What Media Is Missing In Its Rush To Tie Hillary Clinton To Kidnapped Nigerian Girls

Following the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by terrorist group Boko Haram, right-wing media are rushing to smear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not designating the group a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), insinuating that the kidnappings might have been prevented had the State Department issued the designation earlier. The baseless attack ignores the facts around FTO designations and foreign affairs.

Nigerian Terrorist Group Boko Haram Abducts More Than 200 Schoolgirls

Reuters: Boko Haram Commits Mass Abduction Of Teenage Schoolgirls. On April 21, Reuters reported that more than 234 young girls had been kidnapped from Chibok school in Nigeria by an extremist group known as Boko Haram. Reuters described the group as an Islamic extremist organization that has “increasingly targeted civilians instead of just security forces.” [Reuters, 4/21/14]

NYT: Boko Haram A “Cultlike Nigeran Group” Whose Actions Are Not Even Condoned By Fellow Militants. The New York Times described Boko Haram as a “cultlike Nigerian group” known for “senseless cruelty and capricious violence against civilians”: 

Boko Haram, the cultlike Nigerian group that carried out the kidnappings, was rejected long ago by mainstream Muslim scholars and Islamist parties around the world for its seemingly senseless cruelty and capricious violence against civilians. But this week its stunning abduction appeared too much even for fellow militants normally eager to condone terrorist acts against the West and its allies.


Boko Haram is in many ways an awkward ally for any of them. Its violence is broader and more casual than Al Qaeda or other jihadist groups. Indeed, its reputation for the mass murder of innocent civilians is strikingly inconsistent with a current push by Al Qaeda's leaders to avoid such deaths for fear of alienating potential supporters. That was the subject of the dispute that led to Al Qaeda's recent break with its former affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

What's more, Boko Haram's recruits and targets have always been purely local, not international. And the group is centered on a messianic leader who claims to speak with God and demands that its adherents surrender all their possessions to the group, resembling a cult, like Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army, more than it does an orthodox Islamist movement. [The New York Times, 5/8/14]

Right-Wing Media Tie Hillary Clinton To The Terrorist Group's Kidnapping

Fox News: If Hillary Clinton Had Designated Boko Haram A Foreign Terrorist Organization, It Could Have “Saved These Girls Earlier.” On the May 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends the hosts tried to place blame on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by arguing that Clinton had refused to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), claiming that if she had done so, it “could have saved these girls earlier”:

STEVE DOOCY: This is really something. We've with been telling you about this terrorist group called Boko Haram out in Africa, how they've killed an entire village. They have since, in the last couple of weeks, they have kidnapped 300 young girls. They're going to sell them into slavery.

BRIAN KILMEADE: And prior to that, boys.

DOOCY: They burned a bunch of boys. They burned down a village. It's all bad. And now word is, because we did not place them on the terror list, of officially known terrorist groups, it's going to be harder to go after them. And who exactly made sure that they were not placed on the terror list? Hillary Clinton.


ELISABETH HASSELBECK: And the rights of women and young girls, those are pillars of what she wanted to accomplish in her time at the State department. But right here, what she didn't actually tweet, and perhaps because it was over 140 characters, was the fact that her own State department, as Steve just mentioned, did not place Boko Haram on the list of foreign terrorist organizations which would have forbidden any sort of authority to increase securities to them, increase assistance to Nigerian security forces in that area and perhaps could have saved these girls earlier. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 5/8/14]

NRO: “Excuses Now Being Offered In Explanation Of Clinton's Dereliction Are Specious.” National Review Online claimed that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's reasons for not designation Boko Haram an FTO were “specious” and “ridiculous,” and labeled Clinton's decision as “appeasing Islamists”:

What happened here is obvious, although the commentariat is loath to connect the dots. Boko Haram is an Islamic-supremacist organization. Mrs. Clinton, like the Obama administration more broadly, believes that appeasing Islamists--avoiding actions that might give them offense, slamming Americans who provoke them--promotes peace and stability. [National Review Online, 5/8/14]

