28, 2006 -- SPECIAL REPORT FROM EUROPE. Information visas (I-Visa) -- a
Bush administration method for controlling the foreign media's coverage of the
You're a foreign journalist and you want to visit the United
States to cover a story. If you think it is as easy as hopping on an airplane,
even if you are a citizen or resident of a visa-waiver country, guess again.
Journalists wishing to travel to the United States -- whether they are with
print, television, radio, or Internet media -- must first obtain an
"I-Visa" from the U.S. embassy or selected consulates responsible for
their jurisdictions. Freelance journalists who are not under contract to a
U.S.-recognized media organization need not apply.
Journalists must fill out a detailed application in which
they are required to outline what story they are writing about and they must
personally visit the U.S. embassy and consulate for "administrative
processing, biometric collection and a personal interview." Biometric
processing at the U.S. embassy in Copenhagen entails having one's thumb
electronically scanned. Journalists visiting some U.S. diplomatic missions for
the interview cannot bring in electronic devices (cell phones, PDAs, laptops )
[or] backpacks, suitcases and attach� cases." At certain missions, U.S.
embassy security personnel refuse to store such items during the interview
process. Others confiscate cell phones and tag them for pick up after the
interview process (needless to say, the interview process might last a bit longer
if the local U.S. spooks decide to examine the journalist's cell phone call
list and perform certain "modifications." At the Madrid embassy, the
only bags that are permitted inside the compound are those having medical
purposes, such as insulin kits.
Journalists must also provide their addresses in the United
States and the names and addresses of those whom they will be interviewing. So
much for freedom of the press and the protection of journalists' sources.
The real rub comes with the I-Visa application fee.
Journalists who believe they can pay the 85 Euro (US$ 108) fee in Germany and
Denmark by check, cash, or credit card are out of luck. Certain U.S. embassies,
like those in Copenhagen and Berlin, through a bank wire contrivance, require
visa fees to be paid into special bank accounts established by the various U.S.
embassies. In Germany, the Bush cronies have cut a deal with a small outfit
called Roskos and Meier OHG, a 23-person subsidiary of the giant banking
consortium, Alianz Group. Roskos and Meier has only been around since 1994 when
Messrs. Roskos and Meier formed their company to provide insurance and
financial services in the Berlin-Brandenburg area. Now they have a lucrative
sweetheart deal with the U.S. embassy to confirm that visa fees have been paid
from individuals applying for visas at the Berlin embassy and Frankfurt
consulate. The visa payments go to a special account established at Dresdner
Bank AG Berlin, Bank Routing Number (BLZ): 120 800 00, Account No. (Kontonr.):
405 125 7600. In Denmark, the journalist visa money (600 Danish Kroner) is
wired to a special embassy account at the Jyske Bank Reg. No. 5013, account
number 200200-2. Internet banking or bank-to-bank payments are not permitted.
The U.S. embassy in Helsinki requires journalists to pay 85 Euros into Nordea
Bank account #221918-16629.
In Spain, $100 in Euros must be deposited with the Banco
Santander Central Hispano (BSCH), bank account: 0049-1803-54-2210316035. In
China, a visa application fee of 810 RMB (US$101) can only be paid at selected
branches of the CITIC Industrial Bank. In the United Arab Emirates, the $100
application fee must go to the National Bank of Abu Dhabi. In Cyprus, 46 Cyprus
Pounds (US$ 102) lands in special LAIKI Bank account "American Embassy -
MRV -- Account Number: 070-21-074824."
Morten Torkildsen, a special investigator for the UN's
International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, stated the following concerning
the Nicosia U.S. embassy's favorite Cypriot bank in a 58-page report on
Slobodon Milosevic's secret foreign holdings. ""Popular (LAIKI) Bank,
the island's second largest bank, allowed a group of Yugoslav-controlled front
companies to operate in defiance of UN sanctions. These companies supplied Mr.
Milosevic's government with fuel, raw materials, spare parts and weapons to
pursue wars in Bosnia in 1992-1996 and in Kosovo in 1998-1999." LAIKI's
largest shareholder (at 22 percent) is the powerful Hong Kong and Shanghai
Banking Corporation (HSBC). Even with all the questions surrounding LAIKI Bank
and its involvement in money laundering for Milosevic and his regime, the
Cypriot bank easily purchased Belgrade, Serbia-based Centrobanka in January
Just think of all the various and differing U.S. embassy
visa application fee requirements and bank accounts in all the countries around
the world. Considering all the other financial malfeasance in the Bush
administration, to what degree are these accounts audited? Can anyone spell
And there is no consistency in the visa fee program. At the
U.S. embassy in London, they accept credit cards (but no debit cards) or bank
transfer or bank cash payments (bank Giro) to a Barclays Bank special account.
