U.S. Embassy in Nigeria Had ‘Major Problems,’ State Department Inspection Found

By Matt Cover | January 6, 2010 | 6:38 PM EST

Nigeria in red (Wikipedia Commons)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, and the consulate in Lagos faced major problems, according to the most recent State Department inspection conducted in 2002. The report also found that the consulate in Lagos was “in serious trouble” due to chronic staff shortages.
The Nigerian Embassy has garnered public scrutiny recently because it was there that the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, known as the Underwear Bomber, informed the State Department that his son had become an al Qaeda terrorist.
The inspection of the embassy, conducted by the Office of the Inspector General, is the State Department’s most recent review of its Nigerian mission. The report’s findings mirrored inspections conducted in 1993 and 1997.  
“The major problem for the U.S. mission to Nigeria is staffing shortfalls in Abuja and Lagos, particularly the inability to fill midlevel positions,” the report found. “The same key judgment was cited in the Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) last two inspection reports, issued in 1993 and 1997.”
The embassy was relying primarily on junior staff, State Department retirees on temporary assignment, and contract employees to fill “key positions. The report found that the lack of key staff hampered any and all “substantial progress” at the embassy, preventing it from making improvements in any of its functions.
“There can be no substantial progress on other vital issues as long as the mission has to contend with long staffing gaps and must rely on junior officers, temporary duty (TDY) retirees, Civil Service employees on excursion tours, and contract employees to fill key positions,” the 2002 report stated.
The report also found that the two offices did not get along with one another, creating a schism between the main embassy in Abuja and the consulate in Lagos where the various U.S. law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI and the Secret Service, all maintain an office.
“Lack of mission structure and clear lines of authority have created confusion and allowed antagonisms between Embassy Abuja and Consulate General Lagos to fester,” the report stated. “This situation contributes significantly to inefficient operations, weaknesses in management controls, misunderstandings, frustration, and low morale.”
These staffing shortages trickled down to the embassy’s fraud prevention programs, which are tasked with identifying and preventing visa fraud. Because of a lack of personnel, the fraud prevention portfolio was not being given the attention it deserved, according to the report.
“Because of the chronic shortage of American consular officers in Lagos, the section’s fraud prevention manager (FPM) portfolio was assigned to the deputy chief of section,” the report said.
“This officer’s already busy schedule prevents her from managing the day-to-day antifraud work in the consular section and ensuring that all visa or passport fraud is handled appropriately; i.e., dealt with by the case officer or referred upstairs for formal investigation. Because of the high incidence of visa fraud, the section’s FPM work at Lagos is a full-time job,” it added.
The embassy’s burgeoning growth rate – fueled mainly by the addition of other government agencies to the mission – was described as “crushing” its ability to carry out its mission.
As the report states: “Growth has been explosive and chaotic; administrative personnel often learn of new arrivals from various elements of the mission requesting space, housing, equipment, and furniture in an ad hoc manner. Increases during the inspection itself illuminate the crushing character of the problem.”
Concerning the information provided to the embassy by the father of the “Underwear Bomber,” State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said the staff in Abuja handled the intelligence correctly.
“So we sent in what’s called a VISAS VIPER cable,” Kelly told reporters on Dec. 28. “This is a system that was set up after November – September 11, 2001, and under this system, when we receive information that could cause the – cause us concern, we send it in to the counterterrorism community for their review.”
“And the information in this VISAS VIPER cable was insufficient for this interagency review process to make a determination that this individual’s visa should be revoked,” said Kelly.
However, Visas Viper cables are designed, according to State Department regulations, to ensure that information on suspected terrorists like Abdulmutallab makes it onto the government’s terrorism watch-lists.
“The Secretary of State shall require a terrorist lookout committee to be maintained within each United States mission to a foreign country,” the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual states.
It further states: “PURPOSE- The purpose of each committee established under subsection (a) shall be -- (1) to utilize the cooperative resources of all elements of the United States mission in the country in which the consular post is located to identify known or potential terrorists and to develop information on those individuals; (2) to ensure that such information is routinely and consistently brought to the attention of appropriate United States officials for use in administering the immigration laws of the United States; and (3) to ensure that the names of known and suspected terrorists are entered into the appropriate lookout databases.”
The Visas Viper system, in coordination with the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), is part of the State Department’s process designed to revoke visas issued to people who were later found to be terrorists.
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice Jacobs explained the process to the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Dec. 9, a mere two weeks before Abdulmutallab’s attack.
“The CLASS [Consular Lookout and Support System] name check system, which is updated daily, includes information from the Department of State, FBI, DHS, and intelligence from other agencies,” the Foreign Affairs Manual stated.
“Also included in CLASS is derogatory information regarding known or suspected terrorists (KSTs) from the Terrorist Screening Database, which is maintained by the TSC [Terrorist Screening Center] and contains the names of terrorists nominated by all USG sources,” it added.
“Possible matches are reviewed by USG agencies in Washington, D.C., prior to any visa being issued,” says the manual. “Under a complementary program, new name entries in the Terrorist Screening Database are checked against records of previously issued valid visas, enabling us to revoke visas issued to KSTs.”
State Department Inspector General Spokesman Tom Burgess told CNSNews.com that the 2002 inspection was the most recent report on the Nigerian mission released to the public. A new inspection report, which is still under review, should be released in the coming weeks, he said.
Burgess declined to comment on whether the issues identified in the 2002 inspection had been addressed.