Guillermo Contreras - Express-News A man from India who caused an evacuation at San Antonio's airport two weeks ago because security screeners thought he was carrying a bomb had no connection to terrorism, officials confirmed, but his case highlighted holes in the safety net for catching terrorists.
Besides the suspicious device, authorities found the man, Manoj D. Kargudri, had a box cutter in his suitcase and some powder and was about to board a one-way flight from San Antonio to Washington, D.C. They also learned he had a fraudulent visa.
As it turned out, the “bomb” was a homemade battery for his MP3 player and the powder was a drink mix.
After further investigation, agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, uncovered 10 others who had tried to use similar fraudulent visas to get from India to the U.S., and their scheme showed how exposed the country could be. Two of the 9-11 hijackers entered the country by gaming the system with phony visas.
“Hostile foreign intelligence services, terrorist organizations and organized crime have used these visas as a mechanism to gain entry into the U.S. for their sinister operatives,” said retired agent Bill West, who headed the national security unit in Miami for ICE, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
On Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, Kargudri appeared in federal court in San Antonio to face charges of making false statements to get a visa. Kargudri, 36, came to the U.S. in 2005 on an employment visa. He extended his stay in August with a student visa, but didn't show up at the college, court records show. A judge determined agents had probable cause to arrest him, and he was ordered held pending trial.
Kargudri was apparently relocating from Sherman, north of Dallas, to Washington when a screener in San Antonio alerted airport police to a “possible improvised explosive device (I.E.D.)” in one of his bags. The item had an electric razor with wires connected to an MP3 player. Travelers were evacuated from the area until officials confirmed the object was not a bomb. Investigators also seized a suitcase Kargudri transported on another flight.
ICE agents later realized Kargudri was one of two people who entered the U.S. as part of a fraud scheme the State Department had warned officials about in 2005 involving L-1 employment visas. The visas allow foreign specialized employees of a firm with U.S. operations to transfer to America for three years and up to seven.
The scheme was discovered after a man was arrested in India on Sept. 22, 2005, with a questionable visa application, according to a criminal complaint affidavit filed against Kargudri. The affidavit said that 10 others were involved, including Kargudri, and they falsely claimed to work for Honeywell International.
While in the U.S., Kargudri, an engineer by training, had worked at various jobs, the affidavit said. The whereabouts of the second person who made it into the U.S. was not disclosed.
Even though the State Department put out a bulletin in 2005 to watch for Kargudri, on Aug. 1 immigration officers granted Kargudri's request to change his L-1 visa to an F-1 student visa because, he claimed, he was accepted to Grayson County College in Denison. When he didn't show up, a spokeswoman said, the school reported him to DHS, under a new system implemented since the attacks.
“You have to give the administration credit for a lot of work done, like biometrics on the border, more robust watch lists, more robust information sharing, but the holes are still there,” said Janice Kephart, who was general counsel to the 9-11 commission, which was specially set up to investigate the attacks.
But, she added, terrorists “will find any vulnerabilities that exist and once those vulnerabilities are found, they exploit them until they can't exploit them anymore.”