Boko Haram has wreaked havoc in Nigeria and portions of surrounding nations since 2009, when the Nigerian government tried to crack down on their arms-gathering operations. The group of Islamist terrorists had been known for much of that time to have ties to al-Qaeda, both ideological and tactical. Hundreds, perhaps thousands died in terrorist attacks from 2009 to 2013, many of them targeted for their Christianity. And yet, not until November 2013 did the US finally list Boko Haram as a terrorist group.
Why? We should ask Hillary Clinton. Josh Rogin at The Daily Beast reported last night that the State Department was asked repeatedly during her tenure as Secretary of State to add it to their list of terrorist organizations — but refused to do so:
On Wednesday, Clinton said that the abduction of the girls by Boko Haram was “abominable, it’s criminal, it’s an act of terrorism and it really merits the fullest response possible, first and foremost from the government of Nigeria.” Clinton said that as Secretary of State she had numerous meetings with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and had urged the Nigerian government to do more on counterterrorism.
What Clinton didn’t mention was that her own State Department refused to place Boko Haram on the list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2011, after the group bombed the UN headquarters in Abuja. The refusal came despite the urging of the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and over a dozen Senators and Congressmen.
“The one thing she could have done, the one tool she had at her disposal, she didn’t use. And nobody can say she wasn’t urged to do it. It’s gross hypocrisy,” said a former senior U.S. official who was involved in the debate. “The FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department really wanted Boko Haram designated, they wanted the authorities that would provide to go after them, and they voiced that repeatedly to elected officials.”
In May 2012, then-Justice Department official Lisa Monaco (now at the White House) wrote to the State Department to urge Clinton to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. The following month, Gen. Carter Ham, the chief of U.S. Africa Command, said that Boko Haram provided a “safe haven” for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and was likely sharing explosives and funds with the group. And yet, Hillary Clinton’s State Department still declined to place Boko Haram on its official terrorist roster.
Rogin takes care to report this as taking place during Clinton’s tenure, not ordered by Clinton herself. However, it’s difficult to imagine a lower-ranking official at State brushing off demands from the commander of AFRICOM, as well as the CIA and the FBI. The DoJ letter went directly to Clinton, not to a mid-level staffer. Early last year, before Hillary retired, Senate Republicans tried to force State to designate Boko Haram through legislation — efforts that State lobbied against, as Rogin reports. Rogin’s caution aside, it’s clear that the responsibility for this failure rests directly with Hillary Clinton, if not the decision itself.
To quote the Secretary herself, what difference at this point would it have made? Rep. Peter Meehan, who joined other members of Congress in writing “letter after letter” to State since 2011 demanding action on Boko Haram, explains to Rogin that it might be a lot easier to “bring back our girls,” as Hillary Clinton has begun posturing over the last week:
“We lost two years of increased scrutiny. The kind of support that is taking place now would have been in place two years ago,” he said. The designation would have “enhanced the capacity of our agencies to do the work that was necessary. We were very frustrated, it was a long delay.”
So, why did State refuse to act? This sounds … familiar:
“At the time, the sentiment that was expressed by the administration was this was a local grievance and therefore not a threat to the United States or its interests,” he said. “They were saying al Qaeda was on the run and our argument was contrary to that. It has metastasized and it is actually in many ways a growing threat and this is a stark example of that.”
It’s true that not every local grievance requires a State Department designation, but Boko Haram allied itself with al-Qaeda and provided it tactical support, at least. That should have prompted State to act, especially with the consensus within the national-security communities demanding it — repeatedly. Instead, Hillary Clinton refused to act in order to keep up a pretense that “al-Qaeda was on the run.”
Now Hillary wants to fight Boko Haram with hashtags. Too bad she didn’t fight them with real resources when she had the chance.