Hot Air: “The Responsibility For This Failure Rests Directly With Hillary Clinton.” The conservative blog Hot Air placed blame on Hillary Clinton for not designating Boko Haram as an FTO claiming, “it's clear that the responsibility for this failure rests directly with Hillary Clinton, if not the decision itself.” Hot Air also brushed aside Clinton's current support of U.S. intervention in the Nigerian kidnappings: “Now Hillary wants to fight Boko Haram with hashtags. Too bad she didn't fight them with real resources when she had the chance.” [Hot Air, 5/8/14]

As Secretary Of State, Hillary Clinton Was The First To Blacklist Boko Haram Leaders

State Department Under Hillary Clinton Put Top Boko Haram Leaders On Terrorist List. In June 2012, the U.S. State Department under Hillary Clinton identified three leaders of Boko Haram as “foreign terrorists,” as Reuters reported at the time, noting that it constituted the “first time [State] has blacklisted members of the Islamist group”:

The United States on Thursday named three alleged leaders of the Nigerian militant group Boko Haram as “foreign terrorists,” the first time it has blacklisted members of the Islamist group blamed for attacks across Africa's most populous nation.

The State Department identified the three as Abubakar Shekau, calling him the “most visible” leader of the group, and Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi, who it said were tied both to Boko Haram and to al Qaeda's north African wing.

“These designations demonstrate the United States' resolve in diminishing the capacity of Boko Haram to execute violent attacks,” it said, saying that Boko Haram or associated militants were responsible for more than 1,000 deaths in the past 18 months. [Reuters, 6/21/12]

State Dept. Blacklisted Leaders, Not Boko Haram As A Group, So As Not To Empower The Terrorist Group. Reuters went on to report that the State and Treasury departments listed individuals on the terrorist list, rather than Boko Haram as a group, so as not to “elevate the group's profile”:

U.S. officials say the decision to list individual Boko Haram members, rather than apply the more sweeping “Foreign Terrorist Organization” label to the group as a whole as some U.S. lawmakers have demanded, reflected a desire not to elevate the group's profile.


In January, Lisa Monaco, the Justice Department's top national security official, sent a letter to the State Department arguing the Nigerian group met the criteria for a “foreign terrorist” listing because it either engaged in terrorism that threatens the United States or had a capability or intent to do so.

But a group of academic experts on Africa sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last month urging her not to take the step, saying it could backfire by enhancing the group's reputation among potential recruits and other militants. [Reuters, 6/21/12]

Experts: Granting Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) Status Can Embolden Terrorist Groups

International Crisis Group: Classifying Boko Haram As FTO Would "Encourage It To Aggressively Target US Interests In Nigeria." In November 2013, when the State Department first moved towards classifying Boko Haram as an Foreign Terrorist Organization, the BBC noted that “such an escalation will expand the threat of the group, drawing in the deployment of US surveillance drones and introducing a dramatic twist to the conflict in the major oil producer,” citing a Nigeria analyst with the International Crisis Group: (emphasis added):

US moves to classify the Islamist group Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organisation may encourage the militants to justify their new status by seeking international terror links in a region that is home to an al-Qaeda franchise.


Nnamdi Obasi, a Nigeria analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG) says the move to classify Boko Haram as a foreign terror group will encourage it to aggressively target US interests in Nigeria.

“It could also further radicalise the movement and push it to strengthen international linkages with other Islamist groups,” Mr Obasi told the BBC.


Such support can be easily turned into recruitment of new fighters that can be deployed beyond Nigeria.


Most jihadists like to be part of a terror group that is stridently opposed to the US - which the terrorists see as an embodiment of Western values that they oppose. [BBC, 11/15/13]

Fmr. Asst. Secretary of State For African Affairs: FTO Designation For Boko Haram Would “Raise It's Profile” And “Help In Its Recruitment.” In an interview given to the Daily Beast, Fmr. Asst. Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson defended the decision not to label Boko Haram a foreign terrorist group, arguing that the designation “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”:

In 2012, more than 20 prominent U.S. academics in African studies wrote to Clinton, urging her to not to label Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization. “An FTO designation would internationalize Boko Haram's standing and enhance its status among radical organizations elsewhere,” the scholars said.

