How Did The Pakistani Terrorist Become A U.S. Citizen? How, For That Matter, Did He Ever Get A Student Visa?

by Martin Peretz | May 5, 2010

The only good result of this trauma is that nobody died.

And, of course, we now know—as if we didn’t know before!—that we can count on the local police, the FBI, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force to actually come through with the culprit and the evidence against him. (The fecklessness of the Justice Department is another matter. At first, it did not read Faisal Shahzad his Miranda rights. Then, when he began copiously to spill the beans, the Holder folk did inform him. Maybe they were afraid that they’d learn too much. But the fact is that he was already singing, and apparently nothing could stop his aria.)

Moreover, even Pakistani intelligence came through, with information and arrests. (Maybe Pakistan is more reliable on security matters than many of us thought. For this, we probably owe Richard Holbrooke.)

There was one hitch, reported by Scott Shane in this morning’s New York Times. Aside from the Bureau simply losing track of the passenger on his way to JFK International Airport—for how long, we do not know—somebody else screwed up more royally, if you’ll pardon the expression. The airline Shahzad was flying, Emirates, failed to act on an electronics message at midday on Monday notifying all carriers to check the no-fly list for an important new name, officials said. That meant lost opportunity to flag him when he made a reservation and paid for his ticket in cash several hours before his departure.

The Emiratis! These are the people who were once about to have handed over to them—by the Bush administration, no less—control of many American docking and port facilities, including in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Miami. Saved, thank God, by the “paranoids.” Like me, I suppose, if you’ll forgive the chutzpah.

The truth is that this gruesome narrative begins more than eleven years ago with Shahzad’s application for a student visa in Karachi. The intriguing story was first told yesterday on the Times website and then enhanced in a larger dispatch, “A Suburban Father Who Gave No Warning Sign,” by James Barron and Michael S. Schmidt in the morning Times itself.

What was clear from the beginning is that Shahzad is a nit-wit. This was also confirmed by the careless detritus in his 1993 Nissan Pathfinder. But the consular officers should not have had to wait for his attempt at mass murder.

Based on documents discarded outside the house in Shelton, where he lived until earlier this year, and found by the Times, Mr. Shahzad appears to have attended a university in Pakistan that was affiliated with the University of Bridgeport starting in 1997. A resume said he was studying for a bachelor of science degree with a “specialization in finance.”  ... He also attended a program in Karachi affiliated with Southeastern University, a private, non-profit school in Washington that shut down last year after losing its accreditation.
A transcript for the spring of 1998 showed that he earned D’s in English composition and microeconomics, B’s in Introduction to Accounting and Introduction to Humanities, and a C in statistics.

Let us give Shahzad the benefit of the doubt: He was a certified mediocrity. Nothing better. Why does America desire such certified mediocrities? After he entered the States, “in 2000, he enrolled at the University of Bridgeport, where he received a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering.” At least, his visa wasn’t accredited by his study at some Florida flying school, as happened with some of the terrorists in the 9/11 disaster, or at a hairdressing establishment. But what conceivable national interest was served in giving such a dross of a young man a student visa?

In any case, he wasn’t hired by any firm that could use his degree-attested expertise. 

For a while, Mr. Shahzad apparently worked as an accountant for a firm that placed temporary employees. Among the discarded documents was a time card from Elizabeth Arden, the cosmetics maker, indicating that he had worked in its Stamford office in 2001... 
The documents also included a copy of what was apparently an old Pakistani passport—it expired in February 2000 and listed Mr. Shahzad’s occupation as “student”—and a United States student visa that expired at the end of 2002. 
... In January 2002, the authorities said, Mr. Shahzad got an H1-B visa for skilled workers. Mr. Shahzad married an American citizen named Huma Mian, and was granted a green card in January 2006. 

(I hope that Timesman Barron elaborates on how he got the discarded documents. This is, I suspect, a very rich story.)

On the president’s agenda and (somewhat reluctantly) on the agenda of Congress, is legislation on immigration. The public focus will be on how America handles the tens of millions of “illegals,” a word in disfavor by their sympathizers. Of which I happen to be one. You cannot kick out or heavily punish people whose life in this country has been countenanced by everyone, even by people who are shocked, positively shocked, by how many there are.

Maybe after Shahzad and the attention now being paid to Islamic terrorists among immigrants to the U.S., we will also give serious heed to what should entitle men and women to entry to America. It is a not a right or a civil liberty to settle in our country. It is a privilege.

We do have anself-interested obligation to deal with Latin American would-be immigrants and sojourners, if for no other reason than that they are our neighbors, very close neighbors; and the prosperity of Mexico, the islands, and below Mexico to Central and South America is therefore our concern.

There are also countries (of which, by the way, Pakistan is one, like India and South Korea and others) from which talented men and women want to come to live and work in the United States. The emphasis should always be on talent, rigorously measured.

Tens of thousands (and maybe more) gifted young people wait in their home countries and sometimes stall right here for an opportunity to work and contribute in order to live in America. Some of the stallers are college and university graduates with excellent credentials; some are Ph.D.s in fields where there are critical shortages. Their paths should be paved ... and paved quickly.

Frankly, we have enough of our own mediocrities not to go out of our way to welcome others. And we should especially scrutinize those from countries in which terror is now part of the national culture.

P.S. In Wednesday’s New York Times, James Barron and Sabrina Tavernise continue the mesmerizing narrative of Faisal Shahzad’s life. What a story!

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