Hearings

2141 Rayburn House Office Building

The Honorable Bob Goodlatte

On February 1, 2010, then-Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, requested ending the longstanding prohibition against Libyans entering the United States to work in aviation maintenance, flight operations, or to study or train in nuclear-related fields. 

Shortly thereafter, widespread unrest in Libya precluded the U.S. government from engagement with Libya.  The post-Arab Spring civil war in Libya led to the fall of the Qadhafi regime in August 2011, and Qadhafi was captured and then killed by rebel forces in October 2011.  Following the revolution, the Obama Administration once again began the process of “normalizing” relations with that country.

Yet, on September 11th, 2012, U.S. Ambassador John Christopher Stevens and three other State Department officials were killed when terrorists stormed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya and set it ablaze.  

A statement by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States condemned the attack "in the strongest terms" and was working with Libyan security forces to secure the compound.  President Obama called the attack in Benghazi "outrageous and shocking," and vowed its perpetrators will face justice. "I've also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world," Obama said. "And make no mistake -- we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people."  To date no one has been brought to justice for these attacks. 

Instead and despite these attacks, on May 31, 2012, Feltman, along with Joseph McMillan, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, again asked DHS to end the prohibition, stating the "outdated regulation does not reflect current U.S. government policy towards Libya".  Unbelievably, the letter makes no mention of the attacks, acting as if they had never occurred. 

Rather, as outlined in a February 12, 2013 memo from Alan Bersin signed by Secretary Napolitano: “According to the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, there is a robust plan in place to encourage engagement and educational exchanges in coming years with the Libyan government.  DOD is attempting to initiate a program of aircraft sales, pilot training, and ground crew training early this year worth $2 billion, the contracts for which would go to other countries if training could not be conducted in the United States.  The Departments of Defense and State have made it clear that absent its rescission, the [regulation] will significantly hamper these efforts.”  On April 1, 2014, just two days before this hearing, DOD reiterated its desire to see the regulation lifted to Mr. Bersin. 

       The memo from Mr. Bersin also fails to mention the attack in Benghazi – the first time an ambassador for the United States had been killed since 1979.  The long-standing prohibition on Libyans was put in place to protect the homeland against serious threats from terrorists from a particularly unstable and dangerous country.  The Obama Administration argues that it is no longer needed. 

However, many of the characteristics regarding Libya that caused the regulation to be put in place persist today.  Regardless of any progress that may have been made following the removal of Muammar Qadhafi from power, many extremist and terrorist groups operate unfettered in Libya.

Two weeks ago, Libya acknowledged for the first time that "terrorist groups" were behind dozens of attacks against security services.  And on March 20th, Libya’s government called for international help to fight terrorism that is threatening internal stability in the country.  That same day, a missile was launched at the Tripoli Airport.

Four 9/11 hijacker pilots obtained their expertise in aviation primarily at U.S. flight schools.  Do we want to risk Libyan terrorists learning how to fly airplanes in the U.S.? Given the desire of radical regimes and terrorists to obtain or build nuclear weapons or dirty bombs, do we want to possibly train Libyan terrorists in nuclear engineering? If the prohibition is lifted, not only can Libyans supposedly vetted by the administration receive this training, but any Libyan can seek to do so. 

Ultimately, it does not appear that national security has been adequately considered in the effort to end the prohibition.  It is uncertain whether our immigration system has sufficient integrity to ferret out applicants’ long term motivations for receiving an education in sensitive topics from the United States. 

As a final note, we have long been seeking information from DHS regarding the status of the rescission of the regulation and the role of the White House.  We only received answers to some of the questions we asked after this hearing was announced.  It is troubling that it takes such actions by the Committees to receive information from DHS that is vital for us to fulfill our legitimate oversight role. 

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