“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,” he said.

The U.S. has plenty of ways to assist the Nigerian government with counterterrorism even without designating Boko Haram, Carson said. The problem has long been that the Nigerian government doesn't always want or accept the help the U.S. has offered over the years. [The Daily Beast, 5/7/14

CSIS: Designating FTO Status Is Not Always An Appropriate Tool To Combat Terrorism. The Center for Strategic And International Studies (CSIS) pointed out that FTO designation is not always an appropriate tool to “mitigate a given threat.” In an October, 2012 study of the FTO status' effect on Pakistani-based Haqqani network, CSIS argued that FTO status actually hampered the United States' ability combat the designated group: 

FTO designation is deliberately left to the discretion of the secretary of state and reflects his or her judgment about the most appropriate way to mitigate a given threat. As a report by the Congressional Research Service explains, “There may be competing priorities in dealing with a group, such as a desire to engage a group in negotiations or to use the FTO naming as leverage for another foreign policy aim.” The Taliban's continuing absence from the FTO list, despite also meeting the criteria, is one reflection of these competing priorities.

The key question then is whether designation is the appropriate tool to apply given the priorities in this case. The case for designation relies largely on its expected financial effects on the Haqqanis; on the diplomatic pressure the designation might exert on Pakistan to oppose the network more vigorously; and finally on the perceived need for the United States to use “all available tools” to curtail the group's activities. In reality, however, designation restricts the tools available, and its financial, diplomatic, and military effects on the ground will be at best unhelpful and at worst counterproductive. [Center for Strategic International Studies, 10/4/12]

Nigerian Government Was Opposed To U.S. Designating Boko Haram As A FTO

Nigeria Opposed U.S. Bid To Tag Boko Haram As Terror Group. In May 2012, AllAfrica.com explained why the Nigerian federal government opposed the idea that the U.S. designate Boko Haram as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, citing concerns that the designation would hamper travel and intensify scrutiny of Nigerian citizens and harrassment of Nigerian citizens:

The federal government raised its objection to the plan ahead of last Tuesday's meeting of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen. Andrew Owoye Azazi, with top White House and State Department officials in Washington DC.

Nigeria's Ambassador to the US, Prof. Adebowale Adefuye, who confirmed Azazi's meeting with the American officials, said the government was opposed to such a designation because it might subject Nigerian travellers to intensive search and scrutiny around the world, especially in western capitals and cities.

Ambassador Adefuye in his defence of government's action, said he feared the likelihood of Nigerians being opened to all kinds of harassments at international airports once such a designation comes from the U.S., including intensive and intrusive body searches.

The envoy said the government would on its own contain the Boko Haram menace as it did in quelling the militancy in the Niger Delta region of the country. [AllAfrica.com, 5/24/12]

U.S.  Currently Designates Boko Haram An FTO

State Department Announced In November 2013 That Boko Haram Was Designated FTO. In November 2013, the U.S. State Department designated Boko Haram and its “offshoot Ansaru as 'terrorist organizations,' legally enabling Washington to take various steps against the groups, their members and their supporters,” CNN reported. [CNN.com, 11/13/13]

Time: U.S. Government Offers $7 Million Bounty For Boko Haram Leader. According to Time “The U.S. government's bounty for Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau stands at $7 million.” [Time, 9/30/13]

CNN: Following Group's Designation As An FTO, Boko Haram Ended Peace Talks With Nigerian Government. According to CNN, Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau abandoned talks with the Nigerian government after the U.S. designated it as a foreign terrorist group:

[Boko Haram leader] Shekau is not beyond negotiating with the Nigerian government, despite his apocalyptic rhetoric and frequent denials of President Goodluck Jonathan's legitimacy. According to the International Crisis Group, negotiations in Ivory Coast a year ago were on the verge of producing “an apparent peace agreement that was to begin with a ceasefire.” Then Shekau was designated a terrorist by the U.S. State Department and abandoned the talks. [CNN.com, 5/8/14]