Special Briefing
Background Briefing by Senior State Department Officials following release of Security Review conducted after the failed Christmas terrorist attack
Washington, DC
January 7, 2010


SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So as you know, the day after the visit by the father, the Embassy sent in two reports – well, there were two reports sent in by the Consular Section. One was the VISA VIPER, and I think you’ve had some background on the VISA VIPER program, what it is. And it is an effort to get all of the government working together, sending information in to be evaluated, as was required – actually, the VISA VIPER came after – in 1993 after the World Trade Center bombing. But it has been enhanced and been a major part of our getting information back to Washington.

So as soon as – on the 20th, that was sent in --

QUESTION: What was the second one?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The second one was a – it wasn’t a report, but it was the entry into the system of a possible – that the person was a terrorist into the CLASS system, the --

QUESTION: TIDES?

QUESTION: CLASS.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, CLASS – Consular Lookout and Support System. And that was --

QUESTION: Can you explain something? In that report – I think that’s the White House report there – it says that the father came in on the 18th. Is that wrong?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know. I mean, I would think --

QUESTION: Because we had always been told that it was the 19th and the cable was --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I always thought it was the 19th. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Well, that says the 18th, so I think it’s wrong. So you might want to tell --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I might --

QUESTION: The President.

QUESTION: -- your friends over there that they’re --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It’s – the White House report says the 18th?

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: All right.

QUESTION: You said 19th and then 20, the report goes to (inaudible).

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, that’s what I’ve always thought, but I --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Thanks, Matt.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- probably – so we’ll see what that is.

QUESTION: Could you redefine the CLASS acronym, please?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Consular Lookout and Support System.

QUESTION: And what date was that entry?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That was on the 20th.

QUESTION: On the 20th as well?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I think this has been previous talking points, right?

QUESTION: The other thing – are you – do you have more preliminary?

QUESTION: Just – what’s the consequence of the CLASS entry? I mean, is there --

QUESTION: Let him talk.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. CLASS entry --

QUESTION: What I’m trying to do. He’s --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- is – it goes into the system. It allows for anyone checking the record to see that this person is under consideration, may be a possible terrorist. So it goes into the system. Certainly, it wouldn’t prevent – it would cause a security advisor opinion if the person applied for a visa somewhere. Others who have access to that record would know that there had – that there was a preliminary, that people were looking at this person, and that any action taken beyond that would probably need to – then they have to follow up. It’s not conclusive. That’s why it has a P before it.

QUESTION: A P?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: P – it’s a P, 3B – possible, 3B being a terrorist in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, could you say that again? I couldn’t hear.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: P, 3B – 3B is a terrorist in the Immigration and Nationality Act. P just means it’s possible.

QUESTION: I never heard that.

QUESTION: Okay. Is there more that you want to start out with or is --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.

QUESTION: Okay.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No.

QUESTION: The one thing it says in the --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: The one thing that the report says about the State Department is that there was a misspelling of the name. Whose misspelling was that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay. There was --

QUESTION: Where?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Someone checked, and I’m not going to go into who, but some --

QUESTION: No, no, no. I’m asking which agency, not which specific person.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: State Department. State Department checked to see if the person had a visa. There was a dropped letter in that – there was a misspelling. They used a very – they checked the system. It didn’t come back positive. And so for a while, no one knew that this person had a visa.

QUESTION: Okay. Wait --

QUESTION: How long, when you say a while?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t know --

QUESTION: Where did this happen? Where are we now in the process? Is this where – in Nigeria?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’d rather leave it at the State Department.

QUESTION: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: No, we’re not saying who. We’re saying, like --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah – no, no, I know.

QUESTION: -- when was this? Because we’ve been told that a specific interagency discussion was made about this particular guy’s visa, and a decision was made not to pull it. So at some point, you must have learned that he had a visa and what – how did that process of learning that he had a visa happen after the misspelling? And how long did that take place?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t –I’ve not heard that.

QUESTION: You’ve never heard that? You’ve never heard that there was an interagency process with NCTC involved and that a determination was made --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, what – no, that – yeah, okay, I understand what you’re saying. What happens is you send in a VIPER, it goes into NCTC. NCTC decides what to nominate. That goes to the terror screening center, which then checks to see does a person have a visa, decides whether they’re going to nominate that, and that’s the time when it would be nominated, when it was promoted out.

