Reuters has a story tonight which reveals that the US-VISIT entry-exit system has led to only one terror-related apprehension since the program’s inception:
A U.S. border security program that photographs and fingerprints visitors from most foreign countries has apprehended just one terrorism-related suspect since its 2004 inception, officials said on Wednesday.
Details about the 2005 case, brought to light under the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program, remain murky mainly because of classified restrictions on information about U.S. counterterrorism efforts overseas.
US-VISIT, an acronym for United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, has denied entry to an estimated 1,644 foreign nationals by matching digital photos and fingerprint scans with records from criminal and terrorism databases.
Most turned away are criminals or immigration law violators. Apart from the single 2005 case, there have been no reported arrests of terrorism suspects as a result of US-VISIT, which has processed tens of millions of people since it began screening visa applicants in January 2004.
The likely reaction to this story will be that this system is ineffective and/or a waste of money, along the lines of Bruce Schneier’s prior thoughtsabout this program. But I think such a critique is essentially unfair. It elides the fact that the primary anti-terror value of US-VISIT is in deterrence, not interdiction; it increases the risk of legal entry such that potential terrorists from non-VWP countries are likely to be deterred from trying to enter by applying for a visa, and instead will choose alternate options such as illicit land border crossings.