US to review hasty inclusion of Nigeria to terror watch list

January 23rd, 2009

Guardian- WITH the intensity of criticisms within the US government circles and outside, the Americans may soon review the inclusion of Nigeria on its terror watch list of countries of interest, according to a senior White House official.

Speaking at the US Foreign Press Centre in Washington DC on Friday afternoon, White House National Security Council spokesman, Mike Hammer, told foreign journalists that the US Homeland Security Secretary, Ms. Janet Napolitano, would be reviewing each of the countries listed including Nigeria.

Hammer gave a special briefing to accredited foreign correspondents in the US to commemorate the one year anniversary of President Barack Obama’s presidency.

The Guardian had asked why Nigeria’s name was added to the list of countries of interest because of the “sins” of one man, whose father had taken the unusual step of forewarning the US authorities.

The question noted that when the shoe-bomber, Richard Reid, from Britain was caught in similar circumstances, the name of Britain was not added to the list.

The question also added that even a US Senator last week questioned the decision to add some countries to the list.

In response, Hammer said: “Thank you very much for your question; I am glad you asked it. I’ll make three points.

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  • One, after the December 25th incident, it was clear that we needed to take measures that protect aviation. Protecting aviation serves the entire world as we have citizens, of course, from the entire world who are flying back and forth whether it is to the United States or elsewhere.
  • The listing, in no way, is meant to be discriminatory against any individual or nationality. What is important here to realize is that we need to take some measures, but already, Secretary Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security had said that she would personally review each of the countries listed. And this is an evolving process.
  • So, I understand the issues that you raised, the issues that Senator Leahy had raised; we are very well keen about the concerns. But it’s a balance here in that we need to take the necessary steps to protect aviation and as well as taking into consideration what other measures, in co-operation, of course, with a number of countries around the world. And that is what, in fact, we are doing at the moment.”Indeed, the decision of the executive arm of the US government to add Nigeria’s name to the security and terror list of countries of interest has been coming under attacks generally from the US, and on Wednesday directly from the US Senate.This is coming as the full court of American democracy begins to open shop on the fallout of the Christmas day terror attempt.

    Criticism of the addition of countries that included Nigeria on the terror list started with US opinion writers pointing out last week that the decision would only affect innocent Nigerians and it might not be an effective tool to counter-terrorism.

    On Wednesday in Washington DC at one of several Congressional hearings on the failed terror attempt, Senator Patrick Leahy warned against the temptation of reflexive actions that were ineffective by the US government.

    He stressed that adding names of some countries like Nigeria to the watch list might even alienate allies of the US in the global war on terror.

    Leahy, a Democrat senator and the chairman of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke as he presided over the committee’s hearing on the matter at the Capitol Hill.

    Other committees of the Senate that held similar hearings on the terror attempt and its implications were the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

    The Foreign Affairs Committee had invited Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s father, Dr. Abdul Mutallab, to speak as a witness at its hearing on Wednesday.

    But his absence indicated his refusal of the offer, which many had hoped would shed the global light on what is seen as a positive gesture by a Nigerian on the matter.

    But according to Leahy, the response of the Obama administration to add the names of countries like Nigeria to the enhanced screening lists on airports when heading to the US does not prevent terrorists from coming into the US.

    His words: “Our response to this incident must be swift, but also thoughtful. I am concerned that simply adding a handful of countries to heightened security lists does not prevent terrorists from coming into this country and may alienate those we need as allies.”

    Leahy, a very prominent and veteran of the US Senate, added, just like many US-based Nigerian professionals had argued in the past several weeks, that “after all, Richard Reid was a British national and did not fit a general profile until he became known as the attempted shoe bomber.”
    Not done, Senator Leahy noted that “no single individual has caused more deaths by terrorist action in the United States than Timothy McVeigh, and he fit no ethnic or religious profile.”

    While he acknowledged that “it may be tempting to take reflexive actions, but to do so will only result in the unnecessary denial of visas to legitimate travelers and the flooding of our watch lists such that they become ineffective tools in identifying those who would do us harm.”

    He warned the US government that such actions “will not solve these issues, they will only isolate us further from the allies we need.”

    “A ‘one size fits all’ mentality will only ensure that we will miss different threats in the future.”

    Quoting President Obama, the senior US Senator stated that “as the President properly noted, we cannot ‘hunker down and hide behind walls of fear and mistrust.’

    “We should not let our response to this incident provide another recruiting tool for terrorists. We have to be smarter than that.”

    Leahy’s committee held the Senate hearing under the theme, ‘Securing America’s Safety: Improving the Effectiveness of Anti-Terrorism Tools and Inter-Agency Communication, at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226 on Wednesday morning with witnesses who also spoke and took questions from the Senators on the Judiciary Committee.

    The witnesses included the Honourable Robert S. Mueller, III, who is the Director of what is the equivalent of Nigeria’s federal police, known in the US as Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    There was also the Honourable Patrick F. Kennedy, who is the Under-Secretary for Management at the US State Department of State and the Honourable David F. Heyman, the Assistant Secretary for Policy from the US Department of Homeland Security.  source