QUESTION: Well, let me ask it this way –

QUESTION: So, wait, can I just finish my question? So I’m not – so when it went to NCTC, then they spelled it right and you realized that he had a visa?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.

QUESTION: So you’re just saying for like a week or so, or a couple of weeks?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No – I don’t know if anyone – I don’t think anyone – no one may have checked for a visa until Christmas Day.

QUESTION: Well, but this is the reason I think we’re asking.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: In the briefing that we got on the record from Ian on the 28th, he said specifically there was “insufficient evidence” to revoke his visa. That implies that somebody knew prior to the event that he had a visa –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, no, no, it doesn’t --

QUESTION: Otherwise, how can you determine somebody had insufficient – to revoke a visa?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, because that’s – because that is the whole part of the promotion out of the NCTC. In other words –

QUESTION: In order to decide to revoke one, you have to know somebody has one in the first place.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. No, you – because revoking would be because you found – to revoke a visa, you have to find that someone’s ineligible.

QUESTION: Yeah, but to revoke it, they have to know whether they have one.

QUESTION: To know that they have one.

QUESTION: They didn’t have something to revoke.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, because you can put – yes, to revoke it, you would, but the action is putting the person in as a terrorist.

QUESTION: Oh.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: In other words, instead of being a P3B, you’d put him in as a 3B. So –

QUESTION: Well, maybe I can ask it this way –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay.

QUESTION: – if you can just be specific on a couple dates.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: One, when did somebody first search? You said that the State Department misspelled the first time. When did that first happen?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The first – yeah.

QUESTION: And then when did somebody actually discover that he had a visa? Can we get those two –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes. The 20th[1] and the 25th of December.

QUESTION: Okay, can you just –

QUESTION: The 20th was (inaudible) --

QUESTION: Of November, or –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: December.

QUESTION: So for an entire month, no one knew --

QUESTION: Twentieth of November was the first search, and the 25th of December was when they actually discovered he had a visa. And that was discovered, I guess, because he was actually on the plane?

QUESTION: So the misspelling was on the 20th of November.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.

QUESTION: And then, just to double, triple clarify, you’re saying that there was never an interagency discussion about whether to pull this guy’s visa, which I think we’ve all been told that there was one.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was a discussion of whether this person should go into a category that would do that. And I don’t know if there was a discussion, but there was a decision made of whether this person should be promoted into a category that would be considered for other actions.

QUESTION: Not knowing that he even had a visa?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s correct.

QUESTION: And when was that?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know.

QUESTION: December? November?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know. I have no idea.

QUESTION: But presumably, it’s happening after the cable –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes.

QUESTION: – and the other report go in, then it kinds of churns through the system, and then at that point they’re making this determination, which is very different from what we were talking about – what we thought. They’re not deciding to pull the visa. They are simply categorizing this person as a potential terrorist, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right.

QUESTION: Okay, so that’s –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But it’s that categorization that would have triggered the --

QUESTION: Right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: -- action that didn’t take place.

QUESTION: Right.

QUESTION: And what would that categorization be, just to be clear?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hmm?

QUESTION: What would that categorization –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: 3-B. A terrorist.

QUESTION: The 3B --

QUESTION: Instead of P3B, it would have been 3B?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right.

QUESTION: And then he would have – and had gone in, he would have been rejected for a visa had he applied for one, or it would have been revoked?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It would have been – as soon as someone’s a 3B, they’re revoked. Their visa is revoked.

QUESTION: So it’s (inaudible), right?

QUESTION: What about his travel to Yemen? Was it on his passport or –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Nigerian passport?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know anything about it.

QUESTION: Do you think that the misspelling of the name and not finding the fact that he had a visa had anything to do with whether he would be classified a PB3 or a B3?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. Well, P3B was put in because there was a possibility, because he’s –

QUESTION: Right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- the interview. As far as being anything else, no, I don’t think there was – I don’t think the not knowing that he didn’t have a visa, not reporting that – and the report says that. It says: “A determination to revoke his visa, however, would have only occurred if there had been a successful integration of the intelligence by the CT community, resulting in his being watch-listed.” So --

QUESTION: So even if he was he was spelled – even if it was spelled right and you knew he had a visa, he still wouldn’t have been – it still wouldn’t have been revoked?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Is the “P” potential or possible, in bureaucratic language?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’d have to go to the FAM. I don’t know. It’s – I always – we say potential or possible.

