How much did misspelling Abdulmutallab’s name matter?
So what’s the State Department’s defense for sending the wrong spelling for the underwear bomber’s name in its Visas Viper cable to the National Counterterrorism Center? That it didn’t matter because the cable didn’t mention he had a visa in the first place. Now this is some pretty complicated logic, but follow along with me. ...
So what's the State Department's defense for sending the wrong spelling for the underwear bomber's name in its Visas Viper cable to the National Counterterrorism Center? That it didn't matter because the cable didn't mention he had a visa in the first place.
So what’s the State Department’s defense for sending the wrong spelling for the underwear bomber’s name in its Visas Viper cable to the National Counterterrorism Center? That it didn’t matter because the cable didn’t mention he had a visa in the first place.
Now this is some pretty complicated logic, but follow along with me. The Cable has reported that State’s Visas Viper cable to the NCTC on Nov. 20 didn’t meet the requirements for information that is supposed to be contained there and didn’t mention that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had a visa to visit the United States for more than a year before the attempted attack.
Of course, the Visas Viper cables, which are supposed to disseminate information on suspected terrorists, aren’t required to list existing visas, an oversight that State is promising to address. State Department officials also told The Cable that several other reports were sent about Abdulmutallab from the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria "as part of the Visas Viper process," but those are all classified.
This is all part of the finger pointing between State and the NCTC (and everybody else) over who dropped the ball in the case.
But now the White House’s review of the incident is casting more aspersions on the Visas Vipers process, saying that "A misspelling of Abdulmutallab’s name initially resulted in State Department believing he did not have a valid U.S. visa."
The review also noted that his visa would only have been revoked if the intelligence and counterterrorism communities had shared available information on Abdulmutallab, in which case he would have been watchlisted.
But apparently State is arguing that because nobody checked to see if he had a visa, it didn’t matter how his name was spelled. Get it?
"This is crucial: the existence of the visa was not a part of the threat assessment," a State Department official told Politico. "The misspelling had no consequence on the broader [sic] process … When the TIDE database record was opened [on Abdulmutallab], the correct name was there — and the misspelling was listed as an alias."
But as Newsweek explained, being in the TIDE database, which contains hundreds of thousands of names of potential threats, would only have raised a red flag when Abdulmutallab tried to renew his visa, so spelling his name correctly there is kind of a pyrrhic victory at best.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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