What happens if the Bush cronies decide they do not like the
story a foreign journalist will be pursuing? They will reject the I-Visa
application -- no explanation necessary. But if the rejected journalist expects
a refund of his or her $108, $102, or $100, he or she can guess again.
According to the U.S. embassy in Germany, "refunds of this fee are rarely
granted, and generally only in cases in which the embassy has made an error in
processing the visa application. In the case in which a visa request has been
refused or an applicant has erroneously paid the fee twice, a refund will not
be approved." In Denmark, it does not matter if the U.S. embassy screwed
up the application processing or not, refunds are not made under any
What happens if the visa payment confirmation is delayed for
some reason. Well, the journalist can call the U.S. Visa Information Service.
But it is at a cost. Callers are charged 1.86 Euros (US$2.37) per minute. In
Spain and Andorra, the US embassy in Madrid has figured out another phone scam.
Landline phone inquiries about US visa status in Spain cost 1.09 Euros per
minute but if someone calls on a cell phone, the charge is higher, 1.51 Euros
per minute ($1.93/minute). That can get pretty expensive if some bureaucratic
nincompoop puts a caller on hold. If a journalist phones the U.S. visa line in
Spain from, say, Morocco or Portugal, an additional $10 per transaction charge
is assessed. But you can charge that to your Visa or Master Card.
Only certain U.S. diplomatic missions process I-Visas. If
you're a journalist in Greenland or the Faeroe Islands and you want to cover a
story in the United States, you must make a long trip east to Copenhagen before
you travel west to the United States. The same cumbersome process goes for
journalists in the Maldives (they must fly to Colombo, Sri Lanka), East Timor
(figure on a trip to Jakarta, Indonesia -- not friendly territory for East
Timorese), Sao Tome (you must go to Libreville, Gabon), San Marino (visas only
obtainable in Rome), Liechtenstein (no good to go to Zurich, which is a hop,
skip, and jump away, you must go to the embassy in Bern), Monaco (no trip to
the U.S. without going to the embassy in Paris first), and Grenada (not without
a trip to Bridgetown, Barbados). There are countless other similar roadblocks
thrown in the way of journalists wishing to travel to the United States.
In some cases, foreign journalists who carry the necessary
I-Visa are, nevertheless, subjected to humiliating questioning and strip
searches at U.S. airports. One Danish journalist was required to slip down to
his skivvies, bend over, and have some perverted Homeland Security official
stick his finger up his rectum. Some female journalists from such friendly
countries as Britain and Australia have been handcuffed and sexually groped by
other Homeland Security lechers and lotharios. Meanwhile, the Bush
administration's grand dame of international public relations, Bush's
gal-pal Karen Hughes, who might even put off a Homeland Security sex maniac,
continues to insist that she is improving America's image abroad. As far as
most international journalists are concerned, she is a complete joke. And so is
George W. Bush. The State Department web page comically posts the following
message from Bush to U.S. visa seekers: "America is not a fortress; no, we
never want to be a fortress. We're a free country; we're an open society. And
we must always protect the rights of our law -- of law-abiding citizens from
around the world who come here to conduct business or to study or to spend time
with their family." Yeah, right. And Bush thinks jamming fingers up the
asses of arriving journalists is part of living in a free country.
Right now, it is fortunate that most countries are not
reciprocating against U.S. journalists in kind. In fact, there are very few
countries that require special visas for journalists. The United States and a
few tin horn dictatorships are among the few countries that restrict admittance
and travel for foreign journalists. Israel severely restricts media access to
the West Bank and Gaza. On the other hand, Cuba provides freer access for
foreign journalists than does the United States. It is just that a vocal
jingoistic minority in southern Florida and their lickspittles in the Bush
administration don't want any American journalists to witness for themselves
the relative freedom for foreign journalists to report from Cuba. Ask Cuban
authorities the total lack of restrictions on journalists reporting on and
photographing conditions inside the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay from
their side of the fence and then consider the draconian restrictions places on
U.S. and foreign journalists inside the U.S. military concentration camp.
If the Republicans and neo-cons are not run out of
Washington soon, the situation for American journalists abroad may change
dramatically. And the public's right to know will be the major casualty in such
WayneMadsenReport.com. All Rights Reserved.
Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based
investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is author of the forthcoming book, �Jaded
Tasks: Big Oil, Black Ops & Brass Plates.� He is the editor and
publisher of the Wayne Madsen