National Information Sharing Initiatives and the Department of State:
December 17, 2010
On December 25, 2009, a 23-year old Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab unsuccessfully tried to detonate an improvised explosive device aboard a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. The so-called “Christmas Day plot” put counterterrorism-related information sharing in the national spotlight once again. A May 2010 report on the incident by the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence charged that a range of departments and agencies failed to connect different strands of information identifying Abdulmutallab’s ties to terrorism.
Among the federal entities mentioned in the report was the Department of State. On November 19, 2009, Abdulmutallab’s father had warned the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, that his son had linked up with Yemeni extremists. But embassy officials misspelled Abdulmutallab’s name when cabling this alert to authorities in Washington. Because of this error, critical information on Abdulmutallab—namely, that he currently held a valid U.S. visa—did not make it to appropriate intelligence and law enforcement officials.