QUESTION: The results of --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, I don’t know.

QUESTION: The result of that meeting was specifically not to make a P3B – the result of that meeting?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, again, I don’t know if it was a meeting. I don’t want to talk about what happens in --

QUESTION: Whatever sort of process occurred?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The decision-making process was to not move him on up the system.

QUESTION: Isn’t – actually, isn’t the visa issue kind of a bit of a red herring here, because –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s – exactly.

QUESTION: If he had made – if he had gotten onto the 3B list, it doesn’t matter if he had a visa or not; he wouldn’t have been able to get on the plane.

QUESTION: That’s right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that’s correct too, yes.

QUESTION: So it doesn’t really matter if he had a visa or not --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It doesn’t matter.

QUESTION: -- or if you knew that he had --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And we really – we believe that all along, is that the visa was – and that’s – from the very beginning, I think Ian was saying that – and we’ve changed that now, but we mentioned that we didn’t have that and – so I know a lot of you went through the FAM and it doesn’t say anything about does he have a visa. And the reason is because it’s only at this other section that you make this decision.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: And now could we just – just to close the circle on the spelling, this system doesn’t have a way of kind of pinging the different --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, it does and that’s why we sent out this cable is that there are – there is a normal engine. When I’m looking – someone says, can you check a visa of so-and-so and so-and-so and they give me good information, I look it up. And I know it’s there and I keep trying till I get it.

Now, we have a (inaudible) search, a Google – it’s not a Google, but that type of search – and that wasn’t used. And one of the things we did was we went, and we went out to everybody and all our people. Me – I went up there and used this new – I don’t know how new it is, but – you know how it is, you don’t use something until you need it. So I used it the other day, put in the name as it was spelled, and it came up fine. I got his visa application. So they just – they used the search engine that is for – when you know you’re going in to get something, you just need to pull up a record and you’ve got the right information, you put it in, you pull it out. That’s the one they used, and they didn’t do any others and --

QUESTION: So the search engine that they used wasn’t like one of those ones that checks for – like --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They didn’t.

QUESTION: -- do you mean so and so?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. No, no, no, it didn’t do any – if you got one data point wrong, it was wrong.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think, too, we need to make a point about – the misspelling did not last that full time from November --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- the 20th to December --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The 25th.

QUESTION: Oh, how was it --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was resolved within, what – less than two days, the spelling was --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Two days from when it was – the TIDE record was opened, the file was correct.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: So --

QUESTION: The TIDE record was opened on what day, December 20th or November 20th?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: November – well, and I don’t know if that’s out there and I don’t want to say it. But it was opened – within days, the TIDE record was opened, and within days of that, the TIDE record had the correct spelling.

QUESTION: Where was it misspelled? Was it the entry (inaudible) or was it misspelled when it was transcribed from the father and the cable itself was – I mean, I’m trying to get a sense of – when you say it was fixed, did somebody just realize, oh, I typed it in wrong? Or was it written wrong in all of the records that were entered into the system?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was another message with the correct --

QUESTION: Pardon?

QUESTION: I’m sorry?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There was another message which corrected the --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: When you open up a TIDE record, does it usually note whether the person has a visa? And because there was a misspelling, it wasn’t on that record?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know if I should speak about TIDE records. I don’t know. I mean, I – we probably have --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: TIDE records belong to another agency.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: So it was not a typo, basically, is what you’re saying? There was no typo when you entered it in. It was actually just written wrong on the sheet.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And then they came back and corrected it.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And then they came back and corrected it, yeah.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Right. Do you want to mention just before we go – sorry, guys – the three improvements that have been made to the cable – to the system?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Oh, yeah. Okay. Of course, we said now make sure you get it in there. And then we gave them tools to be sure that they could get to – they would check every possibility to make sure there’s no record of it. And we added the credibility of the source, which I think is already in the FAM, but we reemphasized that. And I think that was – was there another one?

QUESTION: Whether the guy has a visa or not?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, whether the guy has a visa, right, sure.

QUESTION: What was the second one?

QUESTION: Whether the other agency – other reporting --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, whether it’s other reporting.

QUESTION: -- expected or that will be sent on as a (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And more to come.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you.




[1] 20th of November



PRN: 2010/018