The Cable

Report: Nigeria in danger of becoming extremist haven

As the United States widens its understanding of the terrorism threat to include countries like Yemen and Somalia, its neighbor across the Gulf of Aden, the State Department inspector general's office is warning about another potential breeding ground for insurgents: Nigeria.

Of course, the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hailed from there, but his case is seen as an aberration because he grew up in the most advantageous of circumstances. But according to a new report made public Monday, Nigeria is at risk of becoming the same type of breeding ground for violent extremism that America is now battling in so many other places around the globe.

"Government neglect is provoking disaffection that, if left unchecked, could lead to the growth of insurgency or even terrorism," the report states. "Increased desertification in the North and a growing population mean increased competition for already scant land and water resources. In the South, where unemployment among youths is widespread, vandalism against infrastructure such as pipelines is almost a way of life. Newly armed groups of youths readily join in the sabotage activities and kidnappings, upping the stakes for control of the energy resources of this area. Nigeria is also haunted by ethnic and political conflicts that have erupted in violence on multiple occasions in recent years. Despite all these issues, Nigeria is crucial as a U.S. partner and regional leader."

The U.S. mission in Nigeria faces severe problems, the report also notes. Despite being funded to the tune of half a billion dollars, it doesn't have the budget to meet program requirements, the housing for State Department staff in Nigeria is dilapidated, and there is a lot of trouble staffing up the diplomatic mission there properly, the IG found.

Now, not all Foreign Service assignments are created equal. So it may come as no surprise that the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria is not considered a plush posting, and morale there, especially in the consular section, is a challenge.

The result is that both in the embassy in Abuja (where the underwear bomber's father visited) and the consulate in Lagos are staffed with relatively junior personnel who aren't working in their specialties they were trained for.

"Despite a robust package of incentives, staffing Lagos and Abuja is hard, with many officers in stretch assignments, working out-of-cone, on excursion tours, or on directed first assignments. These staffing woes, an operating budget that lags behind program funding, and aging facilities in Lagos reduce the efficiency of diplomatic operations," the report states.

To add to the challenge, the task of issuing visas in Nigeria is also unique. Anyone who has opened an email from a purported Nigerian businessman seeking help with a bank deposit understands.

As the report puts it,

"Sophisticated patterns of fraud have an impact on protecting visa and passport integrity."

UPDATE: Several readers write in to point out that another problem is the fact that Nigeria's president Umaru Yar’Adua has been missing for over six weeks!

The Cable

Briefing Skipper: Clinton, Mitchell, Abdulmutallab, Blackwater, North Korea

In which we scour the transcript of the State Department's daily presser so you don't have to. Here are the highlights of Friday's briefing by spokesman P.J. Crowley:

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh Friday morning and had lunch with Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit and Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Mahmoud Suleiman, ahead of Saturday's NSC meeting on middle east strategy. Clinton heads to Hawaii today and then Australia, Papua New Guinea, and New Zealand.
  • Special Envoy George Mitchell is headed to Europe and then to the Middle East. The problems between the Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas are a problem for the negotiations but their resolution is not the primary issues, according to Crowley. "We recognize the value of a unity government, but we want to see a negotiation begin as soon as possible. So is a unity government a prerequisite to the start of negotiations? It is not."
  • The State Department is sticking to its story that the misspelled name of underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was not the reason he was able to slip past all U.S. Checks before boarding his infamous Christmas day flight to Detroit. Yes, the initial search for his visa came up empty because of the misspelling, but the error was corrected in "a couple of days" so no harm done? "We don't think, in this particular case, it had a specific impact on, you know, judgments that were made, you know, after the error was discovered," Crowley said, "It does not appear, as the White House report said [Thursday], that this affected the risk assessment itself."
  • The State Department is warning the case is not closed for the Blackwater guards accused of murder in the Nusoor Square massacre, but won't say exactly what the next step is. A federal judge dropped the criminal charges last month. "The decision of the judge does not exonerate the defendants or necessarily terminate the proceedings," Crowley said, "The Department of Justice, in consultation with the State Department, will carefully review the judge's decision and assess all available legal options."
  • Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Robert King leaves today for South Korea, where he will stay until Thursday before visiting Japan on Friday. He's scheduled to meet with officials, North Korean defectors, families of Japanese abductees, and non-governmental organizations. "His role is different than the six- party process," Crowley emphasized.