US Denies Entry to Ex-UK Ambassador

As the New Cold War heats up, the U.S. government is sliding back into old Cold War practices, like blocking entry of people critical of U.S. policies, a fate befalling ex-British ambassador Craig Murray, as Peter Van Buren explains.

By Peter Van Buren

The United States over the weekend denied travel to a former British ambassador, Craig Murray, who was also a British diplomat for some 30 years, is the author of several books, and has stood twice for election to the House of Commons.

Murray was “honored” by being thrown out of Uzbekistan by its repressive government after risking his life to expose appalling human rights abuses there. He is not a terrorist and is not a social media jihadi. He has no criminal record, no connection to drug smuggling, and does have a return ticket, a hotel reservation and ample funds to cover his expenses. He is however seen as a threat to the United States.

Former British Ambassador Craig Murray

Former British Ambassador Craig Murray

Ambassador Murray was headed to the U.S. this week to be Master of Ceremonies at an award ceremony honoring John Kiriakou, the CIA torture whistleblower. Kiriakou was the only U.S. government official to go to jail in connection with the torture program, and all he did was help expose it to the media. The event is sponsored by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (of which I am a member.)

Murray has also spoken in support of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. Hmm. Might have something to do with this visa problem.

No one has told Murray why he cannot travel to the U.S., though he has been here numerous times over the past 38 years. Murray learned of his travel bar when applying for the online clearance the U.S. requires of all “visa free” travelers. Murray was electronically informed to contact the State Department to see if he might qualify otherwise.

Ambassador Murray was stopped by what the State Department and Homeland Security calls “a hit.” What happens is dozens of American intelligence agencies pour names into a vast database, which includes everyone from Osama bin Laden (his name has allegedly never been removed in some sort of reverse tribute) to the latest ISIS thug to all sorts of others who have little or no actual reason to be there, such as Murray.

The likely salient part of the database in Murray’s case is called CLASS, part of the Consular Consolidated Database. It is the largest known data warehouse in the world. As of December 2009, the last time information was available, it contained over 100 million cases and 75 million photographs, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35,000 records per day.

When one of those persons labeled a “bad guy” applies for entry or a visa to the U.S., the computer generates a hit. A hit is enough to deny anyone a visa-free trip to the U.S. with no further questions asked and no information given. Technically, the traveler never even officially knows he was “a hit.” Bang, you’re dead.

If Murray chooses to follow the process through and formally applies for a visa to the United States, the State Department in London will only then examine the hit. In 99.9999 percent of the cases, all the State Department official will see in their computer is a code that says “Contact Washington,” officially a Security Advisory Opinion, or SAO.

Lost in Secret Bureaucracy

The State people abroad will most often have no idea why they are refusing to issue a visa, just that they can’t. They sign their name to a blank check of a refusal. They make a potentially life-altering decision about someone with no idea what the evidence against him or her, if any, is. The traveler, of course, has no chance to rebut or clarify because they too have no idea what is being held against them. There is no substantive appeal process and, of course, everything in the files is likely classified.

The “contact Washington” message triggers a name-check process in D.C. that rumbles around the intelligence community looking for someone who knows why the U.S. government wants to keep Murray out of the United States next week. That process can take anywhere from weeks to forever, and taking forever is one strategy the U.S. uses when it just wants some troublesome person to go away. For politically motivated cases such as Murray’s, that is what is most likely to happen: not much. Murray may thus never learn why he cannot travel to the United States.

That is what free speech (and free speech covers not only what people say, but what people, Americans in this case, in America may choose to listen to) is about in 2016. America is now afraid of people like Ambassador Craig Murray. BONUS: Murray has only been denied travel to one other country, Uzbekistan. Such is the company America now keeps. Those who think this is the first time the U.S. has used a visa denial to stop free speech, please see the case of scholar Tariq Ramadan, denied the opportunity to teach at Notre Dame. There have been many more such cases, albeit less mediagenic. This is now policy for America, not an exception.

[For more on Craig Murray, see’s “How a Torture Protest Killed a Career” and “The Invasion of Bahrain.“]

Peter Van Buren, a retired U.S. diplomat, blew the whistle on State Department waste during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His second book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. Next up is a novel about WWII Japan, Hooper’s War. He writes about current events at www.wemeantwell.comand on Twitter @wemeantwell. [This article first appeared at]

14 comments for “US Denies Entry to Ex-UK Ambassador

  1. Geoffrey de Galles
    September 10, 2016 at 14:50

    The USA desperately wants to get its hands on Assange (an Australian citizen) and Kim Dotcom (a German citizen with NZ residency), and would gladly extradite them, subject them to trial, convict them, and jail them. Assuming their respective passports have not expired, it’d be a bit interesting to see what response each of them might get if they were to apply on-line for entrance to the USA under the visa-waiver (ESTA) program. Would the stupid USA dare notify each of them that they were refused admission?

  2. September 8, 2016 at 09:01

    Must break my self-imposed silence as Craig Murray was denied entry into the States for helping propagate on his web site and beyond my so-called extremist views about the loony massacre of the al-Hillis et al. in France four years ago, the conspiracy which almost destroyed the civilized world at Olof Palme’s expense ,the downing of airliners, especially MH370, for strategic purposes, the 9/11 cockups for similar aims, etc.

