The Department of Homeland Security is quietly considering lifting a long-standing ban on Libyans coming to the U.S. for training in the aviation and nuclear fields, according to an internal document, raising red flags for lawmakers who say Libya is still a security threat.
“Now, more than ever, we have concerns about terrorist activity in that country,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told FoxNews.com. “Now the administration wants to normalize — that’s just not acceptable.”
Chaffetz and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., first drew attention to the draft document, which is circulating inside DHS and is not yet final. It comes a little more than a year after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi in which four Americans were killed. The suspects still have not been brought to justice, and Fox News has reported over the past week how several Al Qaeda-tied individuals are linked to the attack.
U.S. forces just this month captured terrorist Abu Anas al-Libi, wanted in connection with the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, in Tripoli.
“It is shocking that the Obama administration is turning a blind eye to real terrorist threats that exist in Libya today,” Goodlatte said in a written statement. “We still haven’t gotten to the bottom of the Benghazi terrorist attacks and continue to face additional terrorist threats from Libya, yet the Obama administration is preparing to lift a longstanding ban that protects Americans and our interests.”
The DHS document calls for rescinding restrictions first put in place in 1983 that barred Libyan nationals from coming to the U.S. to study or train in aviation maintenance, flight operations or nuclear-related fields. At the time, relations between the U.S. and Libya were breaking down as Muammar Qaddafi came to power. Before the 1983 decision, the Reagan administration in 1981 also invalidated the use of U.S. passports for travel to Libya and banned the import of Libyan oil. Later in the decade, Libyans spearheaded the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and also were involved in the bombing of a French airliner.
In 2011, Qaddafi was killed, and his government was replaced.
A DHS official told FoxNews.com on Monday that the department is now “reviewing U.S. policies that have been in place since before the Libyan revolution to see how they might be updated to better align with U.S. interests.”
Without commenting specifically on the draft proposal, the official said: “The United States supports the aspirations of the Libyan people as they participate in their democratic transition after 42 years of dictatorship. We are committed to working with Libya to build its sovereign institutions and are working closely with the government to bring stability to Libya.”
The official noted that the draft proposal is “deliberative and not final” and had “not been approved by DHS for publication.”
A copy of the document reviewed by FoxNews.com says that DHS is moving to rescind the restrictions “after consultation with the Department of State and the Department of Defense.”
The document notes that U.S.-Libya relations eroded beginning in the 1970s, leading to the nation being placed on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. It said the prohibition on Libyan nationals was imposed to deal with training “that could potentially have a negative impact on U.S. national security.”
But the document notes that Libya has moved to democratize since the fall of Qaddafi, and “most sanctions” that the United Nations and U.S. imposed have been lifted. It casts the effort to lift the travel restrictions in that light, noting the new Libyan government has “expressed initial interest” in sending students to the U.S. to receive training from the Defense Department to help them rebuild and sustain their own fleet.
“The United States has normalized relations with Libya and is working to establish robust diplomatic, military and economic ties,” the document says.
Chaffetz and Goodlatte, though, warn that the administration could “unilaterally” make these changes, and are urging the department to back down.
Chaffetz said that if necessary, the House could pass legislation barring the change, but he questioned whether the Senate would follow suit. Chaffetz said these changes have “not yet been earned.”