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Finger-pointing between State, NCTC

From NBC's Chuck Todd
State Dept. spokesperson Ian Kelly was hammered in an on-the-record briefing Monday on the issue of the 2008 visa the government issued to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man charged with trying to blow up a Northwest airplane on Christmas Day. At points during the briefing, Kelly seemed so determined to protect the State Department's role in this that he may also have set off a government agency finger-pointing game.

Kelly said while the State Department had the authority to revoke a visa, it was not the department's responsibility. Kelly said when it comes to revoking visas, it's a question for the Nat'l Counter-terrorism Center (NCTC) and then they determined there was "insufficient evidence" to revoke the visa, despite the cable from the U.S. embassy in Nigeria sent to the State Dept. and NCTC on November 20, 2009.

Kelly would not elaborate on how it was determined that there was "insufficient evidence," saying it was a question for NCTC. When pressed, Kelly wouldn't say whether the State Department cable to the NCTC included the relevant information tat Abdulmutallab had a visa. Here's the exact Q&A on THIS topic:

QUESTION: Ian, did the State Department know when it sent the cable on the 20th, or subsequently before the 25th, that the individual had a U.S. visa?

MR. KELLY: Once he had the visa, once he got the visa in June of 2008, it goes into a system, a database that the counterterrorism community has access to and every consular officer here at the State Department and overseas has access to. The visa - the VISAS VIPER cable, it doesn't require the embassy to report that the person has a visa. It requires them to report on the person's name, date of birth, place of birth. If they have other information like passport information, they report that as well.

So while not DIRECTLY answering the question about whether the cable from Nigeria had the relevant visa information, it certainly sounds as if the cable did NOT include that information. Kelly, not surprisingly, was pressed on this issue. This is where Kelly seemed to attempt to point the finger at NCTC: "But everybody has access to this database, or everybody who wanted to check could see that this individual had a visa."

Kelly, later in the briefing, indicated that the State Dept. would likely change its procedure when it comes to reporting out visa information.

"Clearly, we need to review all of our procedures, and that's what the President has ordered the interagency community to do. And Secretary Clinton is also going to ask the State Department, primarily our consular division, to review all of our processes. We did what we were supposed to do under this Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. But as you know, the President has ordered a complete view, and we'll have to see what comes out of that. One of the issues we have to deal with is that we get thousands of pieces of information that are not always completely accurate. I mean, you have a lot of - what do you call them, poison pen messages, of people trying to pass on derogatory information. So, I mean, we have to be careful about when we put somebody on a watch list."

As for whether NCTC knew before the Christmas Day attempted terrorist attack whether Abdulmutallab had a valid U.S. visa, intelligence sources hinted to NBC News that they did NOT know this information. Pressed about whether it is standard procedure to cross-check active visas with foreign nationals entered into the terrorist database, a source in the intelligence community in a position to know the answer ducked the question.

Bottom line: when Abdulmutallab's name was entered into the terrorist database, either the entry did NOT include the fact that he had an active U.S. visa or it was determined that despite the warnings from Abdulmutallab's father, it was determined that his visa should not only be revoked but that he didn't deserve inclusion on the secondary screening or no-fly list.