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State Department: Don’t Blame Us for Not Pulling Abdulmutallab’s Visa, Blame NCTC

Finally, some explanation for the State Department’s role in not invalidating Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s visa. Recall that after CBS reported State had two opportunities last month to revoke the visa, after Abdulmutallab’s father told officials in the U.S. embassy in Abuja that he was alarmingly radicalized, Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball explained that State passed along the warning to the rest of the government through what’s called the Visa VIPER process.

Today, in a press briefing, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly confirmed that the information acquired about Abdulmutallab from his father was insufficient to revoke his visa to enter the U.S., which the department issued in June 2008, long before it had any basis for considering him a threat. Kelly all but implored reporters not to blame State for the security lapse:

MR. KELLY: Once we issue the visa, and there comes – there is information subsequent to that issuance, the State Department role is to pass that information on, which is what we did after this November 19 visit. So we sent in what’s called a VISAS VIPER cable. This is a system that was set up after November – September 11, 2001, and under this system, when we receive information that could cause the – cause us concern, we send it in to the counterterrorism community for their review. There was also set up, as you all know, the National Counterterrorism Center. And this is the interagency process that reviews the information as this information comes in.

QUESTION: Can I stop you –

MR. KELLY: And 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. It wasn’t – it’s not – it’s insufficient, and it is not a State Department determination per se in these kinds of issues under – let me give you the name of the act of Congress – under the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, the State Department is mandated to utilize this VISAS VIPER system when we get information, like we did on November 19.

Kelly clarified later in the briefing that the interagency process for reviewing the revocation of visas after the VIPER process falls under the aegis of the National Counterterrorism Center.”I think it’s incumbent upon the NCTC, as I understand it, for them to come to us and ask us to revoke the visa,” he said. So expect next month’s congressional hearings on Abdulmutallab to focus on why that process determined that the alleged would-be bomber could keep his visa.

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