As the world summons fresh outrage over another Boko Haram attack that left more than 300 people dead, a report in The Daily Beast suggests that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped the ball and let Boko Haram grow in power by not labeling the group a terrorist organization when she was in office, despite pressure to do so from many leaders and elected officials.
Some experts are claiming this failure on Clinton’s part is impacting the ability of officials to go after Boko Haram and rescue the 276 Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted by the group last month.
Clinton is getting widespread credit for sending out a May 4 tweet—using hashtag #BringBackOurGirls—that brought significant attention to the abduction, which she said was “abominable, it’s criminal, it’s an act of terrorism and it really merits the fullest response possible, first and foremost from the government of Nigeria.”
But not everyone is buying the Clinton story.
“The one thing she could have done, the one tool she had at her disposal, she didn’t use. And nobody can say she wasn’t urged to do it. It’s gross hypocrisy,” a former senior U.S. official who was involved in the debate told The Daily Beast. “The FBI, the CIA, and the Justice Department really wanted Boko Haram designated, they wanted the authorities that would provide to go after them, and they voiced that repeatedly to elected officials.”
Some officials claim that Clinton’s refusal to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization —an action her successor John Kerry took in November 2013 — denied the U.S. certain tools and authorities, including several found in the Patriot Act, that would cut off access to the U.S. financial system for the organization and anyone associating with it, and would encourage other nations to take similar measures.
“For years, Boko Haram has terrorized Nigeria and Western interests in the region with few consequences,” Sen. James Risch told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “The U.S. government should have moved more quickly to list them as a terrorist organization and brought U.S. resources to track and disrupt their activities. The failure to act swiftly has had consequences.”
Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, said if Clinton had placed Boko Haram on the terrorism list in 2011, U.S. law enforcement agencies now being deployed to Nigeria to help search for the girls might have been in a better position.
“We lost two years of increased scrutiny. The kind of support that is taking place now would have been in place two years ago,” he said. The designation would have “enhanced the capacity of our agencies to do the work that was necessary. We were very frustrated, it was a long delay.”
But not everyone agrees with that perspective. One counterterrorism official told The Daily Beast that the U.S. didn’t really lose much without the designation happening earlier.
“Designation is an important tool, it’s not the only tool,” this official said. “There are a lot of other things you can do in counterterrorism that doesn’t require a designation. …The utility was limited, the symbolism was perhaps significant, but the more important issue was how we were dealing with the Nigerians.”
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson, who served in that position from 2009 to 2013, was a vocal opponent of the designation within the White House because he was focused on preserving the relationship between Washington and Abuja.
“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,” Carson told The Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, as the debate rages, Boko Haram has brought increased scrutiny with another attack that left more than 300 people dead.
“I believe the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end for terror in Nigeria,” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said at the opening of the World Economic Forum meeting in Abuja.
Boko Haram militants attacked Gamboru Ngala, a remote state capital near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon that has been used as a staging ground for troops in the search for the girls, Boko Haram killed about 310 people, many of them burned alive.
“Every day when I wake up and I think about young girls in Nigeria or children caught up in the conflict in Syria, when there are times in which I want to reach out and save those kids. And having to think through what levers, what powers do we have at any given moment, I think drop by drop by drop that we can erode and wear down these forces that are so destructive,” President Obama said Wednesday night in Los Angeles.