WASHINGTON — It's well known that Islamic guerrillas, with CIA assistance, helped evict the Soviet army from Afghanistan in the 1980s, contributing in no small way to the eventual demise of the Soviet empire.

But many details about how the CIA got the job done never have been reported; Michael Springmann is willing to fill in some of the blanks.

In the late 1980s, Springmann was a consular officer in Saudi Arabia — the same country, coincidentally, where 15 of the 19 terrorists who took part in the Sept. 11 suicide bombings obtained their U.S. visas.

He arrived in Saudi Arabia in September 1987, his first assignment as a career diplomat.

His main task was to decide whether visa applicants had a legitimate reason to visit the United States or instead were "intending immigrants" — meaning they had no intention of leaving once they got into the country.

From the outset, Springmann said in a recent interview, strange things happened. In 1988, two Pakistanis applied for visas to attend a trade show in the United States. But when they were unable to name the show or the city in which it was taking place, Springmann refused the visa requests.

A short while later, he said, the chief of the consular section overruled him. The Pakistanis soon were bound for the United States.

On another occasion, an unemployed refugee from Sudan showed up at the consulate — a person, Springmann said, who had no good reason to go to the United States and only the most ephemeral ties to Saudi Arabia.

In other words, Springmann said, the Sudanese was the type of person who would have no compelling reason to leave the United States once he arrived.

Springmann turned down the application but immediately encountered resistance. "I kept saying no," Springmann recalled. "But, again, the head of consular section gave him a visa. I asked why. He said national security reasons."

And so it went for the 18 months that Springmann was in Jiddah. About 100 applicants — Pakistanis, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians — who he felt were unqualified were approved for visas over his objections, he said.

"I had people come to me and say, well, you can issue me the visa now or you can issue me the visa when the consul general overrules you," Springmann said.

The mystery about the bizarre situation disappeared around 1994, well after his departure from the foreign service. A one-time colleague told him Saudi Arabia was being used to funnel Islamic militants to the United States for training before heading for the battlefield in Afghanistan.

"I got the whole story and it all hung together," he said. "They were running people (to the consulate) from the CIA's recruiting office," he said, obviously exasperated that he wasn't told at the time.

He said the entire consular operation was run by the CIA.

The State Department had no comment on Springmann's allegations except to say final authority over visa decisions rests with the consular officer in charge, not with Springmann, a junior officer.

Looking back on his experience in Jiddah, Springmann said he found the idea of using the Jiddah consulate as a U.S. gateway for Islamic militants to be "sleazy and disreputable."

"If they wanted to train these people, why not train them in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Why bring them to the States?"

Springmann's politics are hardly mainstream. Last winter, he outlined his experiences in Jiddah in a radical publication, The CovertAction Quarterly. The magazine is a successor to the CovertAction Information Bulletin, whose chief mission was to expose the identities of CIA agents around the world.

A senior administration official, asking not to be identified, said the Bulletin's reports caused untold damage to the CIA over the years. The official declined comment on Springmann's allegations about his experiences in Jiddah.


George Gedda has covered foreign affairs for The Associated Press since 1968.