The Cable

Swedish diplomat offered top U.N. post in Afghanistan

Swedish diplomat Staffan di Mistura has been offered the job as the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, replacing the recently departed Kai Eide, according to Richard Holbrooke.

Holbrooke, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told The Cable in a brief interview Friday that di Mistura had called him to consult with him as he considers the offer.

"I had a very good talk with him, quite a long talk, we went over every aspect of the relationship," Holbrooke said. "He wanted to discuss how he could relate to us ... I assured him that the U.S. government and the U.S. Embassy look forward to working with him [if he takes the job]."

Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the United Nations, said that no official appointment had been made and that until there was an announcement, nothing was certain.

But Holbrooke seemed confident that di Mistura would soon be named to the post, and said he is "very pleased" with the selection. "Di Mistura has the unanimous support of the U.S. government," said Holbrooke.

From 2007 to 2009, di Mistura was the U.N.'s special representative in Iraq. He left Iraq last July to become deputy executive director of the World Food Programme.

Holbrooke said that during his time in Iraq, di Mistura earned the respect of leading U.S. national security officials including National Security Advisor Jim Jones and Central Command head Gen. David Petraeus. Di Mistura also has experience working with Karl Eikenberry, the current U.S. ambassador in Kabul, Holbrooke remembered.

Di Mistura has served in Afghanistan before, as the director of fundraising and external relations for the U.N.'s office in Afghanistan from 1988 to 1991. He has also worked for the organization in Sudan, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Sarajevo, and several other places, in addition to Iraq. (Interestingly, one of Di Misura's deputies in Iraq was Siddharth Chatterjee, who happens to be U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's son-in-law.)

Di Mistura would face close scrutiny of his ability to work with both U.S. officials in Kabul and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Eide, who was seen as too close to Karzai, left the post after a bitter feud with his former deputy, American diplomat Peter Galbraith. Galbraith was fired at Eide's behest and subsequently accused Eide publicly of ignoring widespread election fraud perpetrated by Karzai.

The New York Times noted in an editorial last week that Ban was also considering Jean-Marie Guéhenno of France and Ian Martin of Britain for the Kabul mission.

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

More on misspelling the underwear bomber’s name

Transliterations of names from languages with non-Roman alphabets being somewhat subjective, there's no firm rule for how a foreign surname should or shouldn't be written out in English. So it's somewhat unfair to be a Monday-morning quarterback when looking at the State Department's handling of the information for underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

But in Washington, fair is a four-letter word, and the State Department is scrambling to explain why the president's just-released review of the Christmas day incident calls out State for failing to realize that the 23-year old Nigerian had a visa to travel to the United States when the department reported its suspicions of him to the National Counterterrorism Center using the "Visas Viper" process.

State called an impromptu press briefing late Thursday evening to address the issue. The tone of the briefing was combative, as reporters pressed the "senior administration official" for details about the misspelling that he seemed not to want to give up. But here's what we learned.

Someone (they won't say who) at the State Department (presumably at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria) did check to see if Abdulmutallab had a visa (they won't say exactly when). That person was working off the Visas Viper cable originally sent from the embassy to the NCTC, which had the name wrong.

"There was a dropped letter in that -- there was a misspelling," the official said. "They checked the system. It didn't come back positive. And so for a while, no one knew that this person had a visa." (They won't say for how long)

Abdulmutallab's father came into the embassy on Nov. 18 or 19 and the embassy sent the Visas Viper cable on Nov. 20. So when did this checking for the visa happen?

"No one may have checked for a visa until Christmas Day," the official admitted.

Of course, had the visa been discovered earlier, that still wouldn't have stopped the attack because the evidentiary standards for pulling visas were too high. "To revoke a visa, you have to find that someone's ineligible," the official explained.

So the State Department and the intelligence community had the wrong spelling of the underwear bomber's name for more than a month, which would have been a problem in finding out he had a visa, had anybody decided it was worth it to check.

Everybody got that?

As the Danger Room blog points out, another way to solve this problem would be if the State Department or intelligence community had discovered the magic of Google.