Senator Vitter’s Letter to Secretary of State

June 9, 2014

The Honorable John Kerry
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Kerry:
I am writing today to address several new concerns regarding the State Department’s delayed designation of Boko Haram and Ansaru as Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). While the State Department finally made this designation in December of 2013, it repeatedly stated in the years leading up to the designation that it did not have data available or the necessary understanding to make the determination. Recent evidence suggests Secretary Hillary Clinton and the State Department not only knew of the extent, but also deliberately attempted to obfuscate the issue in order to avoid having to make the designation of Boko Haram as a FTO, including downplaying the State Department’s own Country Reports on Terrorism (CRT).

Inaccuracies within official documents make it clear that the State Department misled Congress and the American people. Evidence[1] suggests that there was an internal decision by the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism to downplay official, legally required, intelligence data in order to purposefully avoid making the determination. Specifically, I am seeking answers to why the State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism ignored data[2] and misrepresented its legal requirements to Congress.

As part of its annual assessments on foreign country terrorism, the State Department is required to include statistical information supported by data. However, a review of the information from that time presents different facts. In its capacity as the U.S. government’s authoritative, central, and shared knowledge bank on international terrorism the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)[3] provided the State Department with the statistical information[4] necessary to determine that Boko Haram was engaged in terrorist activity. However, in completing the official annual CRT provided to Congress[5] the State Department chose not to include this information.

The Secretary of State is required to include within its CRT to Congress, “which acts of international terrorism occurred which were, in the opinion of the Secretary, of major significance.” [6] However, in multiple cases,[7] where the NCTC clearly labeled and claimed that Boko Haram was engaged in terrorist activity against foreign nations, Secretary Clinton’s office in their own report minimized the attacks and separated the issue from Boko Haram. The NCTC 2012 Annex of Statistical Information, stated that Africa “experienced 978 attacks in 2011, an 11.5 percent increase over 2010, and attributable that in large part to the more aggressive attack tempo of the Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram” (emphasis added).[8] This document adds further citations that Boko Haram conducted an attack against Western targets in “the largest terrorist attack in the country to date.”[9] However, the State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism’s report covering that same year (2011) only chose to include loose evidence stating, “[The] conflict in Nigeria continued throughout the northern part of the country with hundreds of casualties as indigenous terrorist attacks increased. The Nigerian extremist group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for some of these attacks.”[10] It appears that this variation in wording fails to meet the legal requirements[11] based on information it received, and inserts a higher degree of doubt about whether Boko Haram is directly engaged in terrorist activity. The modification clearly downplays “978 attacks” and ignores the NCTC labeling Boko Haram as a “terrorist group,” instead suggesting that there may be a loose connection.

These facts are troubling considering multiple official reports between 2010 and 2012,[12] including the Global Terrorism Database,[13] concluded that Boko Haram was improving their capability to coordinate on an operational level with Al-Qa`ida affiliates, including Al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabaab. In 2010, Boko Haram conducted multiple coordinated bombings; in 2011, Boko Haram detonated a car-bomb at United Nations headquarters in Abuja, killing 23 people and injuring 81 others; in January 2012, Boko Haram in a single day killed an estimated 185 people.[14] Additionally, the State Department’s own reports demonstrate that between 2009 and 2013, Boko Haram steadily increased in deadliness and its connectivity to terrorist organizations. According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, moving up from its 2012 designation of 4th “most active perpetrator groups of terrorist attacks in 2011,”[15] Boko Haram was ranked the third most lethal perpetrator group,[16] higher than Al-Shabaab and Al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula, based on their activity between 2009-2013, killing over 3666 people.[17]

During the years in question, the NCTC Annex of Statistical Information repeatedly referred to Boko Haram as “the Nigeria-based terrorist group.” Additional documents between 2010 and 2012 make multiple references to Boko Haram in conjunction to Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), as well as highlight increases in the group’s terrorist attacks. Meanwhile the CRT goes out of its way to downplay the effectiveness or lethality of the group. One such example is clearly visible following the attacks against the United Nations, which the NCTC labeled “the largest terrorist attack in the country to date.”[18] However, when the office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism discussed the time period in question in their report to Congress, it largely dismissed the events and the data claiming that, “No terrorist attacks occurred in the southern states of Nigeria. Nigerian-U.S. counterterrorism cooperation continued in 2011 …”[19]

The State Department continued to waffle on the designation by adding, “while not a formal al-Qa’ida affiliate, elements of the group known as Boko Haram launched widespread attacks across Nigeria, including one in August against the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, which signaled their ambition and capability to attack non-Nigerian targets.”[20] The State Department’s documents may have failed to explicitly label Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, in almost complete disregard of specific NCTC data, but my concern goes deeper to address the internal decision to manipulate words and mislead Congress.

This evidence suggests that the office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism may have intentionally exploited the statistical information provided to them by law in an attempt to neglect Boko Haram’s terrorist activity. Given the ample evidence available that shows that the State Department did indeed have access to and an understanding of Boko Haram as a terrorist organization in 2011 and 2012, including information within in their annex’s, and State Department’s designation of certain members of Boko Haram as Specially Designated Global Terrorists[21]. I am requesting that you answer the following with clear detail.

1. Could you please provide a reasonable explanation of how the “largest terrorist attack in the country to date,” according to the NCTC, does not qualify as a terrorist attack to the State Department? Why did the State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism office deliberately obscure the context of material to change the meaning of the information?
2. Why did Secretary Clinton and the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism decide in 2011 and 2012 not to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization, despite having the legally required data and information reports stating multiple times that the group was engaged in terrorist related activity? Why was this aspect kept from Congress in the State Department official report to Congress?
3. Please provide evidence documenting how the State Department was lacking in understanding regarding Boko Haram between 2011 and 2012.
4. Why does the data reflected in the State Department‘s annual assessment not match or adequately reflect the information as presented in the annual NCTC CRT and Annex of Statistical Information? Specifically, please address why the term “terrorist” was removed from the formal assessment when directly referring to the acts.
5. Does the State Department agree with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism and the NCTC assessment that between 2010 and 2013, Boko Haram’s alliances with al-Qa’ida–linked groups have strengthened? Would the State Department agree with the assessment that Boko Haram’s ability to conduct violent jihad has improved in the timeframe in question, including the targeting of areas and activity beyond the borders of Nigeria?
6. Within a year of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism being replaced, Boko Haram was designated onto the FTO list. Please provide written reasons behind the resignation of vice Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, who resigned as State Department, Coordinator for Counterterrorism in January 2013.
7. What role did the Global Counterterrorism Forum play in the State Department’s decision to not designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization?
8. Evidence presented to the State Department for their official reports highlights the formal view that Boko Haram was clearly an active terrorist group. Why was the designation not officially made following this information? Was there official internal guidance issued regarding the designation of Boko Haram?
9. According to official records there is no difference between the NCTC 22 U.S.C. § 2656f(d) definition of the “terrorism” and the State Department definition of “terrorism.” In fact, as stated on the CRT[22], “For the purposes of this report, the term “international terrorism,” “terrorism,” and “terrorist group” have the definitions assigned to them in 22 U.S.C. § 2656f(d).” Moreover, the State Department’s FTO list of legal criteria for designation specifically labels, “22 U.S.C. § 2656f(d)(2),** or retain the capability and intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism” as its primary criteria. Please address why a different version of the law appears to have been used by Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Benjamin?

I respectfully request that you address this issue immediately and provide me with written response before July 10, 2014. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


David Vitter
United States Senate