    The USA is far more out of control than this site ever indicates.

    • September 16, 2016 at 07:34

      Good to see that the USA has responded to complaints like this, and has granted whistleblower Crag Murray a 10-year visa to visit the States, so he will be going to the Sam Adams award ceremony to present this year’s award to CIA leaker John Kiriakou.

      Suspect that the denial was just an election ploy by the Obama administration to make it look less menacing when it was lifted.

  3. September 7, 2016 at 17:49

    Gaby Weber a German journalist who lives in Buenos Aires was denied entry to the US as well some time ago. She wrote inonvenient stories about Mercedes Benz in Argentina. And Colonia Dignidad.
    Craig and Obama: the shame can’t be bigger.

  4. Andy Jones
    September 7, 2016 at 00:43

    The US government is still violating international law regarding torture as long as it refuses to prosecute Bush for ordering it.

  5. Paul
    September 6, 2016 at 13:43

    From tragedy to farce. ‘Change you can believe in.’ Yes, three cents worth, and a big guffaw for the suckers who fell for it.

    But why should we be surprised? This article already answers that question by making the point that the only Americans to pay for the torture program were those who exposed it. If that is the standard, in other words, in the absence of moral standards, what is there left to be surprised at?

  6. Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
    September 6, 2016 at 13:36

    George Galloway was denied entry some years ago when a Muslim Organization in the US arranged a speaking tour for him………..I was at the event and George spoke from England by phone…….Modern tools should be used to go around that……….in the meantime, publicize the news and make the power regret what they do because it backfires……………..

    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      September 9, 2016 at 13:47

      I actually agree with what you are saying – I am pro-Palestine – but why do you always or almost always have to pause between sentences when you are writing a comment?

  7. Bill Bodden
    September 6, 2016 at 13:15

    Ambassador Murray was more fortunate than Maher Arar who was shipped to Syria for “enhanced interrogations.” That was when Syria was a friend of the CIA. –

    Welcome to our Brave New World.

  8. Zachary Smith
    September 6, 2016 at 10:57

    Ambassador Murray was stopped by what the State Department and Homeland Security calls “a hit.” What happens is dozens of American intelligence agencies pour names into a vast database, which includes everyone from Osama bin Laden (his name has allegedly never been removed in some sort of reverse tribute) to the latest ISIS thug to all sorts of others who have little or no actual reason to be there, such as Murray.

    It sounds to me like there are some bedwetting control freaks at work here. At any rate, what use is all the power these characters have if they don’t use it to slap a few people around now and then? It’s like the thugs at the airports who hassle cancer patients and 93-year-old WW2 vets.

    On another thread here there was discussion about a certain anthem celebrating “the land of the brave” as well as “the home of the free”.

    Neither of those two attributes were anywhere to be seen in this case. Instead there was some genuine 1984-style thought control work for the proles.

  9. exiled off mainstreet
    September 6, 2016 at 10:38

    Again the yankee imperium proves that it is in fact an imperium and claims that it follows the rule of law, not men have been spurious for quite some time.

  10. Realist
    September 6, 2016 at 09:44

    You’ve got to be kidding! I thought it was over the top when Obomber accused Putin to his face yesterday of hacking the American elections and warned him of reprisals. It was a surefire way to deep-six any chance of agreements on Syria or Ukraine, for an administration that seems not to want anything other than battlefield victories over its well-cultivated enemies. Meanwhile, the hypocrite-in-chief has no compunctions about the NSA spying on every living American and on all of our so-called allies in NATO. Also brings a nice touch of McCarthyism to the campaign. The stench of hubris is simply overpowering. Always keeping it classy, eh Obomber? You have single-handedly driven thousands of liberals from the Democratic Party with that chip on your shoulder, Barry. You, and the witch you have served throughout your pathetic administration.

    • Brad Owen
      September 6, 2016 at 11:38

      Whom the Gods would destroy, They first make mad (with power). I think the madness is now approaching the “Kafka-esque” (I’m reminded of an excellent essay I read on Kafka’s work, in Wilson Quarterly in the 80’s. It was about the “Madhouse Reality” in totalitarian societies with no outside reference points. I bet the the writer never thought he’d see the likes of it here in the U.S.)

    • Gregory Herr
      September 6, 2016 at 19:49

      I suppose Obama is playing the perception game for his American audience who has yet to develop a healthy skepticism about “us versus them” contrivances. The button-pushing about election interference from the Russian Bear is doubly ironic when considering how much “interference” we have from the “inside”. Our elections are bought, discourse is circumscribed, and tabulation is unverified and suspect.
      Cyber-attacks are one thing, but to complain about simple hacking while your security state hacks the world is precious. In his comments I noticed Obama made mention of Assad bombing with “impunity.” Wow. Oh yeah, our bombs work without impunity. Surely to God Putin realizes Obama & Kerry are just trying to buy time because the Assad ouster is in serious setback.

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