Did the State Department hold out on the NCTC?
The State Department’s Nov. 19 reporting on underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab through its Visas Viper cable might not have met the regulatory requirements for such a communication, withholding from the National Counterterrorism Center information that could have flagged him before he boarded his Christmas day flight to Detroit. The State Department has been pointing ...
The State Department’s Nov. 19 reporting on underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab through its Visas Viper cable might not have met the regulatory requirements for such a communication, withholding from the National Counterterrorism Center information that could have flagged him before he boarded his Christmas day flight to Detroit.
The State Department has been pointing to the NCTC as being to blame for not going back into the database and checking on Mutallab’s visa status after being sent the Visas Viper cable from the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria.
"Based on what we know now, the State Department fully complied with the requirements set forth in the interagency process as to what should be done when information about a potential threat is known," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday.
But a close look at the rules for compiling Visas Viper cables shows that the information supplied about Mutallab might not have met the existing requirements, leaving out some crucial pieces of information.
A State Department official told The Cable that the Viper cable on Abdulmutallab only had a short bio and one line stating that his father had raised concerns. An intelligence offical told Spencer Ackerman that State provided “very thin information” and “definitely not enough” to yank Abdulmutallab’s visa and put him on the no-fly list.
According to the relevant section of the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, Viper cables should include detailed information about the suspect sufficient by itself to allow State or DHS to make the determination to deny (or presumably lift) a visa.
Also, the regulations mandate detailed reporting about the source of the information, including:
1) An evaluation of the credibility;
2) The applicability of the information submitted;
3) A general description of the source; and
4) An assessment of the source’s reliability.
Such reporting might have given more weight to the cable, considering the source was Alhaji Umaru Abdulmutallab, not only the attacker’s father but one of the richest and most prominent bankers in the country. Apparently that didn’t happen.
"The embassy in Nigeria did everything they were supposed to do," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday, while saying that the State Department was looking at beefing up the reporting in the cables, including whether or not the suspect already had a visa.
Last week, Kelly told reporters, "The 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 also said that the fact that the UK denied Abdulmutallab a visa was not a red flag for the U.S. interagency process because there was no terrorism related connection.
"He was denied a visa because he provided false information on his visa application, the kind of thing that happens hundreds of thousands of times all over the world," Kelly said, adding the UK decision, "was not on terrorism grounds. It was on immigration grounds."
Clinton will be among those meeting with the president Tuesday to go over the various agency contributions to the administration’s overall review of the incident.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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