The Cable

Special Briefing Skipper: State Department on the underwear bomber

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly held a press conference Monday afternoon at the State Department focused almost exclusively on State’s role in the visa process for the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Here are the important parts: Abdulmutallab received his State Department visa on June 16, 2008. It was good for two years. As for ...

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly held a press conference Monday afternoon at the State Department focused almost exclusively on State’s role in the visa process for the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Here are the important parts:

Abdulmutallab received his State Department visa on June 16, 2008. It was good for two years. As for what was the classification under which he applied for a visa, "We don’t talk about what’s on his application," Kelly said. "You damn well better start talking about it because you’re about to have the hammer of God come down on your head," a reporter responded.

As for why the visa was granted, there was no alarming or disqualifying information on the visa application, Kelly said. He was a student at a reputable school and had ample financial resources, meaning he wasn’t seen as an illegal immigration risk, according to Kelly.

After Abdulmutallab’s father raised concerns with the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria on Nov. 19, the embassy sent what’s known as a Visa VIPER cable to the State Department and the counterterrorism community on Nov. 20, but "he information in this VISAS VIPER cable was insufficient for this interagency review process to make a determination that this individual’s visa should be revoked," Kelly said.

The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) would be the one to make that call, not the State Department, Kelly said. "We were obliged to report this information and we reported it." While State was not required to notify in the VIPER cable that he had a visa already and didn’t in this case, "Everybody has access to this database, or everybody who wanted to check could see that this individual had a visa," Kelly went on.

Of course, the State Department has the authority to revoke visas, as it did for Honduran officials earlier this year, they didn’t do it in for Abdulmutallab "because it’s not our responsibility," Kelly said. Shouldn’t the fact that he had a visa come up in the VIPER cable? "Clearly, we need to review all of our procedures, and that’s what the president has ordered the interagency community to do," Kelly responded.

This was not Abdulmutallab’s first visit to the United States. He had been granted and used a visa in the past, Kelly mentioned. No word on whether the Brits had notified the U.S. government that they had decided not to renew his visa for their country.

The VIPER cable itself wasn’t too specific and only would include "just a very short characterization of the father’s concerns," Kelly said.

The National Security Council is taking the lead on interacting with foreign countries on this issue, Kelly said. As for any more questions about why Abdulmutallab wasn’t on the lists that would have prevented him from getting on the plane, "It’s not up to me to say," Kelly explained, "It’s up to my colleague at the NCTC. And if you don’t know the contact information, I can get it for you."

And yes, the State Department does have a seat on the NCTC.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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