Insider Quote: A very daunting undertaking

“Because the war in Iraq is winding down, but as the war winds down and our military troops leave, the State Department and USAID [United States Agency for International Development] are expected to assume even more responsibility. I’ll give you one example: the military has been doing the police training in Iraq. They have a lot of resources to do these jobs. Not only tens of thousands of bodies but all kinds of equipment and flexibility in funding streams that are not part of the experience of the State Department or USAID, and I’m having to accept the responsibility, which is going to be handed off. That’s a very daunting undertaking.”
Secretary of State

Abdulmutallab, Visas Viper, and Visa Revocations

Terrorist Screening CenterImage via Wikipedia

Yesterday, Ian Kelly, the Department Spokesman talked about
the case of terrorist suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and the State
Department role in this incident. Excerpts below. You can read the whole thing here:

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.
I stop you –
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.
MR. KELLY: […] Clearly, we need to review all of our
procedures, and that’s what the President has ordered the interagency community
to do. And Secretary Clinton is also going to ask the State Department,
primarily our consular division, to review all of our processes. We did what we
were supposed to do under this Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act.
But as you know, the President has ordered a complete view, and we’ll have to
see what comes out of that.
One of the issues we have to deal with is that we get
thousands of pieces of information that are not always completely accurate. I
mean, you have a lot of – what do you call them, poison pen messages, of people
trying to pass on derogatory information. So, I mean, we have to be careful
about when we put somebody on a watch list.
QUESTION: It’s the same subject, just the claim of responsibility
for this. Al-Qaida in Arabian Peninsula just said it’s responsible for having
attempted this attack and said that they’re calling for the killing of all
Western embassy workers in the region. I don’t know if you guys know about
this. Have you done anything special in the region in light of this attempted
MR. KELLY: I have not heard this. I mean, obviously,
we take the security of our embassy and our – our embassies and our colleagues
extremely seriously. I mean, we’ll review this. If it indeed is a credible
threat, we’ll review it and see if we need to take action.

This may not be clear to folks but the VISAS VIPER telegrams
report on possible terrorists who are not current visa applicants for the
purpose of watchlisting them. For when they apply or reapply for visas.  As the regulations point
out, the primary goal of
the VISAS VIPER Program is to develop high quality usable records on possible
terrorists. It is essential to develop and report all available identifying
data on the subjects of VISAS VIPER telegrams. Derogatory information on a
suspected terrorist, regardless of its gravity, is of little value unless it
can be linked to that individual should he or she apply for a visa or for entry
into the United States (9 FAM
40.37 N7.1 Identification of Subject)
From LAT’s
today: “When he purchased his ticket from Lagos to Amsterdam on
Dec. 16, a Nigerian official said, his passport and U.S. visa were scanned and
his name was checked against a watch list. Despite his father’s intervention,
Abdulmutallab’s name hadn’t been added to either a 3,400-name no-fly list or a
14,000-name roster of persons who could be subjected to intensive searches. His
name was added to a 555,000-name list of
persons considered suspicious but less of a threat. Apparently he would have
received greater scrutiny if he applied for another visa. The problem was that
he already had one.”
Which brings us to the subject of visa revocations – for aliens suspected of terrorism connections.
A five-year old GAO report indicated that in
2004, the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), an interagency group organized
under the FBI, identified the visa revocation process as a potential homeland
security vulnerability and developed an informal process for TSC to handle visa
revocation cases (see Figure 1: The Visa
Revocation Process in Effect from October through December 2003):

“As a result,
it developed a process for TSC to coordinate the sharing of information on visa
revocation cases. This process outlines responsibilities for representatives from State, CBP, ICE,
and the FBI who are assigned to TSC. According to a TSC official, this process
is designed to coordinate the efforts of these representatives, without relying
on formal notifications transmitted among the agencies. When new names are added
to the TIPOFF database, all the agency representatives receive this information
at the same time. According to TSC’s new process, State personnel assigned to
TSC determine if the person has a valid visa; CBP personnel determine if the individual may be in the country;
and, if the individual is in the country, ICE and FBI personnel determine if
they have open investigations of the individual. Because this process was
developed after the October to December 2003 time period, we did not assess its

This GAO report had not been updated since 2004, so it’s
hard to tell if this system is still in place. In its report, the GAO had concluded
that there is no government-wide policy outlining roles and responsibilities
for the visa revocation process, and State and DHS have not completed their
discussions on legal and policy issues related to removing individuals with
revoked visas from the United States (See Edson’s testimony on this specific issue, also from 2004).
The most recent information I could locate on visa
revocation comes from the testimony of Janice
L. Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs on December
9 before the U.S.
Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs:  
“The CLASSnamecheck
system, which is updated daily, includes information from the Department of
State, FBI, DHS, and intelligence from other agencies.  Also included in
CLASS is derogatory information regarding known or suspected terrorists (KSTs)
from the Terrorist Screening Database, which is maintained by the TSC and
contains the names of terrorists nominated by all USG sources. Possible
matches are reviewed by USG agencies in Washington, D.C., prior to any visa
being issued.  Under a complementary program, new name entries in the Terrorist Screening Database are checked against records of previously issued valid
visas, enabling us to revoke visas issued to KSTs.  Since September 11,
2001, we have revoked more than 1,700 visas of individuals about whom,
subsequent to visa issuance, we received information that potentially connected
the visa holder to terrorism.”
That gives us a
number but does not give us a much clearer look into this particular case,
unfortunately, or the relevant interagency process. I am sure with the House
and the Senate indicating their desire to hold hearings on this, we should
learn more in January when the congressional session resumes.         
There is, of course, a lot of noise on this case right now
including reports that authorities in Amsterdam
are investigating claims
that an accomplice may have helped Abdulmutallab
board Flight 253 without a passport, possibly by claiming to be a Sudanese or Syrian refugee.  If that story pans out, I
expect attention will shift quickly to the scrutiny of our refuge policies. 
Still, I hope that this case is not only a lesson, but a
reason for top down reviews of our systems and processes and for continued vigilance. We are thankful that Abdulmutallab also called  Umar Farouk al-Nigiri – the Nigerian by Al Qaeda succeeded only in  setting fire to his leg and crotch in his failed murderous attempt.  But we already know that the bad
guys only had to get it right once…

To our friends in the Arabian Peninsula, stay safe.
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Understanding the No Fly and Selectee Lists, Sort of…

2009 IG Inspection Says  No Fly List Reduce Vulnerabilities, but Additional Vulnerabilities May Exist

The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security
this past July released a redacted report on the Role of
the No Fly and Selectee Lists in Securing Commercial Aviation

The report includes background on the Secure Flight Program
Implementation, Terrorist Screening Database, the No Fly and Selectee Lists and
other Watch Lists Derived From the Terrorist Screening Database.  The OIG in its review writes that the No Fly
and Selectee Lists reduce vulnerabilities to commercial aviation security, but that
additional vulnerabilities may exist:

“The No Fly and Selectee lists are subsets of the TSDB, the
federal government’s consolidated watch list. The name inclusion criteria for
these two lists are more narrowly focused and restrictive than the inclusion
criteria for the entire TSDB. Specifically, the No Fly and Selectee lists focus
on aviation security and concentrate on [REDACTED].
Although the No Fly and Selectee lists are largely
successful in identifying potential terrorists who could threaten commercial aviation, some
individuals not included on the lists may also present threats to aviation

Below is an excerpt
from the report on the No Fly and Selectee Lists section:
No Fly and Selectee Lists
The No Fly and Selectee lists, two TSDB derivative watch
lists, are unique among all watch lists derived from the TSDB. They are the
only derivative watch lists that have their own minimum substantive derogatory criteria
requirements. These requirements are considerably more stringent than the
TSDB’s known or reasonably suspected standard. Additionally, the No Fly and
Selectee lists have the narrowest minimum biographic inclusion criteria of all
TSDB watch lists.
Minimum Inclusion Criteria
The No Fly and Selectee inclusion criteria were initially
established in October 2004 by the Homeland Security Council. This council is a
cabinet-level body that coordinates homeland security–related activities and
promotes effective homeland security policy development and implementation. The
No Fly and Selectee Lists Implementation Guidance accompanying the
inclusion criteria was released in January 2005. When establishing the initial
criteria, responsibility for maintenance and export of the lists was
transferred to the TSC. Prior to this time, TSA maintained the No Fly and
Selectee lists. The lists were created in September 2001, before TSA was
established, when the Federal Aviation Administration received 125 names from
the FBI for inclusion on a No Fly list.
No Fly List
The TSC updated and supplemented the implementation guidance
in July 2006. Recently, the Homeland Security Council [REDACTED] to allow for inclusion
of more individuals on the No Fly list. The TSC’s Policy Board Working Group
followed suit with new implementation guidance, all of which went into effect
in June 2008. Appendix D provides more detail on the No Fly and Selectee
List Implementation Guidance
(DS note:
guidance extensively redacted).
Two paragraphs [REDACTED]
Selectee List
The derogatory information criteria for including an
individual on the Selectee list require that an individual who is ineligible
for inclusion on the No Fly list meet [REDACTED] the Selectee list criteria. Specifically, the Selectee list
should include any person, regardless of citizenship, who is: [REDACTED]
In applying more narrow requirements than the TSDB’s minimum
substantive derogatory criteria requirements, the No Fly and Selectee lists are
intended to prevent specific categories of terrorists from boarding commercial
aircraft or subject these terrorists to secondary screening prior to boarding,
and are not for use as law enforcement or intelligence-gathering tools. Past
and present implementation guidance emphasizes that the criteria for the No Fly
list require a [REDACTED] and that the Selectee list is not a default for those
who do not qualify for inclusion on the No Fly list.
The current minimum biographic inclusion criteria for the No
Fly and Selectee lists, which were not changed during the June 2008 policy
revisions, require a [REDACTED] for a TSDB record to export to either list. [REDACTED] Given
the restrictive derogatory and biographic criteria for inclusion on the No Fly and
Selectee lists, these lists combined comprise the smallest exported subset of the
TSDB. As of May 2008, the No Fly list contained approximately [REDACTED] records,
and the Selectee list contained approximately [REDACTED] records, collectively
comprising of the TSDB’s records. Additionally, the combined number of No Fly
and Selectee records represents approximately [REDACTED] distinct identities,
of which are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
Process for Inclusion on the No Fly and Selectee Lists
Redundancies in the process through which individuals are
added to the No Fly or Selectee list ensure that the proper individuals are
watch-listed. For international terrorists, this process starts with a federal
agency, usually a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community, nominating an
individual for inclusion in TIDE. The NCTC’s Terrorist Identities Group reviews
nominations for the reliability of derogatory information and the sufficiency
of biographic identifying information.
Nominating agencies can recommend an individual for
inclusion on specific TSDB derivative watch lists, such as the No Fly and
Selectee lists. Additionally, although the NCTC is not a nominator, its
Terrorist Identities Group analysts, after reviewing all source intelligence
information, may identify eligible individuals for watch-listing and contact
the originator of the intelligence to request that the individual be nominated
for inclusion in TIDE with specific watch list recommendations. Domestic
terrorists are nominated to the TSDB via the FBI’s Terrorist Review and
Examination Unit, by FBI case agents, and by the FBI’s Counterterrorism
Division; also, each of these can make specific watch list recommendations.
[REDACTED] the NCTC transmits to the TSC an export of
additions and modifications of biographic and biometric identifiers from TIDE, resulting
in additions, modifications, and deletions to the TSDB.  These transmissions are collectively referred
to as nominations. Analysts in the Nominations and Data Integrity Unit at the
TSC perform a comprehensive review of each nomination for inclusion eligibility
in the TSDB and for appropriateness of export to the various watch lists. As
part of this review, TSC analysts review specific recommendations for initial
No Fly or Selectee watch-listing, as well as follow-up recommendations for
changes to an individual’s No Fly or Selectee status. This review ensures that recommendations
are consistent with the biographic and derogatory inclusion criteria. Appendix
E provides a graphic representation of the No Fly and Selectee list nomination
When TSC analysts recommend a change to an individual’s No
Fly or Selectee status, the nomination is forwarded to TSA subject matter
experts (SME), who are detailed to the TSC from TSA’s Office of Intelligence
and Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). The SMEs review the previous analyst’s
notes and all accessible derogatory information associated with the nomination.
When SMEs determine that a change to the No Fly or Selectee status is warranted,
TSA coordinates the change with the FBI’s Terrorist Review and Examination Unit
and case agents for FBI investigative subjects, or with the NCTC for
nominations from other federal agencies.
Domestic terrorism nominations go through a similar process.
TSC domestic terrorism SMEs also review nominations for TSDB inclusion
eligibility and for appropriateness to export to various watch lists, including
the No Fly and Selectee lists. The SMEs coordinate with the Terrorist Review
and Examination Unit to resolve any issues with a nomination or its
watch-listing recommendation.
Other Watch Lists Derived From the Terrorist Screening
In addition to the No Fly and Selectee lists, the TSDB
exports daily to three other federal watch lists that are also used to conduct
terrorism screening. Although none of these databases has its own minimum
substantive derogatory criteria beyond the known or reasonably suspected
standard, each has minimum biographic criteria requirements and some have
additional restrictions.
The databases include: 1) U.S. Customs and Border
Protection’s TECS Database,

