Obama Lifts Ban on Libyans Attending U.S. Flight Schools, Training In Nuke Science

Ban has been in place since 1983

Libyan militias parade through Tripoli / AP
August 12, 2014

The Obama administration has lifted longtime restrictions on Libyans attending flight schools in the United States and training here in nuclear science, according to a final amendment of the ban recently approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Less than two years after the deadly terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is poised to sign off on an amendment reversing the ban, which was enacted following a wave or terrorist attacks in 1980s and prevents Libyans from studying these sensitive trades in the United States.

The original law effectively disqualified all Libyan nationals and those "acting on behalf of Libyan entities" from training in "aviation maintenance, flight operations, or nuclear-related fields," according to the ban.

DHS said the prohibition is irrelevant now since the United States and Libya have worked to "normalize their relationship," according to the directive approved by the OMB.

"The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is amending its regulations by rescinding the regulatory provisions promulgated in 1983 that terminated the nonimmigrant status and barred the granting of certain immigration benefits to Libyan nationals and foreign nationals acting on behalf of Libyan entities who are engaging in or seeking to obtain studies or training in," the amendment states.

"The United States Government and the Government of Libya have normalized their relationship and most of the restrictions and sanctions imposed by the United States and the United Nations toward Libya have been lifted," it says. "Therefore, DHS, after consultation with the Department of State and the Department of Defense, is considering rescinding the restrictions that deny nonimmigrant status and benefits to a specific group of Libyan nationals."

DHS spokesman S.Y. Lee told the Free Beacon that the Obama administration is reviewing its policies towards Libya "to see how they might be updated to better align with U.S. interests" in light of its revolution."

"As part of this effort, the Departments of State and Defense requested the Department of Homeland Security consider revising regulations dating from 1983 to permit Libyan nationals, and other foreign nationals acting on behalf of Libyan entities, to engage in studies or training in aviation maintenance, flight operations and/or nuclear-related fields," Lee said.

Efforts to reverse the ban would help Libyans sustain and operate their war fleets, Lee explained.

"This would permit the educational exchange of information with Libyan nationals so they can reconstitute, operate and sustain their fleet to address threats posed by extremist groups seeking to derail the democratic transition," Lee said. "As is the case with students from all countries, Libyan students interested in pursuing these studies would be subject to robust and thorough security threat assessments and vetting procedures, separate from this proposed regulatory change and consistent with our mission to protect national security and public safety."

Members of the House Judiciary Committee expressed outrage on Monday about the rollback in the law, maintaining that Libyans continue to pose a security risk to the United States, particularly if they are given access to train in the aviation and nuclear fields.

The terror threat continues and numerous news reports document recent terror-related activities coming from Libya," the Judiciary Committee said in a statement. "Recently, the employees at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli were evacuated due to violence between rival militias near the facility."

"Since then, many foreign governments have closed their embassies in Libya and evacuated staff as the violence has spread throughout the country," the statement said.

DHS officials had promised lawmakers in April that it would provide key documents necessary for Congress to perform its legal oversight on the proposal to overturn the ban. However, DHS never turned these documents over, according to the Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), the committee’s chairman, accused DHS of stonewalling and lashed out at the administration for "turning a blind eye to real terrorist threats that exist in Libya today."

"The House Judiciary Committee has repeatedly sought information about the Administration’s policy reversal but political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security have stonewalled the Committee’s requests and have not articulated why it is in Americans’ best interests to change policy," Goodlatte said in a statement.

"Given the ongoing volatility in Libya, it is unconscionable and completely irresponsible that the Administration plans to lift a longstanding policy that protects Americans and our national security from threats in the region," he said.

Goodlatte further criticized the White House for "carelessly forging ahead with its plan to allow Libyan pilots and nuclear scientists to study in the United States," particularly in light of the ongoing unrest and terrorist threat in Libya.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R., S.C.), chair of the House subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security Subcommittee Chairman, also slammed the administration’s decision to reverse the ban.

"The burden of proof for advocating a change in the status quo lies with the Administration. Is post-revolutionary Libya secure enough to change the rules? Why now?" Gowdy said in a statement. "What evidence does the Administration have to assert the relationship between Libya and the US has indeed normalized?"

"It is extremely concerning that DHS is moving forward with these plans, but has not provided information on the policy change despite repeated requests from Members," Gowdy said.