Boko Haram, the militant group responsible for the recent kidnapping of 276 girls in Nigeria, was not designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the State Department until November of 2013 despite a long record of violence. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has now come under fire, as reported by Josh Rogin at the Daily Beast, for resisting calls for the FTO designation for Boko Haram during her tenure at the State Department. Rogin says that "[t]he refusal came despite the urging of the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, and over a dozen senators and congressmen." But in 2012, even U.S. State Department diplomats in Nigeria seemed mystified about why the government was "reluctant" to issue the designation.
On September 20, 2012, then Bureau of African Affairs Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson appeared on a State Department "Live at State" webchat regarding "U.S. Policy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa." Questions from journalists and other individuals via webchat were posed to Carson by the host, Holly Jensen. At one point, a question was asked by the "U.S. Consulate in Lagos [Nigeria]":
MS. JENSEN: The U.S. Consulate in Lagos wants to know: Why is the government reluctant to designate the Boko Haram sect as a foreign terrorist organization?
AMBASSADOR CARSON: Thank you very much. We look at the issue of Boko Haram as a major concern not only to Nigeria but also to Nigeria’s neighbors and Niger and Cameroon and Benin as well. Boko Haram, we believe, is not a homogenous, monolithic organization, but it is comprised of several different kinds of groups.
Carson went on to note that while the organization itself was not designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, three individuals within Boko Haram were designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists in June 2012:
We have, indeed, recently designated three individuals in Boko Haram as individuals who are involved in terrorism, and we have done so because we believe those three individuals have established contacts with foreign terrorist organizations, have gone out and sought to get financing from foreign terrorist organizations, and have tried to establish broader networks and relationships with them.
In his Daily Beast report, Josh Rogin said that Johnnie Carson "defended the decision to avoid naming Boko Haram a terrorist organization in a Wednesdayphone call with reporters."
[Carson:] “There was a concern that putting Boko Haram on the foreign terrorist list would in fact raise its profile, give it greater publicity, give it greater credibility, help in its recruitment, and also probably drive more assistance in its direction[.]”
But in the September 2012 webchat, Carson seemed to suggest that the State Department did not even consider the "Boko Haram movement," as he called it, to necessarily be a terror organization, but rather several groups simply "focused on trying to discredit the Nigerian Government":
But we believe that the bulk of the Boko Haram movement is – they’re focused on trying to discredit the Nigerian Government, trying to do everything in its power to show that the government is ineffective in the defense of its people and in the protection of government institutions, so we have not designated the entire organization. We constantly keep that under review, but we have, in fact, designated the three top leaders in Boko Haram who we believe to be out establishing broader terrorist networks and who have a broader jihadist agenda that goes beyond simply discrediting the Nigerian Government.
In any case, the State Department eventually applied the FTO designation to Boko Haram under secretary John Kerry. But questions remain about why Hillary Clinton's State Department fought so hard against the designation contrary to the opinions of not only the FBI, CIA, the Justice Department, and lawmakers, but apparently of State Department personnel on the ground in the country where Boko Haram was carrying out its campaign of violence.