The Department of Homeland Security's trusted traveler status, which allows "low-risk" airline passengers to bypass normal passport controls entering the U.S., has been granted to passengers from Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of 19 of the 9/11 hijackers.
The equivalent to a "fast pass" program at theme parks, the Global Entry trusted traveler program drew little attention when it was announced in January. It lets international travelers skip normal Customs and Border Protection lines beginning in 2014. Instead, they can enter the country after providing fingerprints and passports to a kiosk.
This access has not be given to ally countries like Germany or France. Only Canada, Mexico, the Netherlands and South Korea have trusted traveler status, with plans to extend it to Israel.
This is the first time Saudi Arabia has been given fast track access, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
The agreement was announced in January by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano after she met with Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. She said it "marks another major step forward in our partnership.
"By enhancing collaboration with the Government of Saudi Arabia, we reaffirm our commitment to more effectively secure our two countries against evolving threats while facilitating legitimate trade and travel."
Given this trusted traveler status a traveler can enjoy fast acess for five years. Applicants "must meet the individual vetting criteria of both CBP and the MOI, and successfully complete vetting by each side against information available in various law enforcement, customs, immigration, criminal, intelligence, and terrorist databases," according to memo obtained by the IBT.
Nayef's ministry is responsible for screening Saudi Arabia's applicants for next year's pilot program. No word on whether they will share the intelligence they gather on applicants with the U.S.
"I think you have radical Wahhabism in certain elements in Saudi Arabia, and I think to be more lenient there than in other places would be a mistake," Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf, whose district lost over 70 people in the 9/11 Pentagon attack, told IPT. "There were 15 [hijackers] from that country, and there is a lot taking place in that region."