State Department Dismissed Boko Haram Concerns In 2012

Pressed by dozens of lawmakers from both parties in 2012 to put greater focus on growing violence by Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group that recently kidnapped 200 teenage girls in Nigeria, the State Department sent something akin to a form letter in reply.

The Oct. 12, 2012 letter from the State Department to the congressional officials downplayed the religious motivations of the group's violence. "Similar to the United States, Nigeria’s religious diversity is a source of strength, with communities working across religious lines to protect one another," the letter, obtained by Breitbart News, said.

The State Department's 2012 response to congressional pressure has emerged as a controversy after the kidnapping incident, which raised the profile of the loosely-banded, violent group. The response occurred during Hillary Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State.

After years of resisting, the State Department designated Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) in November 2013.

Republican lawmakers and aides said that their private conversations with State Department officials were even more dismissive than the letter itself. H.R. 5822, The Boko Haram terrorist designation act, was legislation introduced by House members on May 17, 2012 but the bill died in Committee seven days later. A similar bill in the upper chamber met the same fate in Committee on the same day. 

“[State Department officials] would say, ‘What you’re doing is counter-productive here. It’s hurting our relationship with the Nigerian government. What you’re saying is not true,’” recalled a GOP aide who participated in the meetings.

The staffer continued, “’Boko Haram, right now,’ they were saying, ‘doesn’t have a clear enough hierarchy within the organization to have it be listed as an FTO[Foreign Terrorist Organization]. Their attacks weren’t wide-spread enough.’ The other argument that they gave was, ‘Oh these attacks aren’t really religiously motivated.’”

Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks slammed Clinton for her response at the time to his calls that State declare Boko Haram an FTO.

"Hillary Clinton’s State Department was excruciatingly slow to respond to any congressional calls for Boko Haram to be placed on the FTO list.  In fact, Secretary Clinton was counterproductive to any initiative to place Boko Haram on this list and actively worked against our efforts within the U.S. Congress to combat the religiously-motivated violence perpetuated by Boko Haram,” Franks said.

The State Department letter came in response to a letter from 28 representatives of both parties.

The July 26, 2012 letter to Clinton, which was signed by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Rep. Mike Capuano (D-MA), Franks, and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), along with 24 other House members.

“We acknowledge that the goals of Boko Haram are wide-raning and its seemingly loose and decentralized structure can make it difficult to discern specific, organization-wide goals. But we must also acknowledge that there are those within Boko Haram who seek to create an Islamic state in Nigeria,” the letter said.

Over two months later, David S. Adams, the State Department's assistant secretary for legislative affairs, responded with the letter insisting religion was not the true root of violence in Nigeria.

“The religious tension, while real, should not be mistaken  as the primary source of violence in Nigeria,” Adams wrote.

Facing new scrutiny for the 2012 delays in ratcheting up pressure on the group, Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs recently defended State’s decision to not name Boko Haram a terrorist organization last Wednesday in a phone call with reporters, The Daily Beast reported.

“There was a concern that putting Boko Haram on the foreign terrorist list would in fact raise its profile, give it greater publicity, give it greater credibility, help in its recruitment, and also probably drive more assistance in its direction,” he said.The letter to lawmakers does not include anything along those lines.

State Department spokesman Jen Psaki defended the Department’s actions under Clinton telling reporters on Wednesday:

Well, let me first say we designated three Boko Haram leaders, related individuals, back in June of 2012, so under Secretary Clinton. Designating groups or leaders is one key tool in our toolbox, but it’s not the only one. And I would point you to President Obama’s speech he gave almost exactly a year ago where he talked about the need for a holistic approach to countering terrorism. That’s what we’re pursuing, what we’ve been pursuing with the Nigerians and international partners. We’ve been working to counter Boko Haram for many, many years. And designating is one tool, but certainly, we’ve been long – we have long been working on this effort before the designation last November.


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