally, delayed its response, and asked the court to dismiss the suit, insisting that I had failed to state any claim upon which relief could be granted. I opposed this and cited specific instances of relevant documents I knew existed and which the State Department had refused to provide (such as a secret report prepared by a team inspecting the Jeddah consulate’s adherence to law and regulation, part of which covered the visa and alcohol issues as well as a telegram I had drafted which informed Washington that the Saudis had been importing Chinese-made ballistic missiles).
The State Department then deluged me with irrelevant records, nearly all of which I had already and which bore no relevance to what I really sought: the Inspectors’ classified report on their investigation of the Jeddah Consulate or the one I had drafted about the Chinese Silkworm missiles or its inclusion in the President’s
National Intelligence Daily Briefing.
Nevertheless, I persisted. I was unemployed and I wanted answers. I kept filing rebuttals to the nonsense which Justice Department lawyers were providing the US District Court Judge, Harold H. Greene.
Eventually, in a series of secret meetings with Greene (from which I, naturally, was excluded, despite my one-time Top Secret Code word security clearance), the State Department convinced him that the court records on my case must be sealed because the lawsuit was “a threat to national security”.
News That No One Else Wanted to Hear
While seeking work and pursuing the FOIA suit, I turned my hand to writing on national security themes. During the course of research on a couple of articles, I learned, through three good sources: Joe Trento (a journalist for the National Security News Service and author of Prelude to Terror ), a former US government employee and a man connected to a local university (both of whom prefer to remain nameless), that what I had thought was a matter of bribes for visas and people pocketing the proceeds of liquor sales in Jeddah was something entirely different. The people to whom I had refused visas were, in reality, terrorists recruited by CIA Clandestine Service case officers (the people who enlist and control spies) and that the liquor business likely funded their travel to the US for training and onward assignment to Afghanistan where they were to fight Soviet soldiers. I also learned the CIA’s partner in all this was Osama bin Laden, who helped set up the recruiting offices in Jeddah, Riyadh (the capital), and the Eastern Province.
Few in the United States wanted to listen to what I had to say. Not the Washington Post. Not the Los Angeles Times. Not The New York Times. Not 60 Minutes. Not Congressman Ben Gilman (whose staffer threatened to set the FBI on me). Not Congressman Tom Lantos (whose staffer told me they already knew about the CIA’s peccadilloes). Unclassified, the magazine of the Association of National Security Alumni, and Covert Action Quarterly published several articles I had authored on the subject but both magazines were not mainstream and both no longer exist. Fox Cable News did have me on for two brief interviews after the CBC, the BBC, and RAI (the Italian radio and television service) hosted me on their news programs. But that was after September 11, 2001.
Trying to Inform an Unwilling FBI
After seeing the airplanes being flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, allegedly by fifteen Saudis who had gotten their visas at the CIA’s Jeddah consulate, Joe Trento suggested I call the FBI about the US government’s visas for terrorists program. I did. For about half an hour, I repeatedly dialed numbers for various offices at the FBI, offering to tell them what I knew about my experience at Jeddah. I was passed from functionary to functionary and given various agencies within the Bureau to call. Finally, I was instructed to contact the FBI’s Washington Field Office. When I did so, I was told that someone would get back to me. Four years later, despite my repeated attempts, I am still waiting. In retrospect, I consider myself fortunate. If they had taken me seriously, perhaps I would be in Guantanamo Bay or someplace else.
Face the Facts, Stupid … It’s Government Policy
When I went off to Jeddah (and initially after I returned to the US), I quite foolishly trusted my government. I had worked for the Feds in the international arena for some years; I considered myself well-read and well-educated in the field; and I’d had an unfortunately positive view of the CIA.
As the government-stonewalling of my efforts to learn about my firing went on (and after Joe Trento had remarked that the State Department and the CIA wanted inexperienced consular officers assigned to Jeddah – so that they wouldn’t question the visas for terrorists program), I began to realize that my situation wasn’t a misunderstanding, a personality conflict, or an overly-rigorous application of the rules. It was official US government policy to bring terrorists from all over the Near East, the Middle East, and South Asia to Jeddah, the fifth largest visa-issuing post in the region. The objective was to have these dreadful people come to the United States for training, briefings, consultations, or rewards for yeoman service in killing Soviet soldiers.
