Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Blowing Smoke Up My Asp

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, maybe my friend Carl Bergman, an informed and insightful political observer, will blush that I have stolen an idea he posted on his blog, including comments I could not resist making. Carl quotes U.S. Department of State briefing officer Ian Kelly blowing smoke up every available orifice of Foggy Bottom press corps members inquiring about how underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab slipped through the cracks of watch lists, visa requirements, and alarms sounded by his own father, then boarded a flight that was ready to land in Detroit when the would-be terrorist tried to light his own fuse. Exactly what the State Department’s Visa Viper program is designed to prevent.

QUESTION: What does VISAS VIPER mean? Is that some slick acronym?
MR. KELLY: Yeah. Well, it’s not an acronym, no. It’s – I remember when I was in Moscow, they – it’s just a – it’s a tradition in the State Department. I was in Moscow and I was the educational exchanges officer, and I would get cables that were – the subject line was “Visas Donkey Chipmunk,” and it had to do with Soviets applying for exchange visas.
MR. KELLY: It’s just a category.
QUESTION: So what’s viper mean?
MR. KELLY: It doesn’t mean anything.

As a former State Department employee myself, I can not resist offering a guiding light to a lost brother.

The Visa Viper program is a State Department initiative created after the World Trade Center Bombing in 1993, when the State Department realized that hundreds of cables discussing terrorists had been initiated, but did not necessarily direct an individual to be watch listed. As a result, the Visa Viper program required Consular Affairs posts and other participating agencies to coordinate the submission of cables providing this specific direction on known or suspected terrorists. The program is congressionally mandated, and reports on program activities must be submitted to Congress on a monthly basis.

From the State Department's own Foreign Affairs Manuals:

(CT:VISA-1214; 05-06-2009)
Section 304 of the Enhanced Security and Visa Entry, Public Law.
107-173 (8 U.S.C. 1733).
(a) ESTABLISHMENT- The Secretary of State shall require a terrorist lookout committee to be maintained within each United States mission to a foreign country.
(b) 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.
(c) COMPOSITION; CHAIR- The Secretary shall establish rules governing the composition of such committees.
(d) MEETINGS- Each committee established under subsection (a) shall meet at least monthly to share information pertaining to the committee's purpose as described in subsection (b)(2).
(e) PERIODIC REPORTS TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE- Each committee established under subsection (a) shall submit monthly reports to the Secretary of State describing the committee’s activities, whether or not information on known or suspected terrorists was developed during the month.
(f) REPORTS TO CONGRESS- The Secretary of State shall submit a report on a quarterly basis to the appropriate committees of Congress on the status of the committees established under subsection (a).
(g) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS- There are authorized to be
appropriated such sums as may be necessary to implement this section.

Personally I do not believe the Underwear Bomber failed to get the attention of the system. Notwithstanding tough talkers like Dick Cheney, I believe the system will not embolden itself to the point of preventing an airline from earning a paid fare.


Carl said...


The fee for each additional use of my blog has doubled.

Thanks for the credit and the accolade.


Yvonne said...

I don't know what the answer is. I personally dread flying since 9/11 not so much out of fear, but because of the security process--needed though it is.

Love your headline.

Tina said...

Modernity -- too much information and not enough people assessing it and acting on it.


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