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9/11 Terrorists and Drivers Licenses
The 9/11 Terrorists and the REAL ID Act
Some critics of the REAL ID Act have argued that the driver's license
provisions in the bill would not have stopped any of the 9/11 terrorists because
they all entered the United States legally. Technically, of course, none of them
came legally because they all committed fraud on their visa applications. More
importantly, though, at least two of them overstayed their visas and remained
here illegally. Both Nawaf al Hazmi--one of the four hijackers of Flight 77, which
flew into the Pentagon--and Hani Hanjour--the pilot of Flight 77 who is believed to
have murdered the real pilot by slitting his throat with a box cutter--were
unlawfully present in the United States when they obtained driver's licenses and/or
ID cards .
Al Hazmi entered the United States on a short-term business visa. He was
issued a California driver's license while he was in legal status. His authorized
period of admission ended on 1/16/01, after which he was unlawfully present. He
was issued a Florida driver's license on 6/25/01 and a Virginia ID card on 8/2/01.
He was added to the terrorist watchlist on 8/24/01. He applied for and received a
re-issuance of his Virginia ID card on 9/5/01. His Saudi passport included an
indicator of terrorist affiliation which could have raised a red flag for Federal
authorities if they had known about such indicators at that time.
Hanjour entered the United States on 12/08/00 on a student visa. He
violated the visa by failing to enroll in school, so he was unlawfully present from
the time of his violation. Hanjour had an Arizona driver's license from a previous
vis. H eo btaineda VirginiaI Dc ardo n8 /1/01,w entt oa notherV irginia
Department of Motor Vehicles the following day and failed the Virginia driver's
license test, and then obtained a Maryland ID card on 9/5/01. It is likely that he,
too, had a terrorist indicator in his passport.
The reason the terrorists got licenses and ID cards in the first place was so
that they could avoid using their passports, which they feared would attract
unwanted attention. The 9/11 Commission found that the 19 hijackers had been
issued 16 state driver's licenses (from Arizona, California, Florida and Virginia) and
14 state ID cards (from Florida, Maryland and Virginia). They also had at least
364 aliases among them, according to the Commission, so it is possible that had
additional licenses and/or ID cards that we will never know about.
Had the REAL ID Act been in effect prior to 9/11, neither al Hazmi nor
Hanjour would have had a valid license or ID card with which to board the airplane
they hijacked. The licenses they obtained while in legal status would have expired
with their permission to be in the United States, and they would not have been
able to obtain the other licenses and IDs at all. Moreover, had Federal authorities
possessed the intelligence information they now have, it is possible that the
terrorist indicators in their passports would have been spotted. If either al Hazmi
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or Hanjour had been unable to board Flight 77, it is possible that the entire plan
would have unraveled. At the very least, perhaps the passengers and crew of that
flight, along with the Pentagon victims, may have escaped the horrors that
ensued.
--This paper is based on data from the 9/11 Commission's staff report, "9/11 and
Terrorist Travel."
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