Did the President Really Tell Us that Tariq Ramadan Will Not Be Subject to Future Intelligence Assessments?

By Janice Kephart on January 27, 2010

The State Department last week downplayed the decision to drop the 2004 visa revocation of Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan, enabling him to reapply for a visa. Only during questioning of the new policy during a January 20 press conference covering many other topics (principally Haiti) was it made clear that if Ramadan reapplies for a visa, any possible terrorist ties will simply not be considered – ties which rendered him inadmissible in 2004. This is what State Department Assistant Secretary Philip Crowley had to say on the issue last week:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Secretary of State signed an exemption for Tariq Ramadan and Adam Habib. Her authority comes from Section 212(d)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. With those exemptions in place, the next time Professor Ramadan or Professor Habib applies for a visa, he will not be found inadmissible on the basis of the facts that led to denial when he last applied.
Without going into very specifics on visa applications, I think the Secretary's view is that these individuals who have applied for visas in the past – and they have been denied in the past – as we look at it, we do not think that either one of them represents a threat to the United States. And now, should they apply for a visa, they will still be subject to the other standards that apply to anyone who applies for a visa to come to the United States. But in the Secretary's judgment, and consistent with President Obama's outreach to the – to Muslims around the world, we want to encourage a global debate. We want to have the opportunity potentially to have Islamic scholars come to the United States and have dialogue with other faith communities and people here in our country.
QUESTION: Just because the – your wording was so precise there, I just want to make sure that – so you're saying those two grounds for which they were denied no longer apply?
MR. CROWLEY: We – I mean, well – yes.
QUESTION: But does the U.S. Government have any reason to believe that if they applied now, they would not get a visa?

MR. CROWLEY: We – I would flip that around. If they apply for a visa in the future, we will evaluate that visa on all of the – based on all of the criteria for entering the United States, with the exception of this particular section [Emphasis added.]

Whether any of us in the general public has sufficient information to judge the terrorist ties of Prof. Ramadan, the fact is the intelligence community weighed in, and the State Department agreed, that despite the political ramifications of revoking Ramadan's visa, there was sufficient information and concern about Ramadan being in the United States to revoke his visa in 2004. Renowned worldwide as a highly controversial figure whom many exalt as a friend to top Al Qaeda leaders and an inspirational Islamist leader, Ramadan is known for double speak – moderation in public, yet never denouncing radical teachings, such as those of his grandfather, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and thus inspiration for all of today's major Islamic-based terrorist organizations. Entire books have reviewed Prof. Ramadan's thousands of pages of writings and transcripts and the conclusion is often the same: that he is a dangerous inspiration to those who espouse and justify violence against Christians, Jews, and Western Civilization generally, most epitomized by the United States.

Some could argue that Ramadan's successful infiltration of the U.S. simply justifies the opinion of 9/11 plotter Ramzi Binalshibh – liaison between 9/11 leader Mohamed Atta and mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed – that Americans are stupid and easily fooled.

What is equally strange about the State Department's decision to restore Ramadan's eligibility for a visa is that the 2009 Christmas Plot made clear that the State Department does not revoke visas easily. Yet perhaps the most well known, and clearly one of the most controversial of international Islamists, Prof. Ramadan lost his visa immediately prior to starting at Notre Dame University in 2004. Denying a public figure a visa is unusual enough even in the post 9/11 world, but revoking a visa already issued is a bureaucratic and diplomatic challenge, at minimum. If a revocation is pursued, it must be for good reason, and because the intelligence community is pushing it. It gets even tougher when an international public figure is involved. This is what the 2006 FAM, or consular guidance, states on the subject of "revoking visas in sensitive cases":

In cases involving foreign government officials, prominent public figures, and objects or potential objects of the United States and foreign criminal investigations, post should seek the Department's guidance prior to any visa revocation unless unusual and exigent circumstances prevent such a consultation. You should be alert to the political, public relations and law enforcement consequences that can follow a visa revocation, and should work with the Department to ensure that all legally available options are fully and properly addressed. The revocation of the visa of a public official, or prominent local or international person, can have long-term repercussions on political relationships with foreign governments and on our public diplomacy goals in a foreign state. [Emphasis added.]

In addition, not only are political considerations given a high priority, but when an applicant appears to have ties to terrorist activities (see INA 212(a)(3)(B)), the consular officer is required – by internal State guidance also issued in 2006, not law – to seek approval of the Department and first receive a Security Advisory Opinion (issued by the intelligence community):

In cases where a Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) to CA/VO/L/C or an Advisory Opinion (AO) to CA/VO/L/A is required to make an ineligibility finding, consular officers must obtain the same SAO or AO from the Department prior to revoking a visa under that section of law. For example, consular officers must submit an SAO to CA/VO/L/C prior to revoking a visa under INA section 212(a)(3)(B).

That means that Ramadan also had a Security Advisory Opinion conducted on him, and the conclusion was that despite Ramadan's status as a "prominent… international person" whose visa denial could have "long-term repercussions on … public policy goals," the intelligence community established terrorist ties sufficient to revoke his visa.

The curiousness then remains, that in the wake of the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt by Abdulmutallab and claims of "huge intelligence failures" that "did not connect the dots" that "would not be tolerated," the president decided to ignore the intelligence we have on Prof. Ramadan in favor of a "more open dialogue." Is this a new visa policy that picks and chooses which individuals with terrorist ties are admitted and which are not?

This presidential decision to publicly tell the world that intelligence on terrorist ties will be disregarded if Tariq Ramadan applies again for a visa seems strangely out of sync with Obama's admonishing the intelligence community in the wake of the Christmas Day plot by another individual whose terrorist ties were initially deemed inconsequential. One wonders, is the president telling us the intelligence community failed in regard to Abdulmutallab when he wasn't caught, but also failed when they did stop Ramadan? Is the president's reversal of the 2004 visa revocation, therefore, telling us that the intelligence community failed in Ramadan's case, too?