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Pants bomber: State Department to beef up reporting on terror risks

Pants bomber: State Department to beef up reporting on terror risks

The State Department is planning to significantly increase the amount of information in its now-famous Visas VIPER cables as part of the impending administration review on the security failures surrounding underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a State Department official tells The Cable.

All departments are required to submit their recommendations to the White House Thursday and the administration is expected to collate the information over the weekend to present to President Obama when he gets back to town, although some conclusions are already leaking out.

But from State’s perspective, the key issue remains its handling of information given to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria by Abdulmutallab’s father, information that was passed on to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in Washington but not linked up with other data that might have kept the disgruntled plotter off the plane to Detroit.

Foggy Bottom seems to be digging into its argument, made by spokesman Ian Kelly on Monday, that State fulfilled its role by passing on the basic information and that it was the NCTC’s responsibility to go back and check the database and connect the dots.

"The way the system works now, we rely on the counterterrorism folks to get the cable and go into the database," the official said. "It may have been a presumption on a lot of people’s part to gather that the NCTC would actually do that."

So, the fix State is proposing is to include in the VIPER cables from now on "any information that the State Department would have under its purview," the official explained, as to "not rely on someone at NCTC to go into the database and look up the information."

The official acknowledged that too much information could also pose a risk of being counterproductive. But the VIPER cable on Abdulmutallab only had basic info, his short bio and one line stating that his father had some concerns about the would-be attacker. An explicit mention that Abdulmutallab had obtained a visa to travel to the United States would have been helpful.

Whether or not that argument will keep State off the hook is another matter, as the blame game over who is culpable for the security breach heats up. Suffice to say there is plenty of blame to go around.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been leading the State Department’s role in the review from her home in Chappaqua, the official said, while Deputy Secretary Jack Lew has been manning the shop here in Washington. Lew and Undersecreatary for Management Patrick Kennedy have participated interagency meetings on Clinton’s behalf.

Other State Department officials critical to the review include State Department Counselor Cheryl Mills, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs, State’s coordinator for counterterrorism Dan Benjamin, and the folks in the bureau for Diplomatic Security. Jacobs has been in on the briefings on Capitol Hill.

Despite a lot of bilateral contact over the incident with countries such as Yemen, Nigeria, Netherlands, and the UK, Clinton has been focused on internal issues and plans to turn to diplomatic engagement in a more formal way as early as next week, the official said.

"The secretary has been getting regular updates from senior staff here [at the State Department] and is leading the effort to respond to the president’s directive to review all of our processes," said Kelly, when contacted for a comment on the review.