Page 41 - Foreign Service Journal - June, 2010

This is a SEO version of Foreign Service Journal - June, 2010. Click here to view full version

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

J U N E 2 0 1 0 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 39

F O C U S O N T H E C O N S U L A R F U N C T I O N

R EMEMBERING

M ARY R YAN

o part of the U.S. gov-ernment — not the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency or the National Security Council —was more shaken by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 than the consular corps of the State Department. When the late Mary Ryan, then the assistant secretary of consular affairs, went before a hostile Senate committee in Octo-ber 2001 to try to explain how visas had been issued to the 19 hijackers, she pleaded for some understanding of the impact. “I have visa officers all over the world who are devastated by the fact that they issued to these people. One of them told me, ‘You can tell me it’s not my fault be-cause we didn’t have the information, but it is just as if a child ran in front of my car and I killed the child and every-one said it wasn’t my fault. I have to live with that for the rest of my life.’”

Eight months later, with opposition building in Con-gress, a shrill media campaign and faltering support from her political masters, Ryan would pay for those mistakes with her career, becoming the only U.S. government offi-

cial to be fired as a consequence of the worst attack ever on U.S. soil. Nearly a decade later, the consular service is still feeling the reverberations.

Ryan’s dismissal by then-Secretary of State Colin Pow-ell was a transforming event in the modern history of the consular service. The Bureau of Consular Affairs had long been a backwater in the department, but the 9/11 attacks thrust it into the agonizing public debate over the govern-ment’s failure to thwart the plot. Ryan and her staff were accused by some in the press of almost traitorous irre-sponsibility, of having an “open-door policy for terrorists.” Some in Congress wanted to strip the State Department of the authority to issue visas and hand it over to the newDe-partment of Homeland Security. For a corps that had long seen itself on the front lines of public diplomacy, serving U.S. interests by permitting students, tourists and other visitors to experience the United States for themselves, it forced a fundamental re-evaluation of the balance between security and openness.

CA is still struggling to find that balance. It has again been forced to defend its professionalism in the wake of the Dec. 25, 2009, incident in which a young Nigerian rad-ical tried to blow up a Detroit-bound trans-Atlantic air-liner by igniting plastic explosives he had successfully concealed in his underwear. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been issued a multiple-entry, two-year tourist visa,

T HE LATE CA ASSISTANT SECRETARY S 2002

DISMISSAL WAS A TRANSFORMING EVENT IN THE MODERN HISTORY OF THE CONSULAR SERVICE .

B Y E DWARD A LDEN

N

Edward Alden is the Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11 (Harper, 2008), from which this article is adapted.

Page 41 - Foreign Service Journal - June, 2010

This is a SEO version of Foreign Service Journal - June, 2010. Click here to view full version

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »