The Cable

State Department official: Visas Viper cable "just the tip of the iceberg"

The State Department's official cable about underwear-bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab wasn't the only report to come out of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria as part of the Visas Viper process, a State Department official tells The Cable.

As reported earlier today, the alert sent by the embassy to the National Counterterrorism Center and other agencies on Nov. 20 contained only sparse information about the meeting between embassy officials and his father, a prominent Nigerian businessman. That reporting fell short of the regulations for Visas Viper cables, failing to add detailed information about the father's background and credibility.

But the additional qualitative information was included in several reports sent that same day and in succeeding days by the embassy in separate and previously unreported classified communications to the NCTC, from other embassy personnel not from employed by the State Department, the official said.

"The unclassified Visas Viper cable is just the tip of the iceberg in a much more extensive set of reports that came from the post," the official said.

At least one of those additional reports was from the CIA, the official said, and others might have been from the FBI representative on post or other intelligence organizations.

President Obama commented on previous reports that Abdulmutallab's father had several contacts with the CIA that were not disseminated through the intel community. What's new here is that the State Department official is claiming at least some of these were submitted directly to the NCTC "as part of the Visas Vipers process."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed the information to The Cable and defended the official Visas Viper report as being only one part of the embassy's effort to pass on the information they had about Abdulmutallab.

"The people in Nigeria said that this was as much of the information they felt comfortable providing in an unclassified cable," said Crowley. "The rest of the information was submitted as part of the VISA Vipers process, but by other means."'

UPDATE: A reader writes in: "There is no FBI representative at Embassy Abuja.  The Legal Attache for Nigeria operates out of the Consulate in Lagos. " So we're left with the CIA and other as yet unnamed agencies as those who submitted the "classified" parts of the Viper cable.

The Cable

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 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.