Eli Lake reports that Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair criticized the decision by FBI agents last month to question the Christmas Day airline bombing suspect as a criminal and not interrogate him as a terrorist. In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Blair revealed a previously undisclosed disagreement among the Obama administration’s top officials over the handling of the Nigerian who is accused of attempting to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas day. Stephen Hayes fills out the story:
Four top counterterrorism officials testified before a congressional committee that they were not consulted about how to handle the interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the al Qaeda operative who attempted to blow up Flight 253 on December 25, 2008. That group included all three senior Obama administration officials who testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday: Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security; Michael Leiter, chairman of the National Counterterrorism Center; and Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence. It also included FBI Director Robert Mueller.
With surprising candor, Blair, the nation’s top intelligence official, explained that these officials were not deliberately excluded from the decisionmaking process in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Rather, he told the Senate Homeland Security Committee, there was no process at all.
“I’ve been a part of the discussions which established this high-value interrogation unit, [HIG] which we started as part of the executive order after the decision to close Guantanamo. That unit was created for exactly this purpose — to make a decision on whether a certain person who’s detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means. We did not invoke the HIG in this case,” he said. “We should have.”
That’s quite an admission. Blair wasn’t finished (see the 51:00 mark of this video). “Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and, duh!, we didn’t put it then. That’s what we will do now. And so we need to make those decisions more carefully. I was not consulted and the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level.”
When Blair said “Duh,” he literally gave himself a slap on the forehead, as if to say I-cannot-believe-we-were-that-stupid. It was an appropriate gesture.
Blair admitted that Abdulmutallab was not interrogated for intelligence purposes because the Obama administration had not considered using the newly-created elite interrogation unit on terrorist in the United States.
Hayes adds that FBI Director Mueller disagreed with Blair’s testimony. “The decision to arrest [Abdulmutallab] and put him in criminal courts, the decision was made by the agents on the ground, the ones that took him from the plane and then followed up on the arrest in the hospital,” Mueller told the committee. He also said: “In this particular case, in fast-moving events, decisions were made-appropriately, I believe, very appropriately-given the situation.”
Well, what does President Obama think? If the FBI agents made a mistake, as they obviously did, isn’t this one mistake that can be fixed? The United States Attorney can dismiss the indictment against Abdulmutallab and turn Abdulmutallab over to the armed forces of the United States. I see no reason why Abdulmutallab can’t be detained as an enemy combatant available for questioning as the president sees fit. Unless I’m missing something, it’s not too late to try to rectify the mistake.
Rather than try to rectify the mistake, however, the administration went into damage control mode after the hearing. The damage the administration is concerned with correcting is to their public relations rather than to the national security of the United States. Will anyone call them on it?
UPDATE: NRO’s Daniel Foster has more here; Andy McCarthy has more here. Video of the testimony is posted here. It’s a long video. As Hayes points out, Blair slaps his forehead at 51:00.