Cover-Up and Ostrich Positions Continue
Over the 15 years since my sacking by the State Department (which was obviously on orders from the CIA), I have published articles and letters to the editor in various publications, including the Washington, DC Legal Times. I have spoken to groups as disparate as the National Youth Leadership Forum, students at Pennsylvania State University, 9/11 Unanswered Questions, and at American University (in Washington, DC). I have given telephone and radio interviews to small, almost-hobby organizations as well as Eben Rey’s show on a Los Angeles Public Broadcasting System station, KPFK, part of the Pacifica radio chain. I have gotten ink in Greg Palast’s book, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Joe Trento’s Prelude to Terror, and Craig Unger’s House of Bush, House of Saud. I am mentioned in page after page on the Internet. I have sent copies of past articles and/or sharply-worded letters on the Jeddah visa mill to a number of politicians, most recently, on December 20, 2005, to John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), Vice-Chairman of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and to Jane Harman (D-Calif.), Ranking Member, US House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. If any interest is shown, it is on a par with that usually demonstrated in a discussion about the need to neuter feral cats. Politicians, so far, have ignored what I have revealed to them.
A Hot Button / Cold Shoulder Issue
To me, this is a ‘hot button’ issue. To me, it was enough that the laws of the United States were violated as a matter of public policy. To me, it was enough that terrorists were recruited, trained, and sent off to kill Soviet soldiers. However, it was not enough that the nitwits running the US government created these Frankenstein monsters. Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, they conjured them up without the slightest thought of the consequences. Like the out-of-work gunslingers of the American Wild West or the unemployed soldiers of fortune in the period following the disastrous American
The Nature of the Beast – Getting Re-Elected
You might wonder how this can happen. Simple, professional politicians, whom Mark Twain called “the only native American criminal class”, have absolutely no interest in anything except getting re-elected. They rely on their staff to tell them what to do and how to do it. And half the staff is composed of teenagers or college students with nothing on their minds except ignorance, arrogance, and résumé-improvement. The other half, at least those connected with the intelligence committees, is made up of former intelligence officers who like things just the way they are.
They, and the bulk of the American people, have Cold War mind-sets which were preserved in amber more than half a century ago. They still see the world in terms of Us and Them and Them threatens Truth, Justice, and the American Way (of making things safe for corporations). Whatever bad things can be done to Them should be done.
And the guardians of the American Way of Life (three cars in every garage and a TV, computer and cell phone for every kid) have their own language to do this. Political assassinations, overthrow of governments, and state-sponsored terrorism are not called such. Rather, they can best be described as color-coded revolutions, complete with flags, marching crowds, and constant vote-counting, just like in Rumania, Georgia, the Ukraine and Lebanon.
The Visas for Terrorists Program Lives On
I am not so sure that the murderers, war criminals, and human rights violators involved in this will ever be caught, named and shamed, or even punished for their actions. Joe Trento has urged me to empty my vials of vitriol, sack my sarcasm, and get on with my life. He’s probably right. But, things are not going to change, especially if I remain silent.
Now that the Cold War is over and nobody won, the US has invented a new enemy, ‘terrorists’, and convinced far too many that additional Clandestine Service officers and activities are needed to combat the people they originally trained years ago.
As President ‘Shrub’ (and his servants in Congress, the US news media, and the American people) wage their War Against Terrorism, I meet more and more well-educated, well-traveled, and well-heeled Americans who have bought this Göbbels-style lie. They rage against the Arabs and the Muslims. They see them all as raving lunatics, mass-murderers, and backward beasts who should be confined to a large desert somewhere. They say that Arabs and Muslims can’t be trusted, have nothing in common with the rest of the world, and belong to a psychotic religion totally out of touch with reality. And that they should be dealt with appropriately, preferably through clandestine assassinations or other illicit means, as one preacher recently urged. 
America’s Blind Faith in The President
Looking back on nearly 15 years of trying to set the record straight about what really went on at the CIA’s Jeddah consulate, I wonder if I’ll ever make a difference or effect a change. Besides the unique American mind-set (that blindly follows the President wherever he may go) there is the CIA and an alphabet soup of US intelligence agencies, all with astonishing influence on Congress, the media, and the population at large.
Well, the Bush administration, the CIA, their cheerleaders in Congress, the news media, and the American people now have their new Pearl Harbor. After September 11, and after all the visas given to terrorists at the CIA’s Jeddah consulate, the American government is now empowered to fight Muslims and Arabs wherever they find them, even at home in the United States. Mosques have been surreptitiously checked for hidden atomic bombs. Telephone conversations have been monitored by the security services. People have been ‘disappeared’, just like in a banana republic.
The ‘new’ Pearl Harbor is not unlike the old one, and is not that far from the Rio Grande Incident. President Franklin Roosevelt, the ‘peace candidate’ wanted war with Germany. To get it, he antagonized Japan, a German ally, provoking it with trade embargoes, covert actions in China, and public hectoring. Staking out the Pacific fleet “like a goat” at what was then a forward base, he concealed knowledge of Japanese intentions and naval movements from its commanders. The result was not unlike President James Knox Polk’s successful placing of US troops in the disputed, demilitarized territory between the Rio Grande and the Nueces rivers in the 1840s. After the Mexicans attacked in self-defense, the subsequent war cost them one-half of their country.
