Our delay in labeling Boko Haram as a terrorist group cost us valuable time
The horrors of the terrorist group Boko Haram are on full display in the media with its recent vicious and cowardly kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian girls from a boarding school. “Boko Haram” roughly means, “Western Education is sin.”
We all desperately want to see the safe return of the young girls at the heart of this event. I pray that they are soon returned to their families safe and sound. I support providing whatever vital intelligence and surveillance capabilities we can offer in the effort to #BringBackOurGirls.
However, people need to realize that this is not Boko Haram’s first foray into violence and atrocity.
I serve on the House Appropriations Committee’s State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee. My responsibilities involve approving the annual funding that allows the State Department to fulfill its mission around the globe. I also have the ability to push for changes in U.S. foreign policy that I believe are necessary.
I became keenly aware of Boko Haram’s extensive terrorist activities in 2011. The group was already responsible for a series of mass killings in Nigeria. Based on its increasingly violent attacks, Congressman Pat Meehan (PA-7) and I worked to designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).
Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the time. She and her Department strenuously resisted efforts to designate Boko Haram as an FTO. Perhaps she feared that action would harm relations with the Nigerian government. The Secretary’s supporters are currently saying that the Secretary feared the designation would embolden Boko Haram and elevate its “status.” They say she didn’t want to raise them to the level of groups like al-Qaeda.
However, the State Department’s own website lists the following reasons for designating a group as a terrorist organization. The designation:
*Supports our [America’s] efforts to curb terrorism financing and to encourage other nations to do the same.
*Stigmatizes and isolates designated terrorist organizations internationally.
*Deters donations or contributions to and economic transactions with named organizations.
*Heightens public awareness and knowledge of terrorist organizations.
*Signals to other governments our concern about named organizations.
The benefits of naming Boko Haram as an FTO would certainly seem to outweigh any concerns about giving them an ego-boost. In fact, Secretary Clinton’s concern that naming the group as an FTO would benefit Boko Haram contradicts the State Department’s view that groups on the list face stigmatization and isolation. Doesn’t it make sense to place terrorist groups on the list and so cut them off at the knees by stigmatizing and isolating them?
By 2012 the Department of Justice, the FBI and the CIA had all asked the State Department to put Boko Haram on the list of FTOs. Doing so would have allowed the U.S. to stop Boko Haram members from traveling, freeze their funds and increase surveillance efforts.
In May of 2012, the Appropriations Committee adopted an amendment I offered to the FY 2013 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill. It required the State Department to determine whether Boko Haram met the criteria for placement on the list.
At that point, Boko Haram had already killed hundreds of people in Nigeria. They had attacked Christian churches, hotels used by Western travelers, police stations, schools and universities.
In June of 2012, Gen. Carter Ham, the chief of U.S. Africa Command, linked Boko Haram to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Intelligence indicated the groups were likely sharing explosives and funding. The State Department still did nothing.
It wasn’t until November of 2013, under Secretary of State John Kerry, that Boko Haram was officially designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization.
We lost valuable time. We lost chances to monitor, interfere with and squash this group. Instead, they were able to continue killing and to link with al-Qaeda. Now, they have kidnapped 300 young women, threatening to kill them or sell them into slavery.
This incident should serve as a warning for the future. If it walks like an FTO, and talks like an FTO – it’s an FTO. Delay risks allowing terrorist groups time to gain recruits, gain momentum and commit atrocities.
Contact: Shawn Millan (610) 770-3490