Boko Haram: FTO Designation in Sight?

Morgan Lorraine Roach /

Yesterday, the House Rules Committee posted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would require the State Department to determine whether the Nigerian sect Boko Haram meets the criteria to be designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO).

Sponsored by Representative Patrick Meehan (R–PA), the amendment states that if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chooses not to designate Boko Haram as an FTO, she would then be required to submit a report describing why.

This amendment follows last November’s bipartisan report co-authored by Meehan and ranking member Jackie Speier (D–CA) of the House Subcommittee on Intelligence of the Homeland Security Committee. It requests that Clinton conduct an investigation into whether Boko Haram should be designated an FTO. In March, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King (R–NY) and Meehan also sent Clinton a letter urging her to designate Boko Haram an FTO.

The Obama Administration has made some efforts to address concerns related to Boko Haram. The U.S. is currently providing assistance to the Nigerian government to build intelligence and security capacity. The State Department has also encouraged Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to address the shortcomings of the national security forces and marginalization in the northern part of the country. This was echoed in a congressional letter by Representative Michele Bachman (R–MN) and others last month.

Despite providing counterterrorism assistance to Nigeria, the Obama Administration is reluctant to designate Boko Haram an FTO and has failed to provide sufficient reason. In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson downplayed the threat, emphasizing that Boko Haram is a “loosely organized group…focused on discrediting the Nigerian government” rather than religious extremism.

The amendment by Congress is a welcome development. For too long, the State Department has overlooked Boko Haram as a potential threat to U.S. interests. While Boko Haram does not currently pose a direct threat to the U.S. homeland, other organizations, such as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, were not immediately considered threats, either.