2) Department
of State’s Consular Lookout and Support System
|The Department
of State’s Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) is a name-checking
system used to screen visa applications for travel to the United States. A visa
allows a foreign national to travel to a U.S. port of entry to request
admittance into the country. Administered by the Visa Office within the
Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, CLASS is used by consular
officers abroad to screen the names of visa applicants against a number of
government watch lists, including an exported subset of the TSDB. Once a CLASS
name search identifies an individual, and that identity is verified, Department
of State consular officers make a determination of visa eligibility according
to federal law. 3) Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Violent Gang and Terrorist
Organization File
and one other
list: Additional Non-Federal Watch List Terrorist Screening Database

The OIG report provided one recommendation to TSA:

We recommend that the Assistant Secretary, Transportation
Security Administration:
Recommendation #1: Determine whether it is
appropriate to [REDACTED] to No Fly restrictions or additional screening prior
to boarding an aircraft.
TSA Response: TSA concurred in part with this
recommendation. In its response, TSA management said the nomination criteria
for each list produced from the TSDB are developed and approved by a
multiagency working group overseen by the Homeland Security Council. Each
individual nominated to a terrorist watch list must independently meet the
nomination criteria in order to be watch-listed. [REDACTED] would require an
amendment to the nomination criteria.

[REDACTED] on the No Fly and Selectee lists, TSA said the only apparent and
effective way to ensure that these individuals are restricted from boarding an aircraft
or undergo additional screening would be to add them to the No Fly or Selectee
list. TSA management said this would [REDACTED], and raises privacy and other
concerns. [REDACTED] listed on the No Fly or Selectee list meet the criteria
for nomination to either list, these individuals will be placed on the list.

TSA management responded further that it will need to
explore this issue with other interested agencies to determine whether [REDACTED]
on the No Fly and Selectee lists to these lists is a prudent step that would
enhance security. However, given the privacy and rights issues involved in this
recommendation, TSA management said that it is highly unlikely the lists would
be [REDACTED] in this manner.

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