The Cable

State Department granted New York terror plotter a student visa

Last December, the State Department issued a student visa to the Bangladeshi man arrested this week for trying to blow up the Federal Reserve building with what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb, the State Department confirmed today.

Twenty-one-year-old Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, who was arrested Wednesday as part of an FBI sting operation, was reportedly in contact with al Qaeda before he entered the United States in January to attend Southeast Missouri State University, where he was studying cyber security. But the State Department's system to check visa applicants didn't find any reason to deny him entry, and the department issued his visa.

"The suspect did have a student visa to attend a legitimate academic program in the United States, for which he was qualified," State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said today. "Visa decisions are made in accordance with applicable law and department regulations. Each case is looked at on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all of the information contained in U.S. government databases and in consultation with other government agencies."

The State Department has its own database for vetting visa applications, called the Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS), which keeps a list of those foreigners who should not be granted a visa. There are 39 million records in that system but Nafis wasn't one of them, Nuland said.

The State Department's visa vetting program last came into question after the failed terror plot in December 2009 by "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. In that case, the plotter's father had warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son was dangerous. In this case, the plotter's father has said he can't believe his son was an aspiring terrorist.

After Nafis entered the United States, the responsibility of monitoring his visa compliance was transferred to the Department of Homeland Security, a State Department official said.

"Students are tracked in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, an Internet-based system operated by the Department of Homeland Security," the official said.

In fiscal year 2011, the State Department issued 476,000 type "F" student visas worldwide, 1,136 of them for Bangladeshis.

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The Cable

45 foreign ambassadors headed to… Arkansas

Next week, while tens of millions of Americans will watching the last presidential debate, dozens of foreign ambassadors and their spouses will be on a State Department-sponsored trip ... to Arkansas.

The State Department's Protocol Chief Capricia Penavic Marshall will be leading the excursion, only the latest of a series of trips where the State Department brings ambassadors to soak in the ambiance of different parts of the country. For three days, as part of its Experience America program, the State Department will take the ambassadors all over Arkansas to meet with local political leaders in Little Rock, Fayetteville, and Bentonville and explore the state's historical and cultural landmarks.

"In bringing these distinguished diplomats to ‘The Natural State,' the Office of the Chief of Protocol seeks to strengthen America's relationships with countries around the world by planting the seeds for new international partnerships and providing our visitors with a deeper understanding of our nation's people and heritage," the State Department said in announcing the excursion today.

On Oct. 21, the diplomatic couples will dine at the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock.  On Oct. 22, the ambassadors will attend a discussion with business leaders and Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe at the Little Rock Club.

They will also meet with members of the Little Rock Nine, the nine African American students who were enrolled to attend Little Rock Central High School in the 1950s but were prevented from attending from then Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had to intervene to make sure they could attend the school, and the crisis led to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which mandated the end of racial segregation in public education.

On Oct. 23, the ambassadors tour the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville facilities, and that night they will explore the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

The mission of the program is "to foster international goodwill and cultivate the relationship between the Diplomatic Corps and the people and institutions of the United States through an exchange of ideas, cultures, and traditions," the State Department said. This will be the seventh trip since the program started in 2007.

A State Department official told The Cable that the ambassadors already signed up include the envoys from Germany, the Philippines, Egypt, Panama, and Tanzania. Many in the diplomatic corps have been wanting to see Arkansas for a long time, the official said.

The ambassadors cover their own transportation and lodging costs, and almost all of the programming is paid for by the host cities or the partner organizations, so U.S. taxpayers don't have to foot the bill, the official noted.