Given the American obsession with secrecy and support for out-of-control US intelligence services, we may never know what really happened on September 11. However, as I once mentioned during a CBC interview, it is not too far-fetched to consider that the alleged attack on the United States was more than fortuitous and, given the results favoring the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim groups in America, it cost only a few thousand lives, a pittance in comparison with the alleged benefits so far received: the destruction of Iraq, the collapse of Lebanon, the imminent implosion of Syria and the foothold in the Middle East.
The US Government’s Conspiracy Theory
While I do not subscribe to some of the views that have been expressed regarding Sept. 11, such as use of specially-modified airplanes, the deliberate disappearance of their passengers to unknown locations, or the execution of the Saudi perpetrators after receiving their visas and before boarding the aircraft, I find that the official explanations for what happened that day far more fanciful and bizarre than many other theories.
Certainly, the incident and its aftermath were well planned. Within days: ‘Ground Zero’ and ‘9/11’ became part of everyday speech; the ‘Patriot’ Act zoomed through Congress (without being read); and American soldiers were on their way to Afghanistan. Yes, there was incompetence; yes, there was foreknowledge; and, yes, I think it happened “accidentally on purpose”.
Think back to the Rio Grande, to Pearl Harbor, and specifically to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident wherein two American warships were allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese vessels, giving President Lyndon Johnson his pretext to expand US forces in Vietnam. Remember the leaks about National Security Agency intelligence warnings in advance of September 11? Remember the US ties to Afghanistan and Pakistan and their support for the mujahedeen who were recruited by the CIA and Osama bin Laden?
Being a Pawn in the Visa-for-Terrorists Program
When Joe Trento first raised the idea of my being a pawn in the visas for terrorists program, I couldn’t figure out what the US government’s purpose was – until I talked to my other sources and put two and two together. Now, I am slowly coming to the realization that, in my case, the CIA has been covering up more than getting rid of an annoyance who asked awkward questions. It would have been far easier to leave me alone and let me continue at the State Department without incident. However, making me unemployed, keeping me unemployed (apparently blacklisting me for government jobs), seizing my E-mail accounts, and ensuring that there would be constant demands on any future income, no matter how limited, indicates that there is more here than bureaucratic inertia and case officers with time on their hands.
My difficulties began just before the start of the First Gulf War and have continued through the Second. Therefore, I suspect (but again can’t prove) that there was an intent, if not a plan, to use the visas for terrorists program for long-term goals. That is, the US government aimed at creating an incident which could be used as a casus belli [occasion of war] to extend its control and influence East of Suez. To do that, it needed a cadre of terrorists beholden to Washington. There is just too much coincidence in the whole affair. No one in Jeddah or Riyadh would explain why: Jay Freres (and others) constantly demanded visas; the State Department Inspection Team helped shred my file of visa applicants; Congress and the GAO and the FBI ignored me; and the federal courts sealed my FOIA lawsuit after spending years stonewalling my FOIA requests. That’s an awful lot of secrecy for one little operation in which I happened to play a small part.
History Repeats Itself
Remember … it was a CIA case officer who gave a visa to a blind sheikh who allegedly masterminded the first attack on the World Trade Center in New York in 1993 . Then there are tales of the visas for terrorists program spread as far as the American Consulate General in Marseilles, I’m told. Remember too, that those who admit the truth about what happened in this scandal will also be forced to admit that their life was a lie, that they actually supported terrorism, and that they will likely be subject to prosecution. And remember that these same people took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
During my more than 20 years with the federal government, the only enemies to the Constitution that I ever met were domestic ones – who worked for the same government I did. Yet, they were promoted. I was fired.
- Roughly half died on 9/11 and half during the occupation of Iraq … so far.
- Latin: “wondrous to relate”.
- In Saudi Arabia, it is a prison offense which can include flogging, firing and deportation for anyone offering liquor to a Muslim.
- The US Congress never did declare war against those unfortunate lands.
- The 19 July, 2005 edition of Stars & Stripes, a Defense Department newspaper, reported that the US Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany had treated 25,000 casualties of George Bush’s War on Terror.
- ‘Christian’ televangelist Pat Robertson stated last year that the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, should be assassinated.
- By the name of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman. For the complete story see “Who Bombed the World Trade Center in 1993” by Ralph Shoenman, Global Outlook # 9 (Fall/Winter 2005) pp. 53-56.
- Michael Springmann was a diplomat in the State Department’s Foreign Service, with postings to Germany, India, Saudi Arabia and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in Washington DC. The published author of several articles on national security themes, he is now an attorney in private practice in the Washington DC area. All rights reserved. Copyright belongs to the author.