Given that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were of Saudi Arabian extraction, that Osama bin Laden was a Saudi, and that the House of Saud has been financing the spread of a militant form of Islam, many normally pro-immigration conservatives had urged the Bush administration to plug this leak in the U.S.'s national security by tightening visa requirements for Saudis. The Weekly Standard's Chris Caldwell, for one, ridiculed the State Department's resistance to such restrictions ("Wouldn't want to offend our ally, after all.") and suggested that it was symptomatic of an entire political elite that refuses to realize that it is at war.
But the boys at Foggy Bottom had proven remarkably adept at sidestepping such criticisms right up until July 12, that is, when they stepped in it. National Review Online reporter Joel Mowbray was detained by the State Department to be questioned about a leaked cable that he had used in an earlier article which accused the department of operating a "Visa Express."
The resulting hubbub from Mowbray's brief detainment was not only highly embarrassing in a diplomatic sense. It also focused attention on the supposed free ride that the Saudis are getting and helped to bring status quo to a screeching halt. Mowbray's latest dispatch explains that the old lenient regime is now history: Saudis can "no longer submit their visa applications to travel agents and that all applicants, save for diplomats and children, will be interviewed." It is also likely that authority over visas will be stripped from the State Department and handed to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security.
The famously tight lipped (and Saudi-friendly) Bush administration is reportedly so angered by this development that it is thinking of plugging some leaks of its own, by subjecting government officials to polygraph tests.