Scott has written about the fact that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be Christmas-day bomber, was interrogated by the FBI instead of the “High Value Detainee Interrogation Group.” The creation of this Group — the HIG — was announced with some fanfare a year ago by President Obama who, having shut down the CIA’s terrorist interrogation program, hoped to the counter the impression that he wasn’t serious about protecting America.
Dennis Blair testified before Congress that Abdulmutallab should have been questioned by the HIG. He also stated that he was not consulted about this matter and that other important intelligence officials were not consulted either.
The notion that the FBI would interrogate a high value detainee like Abdulmutallab, rather than having the interrogation handled by a special group set up expressly for that purpose, is shocking — so shocking that Blair slapped his head when he tesitifed about the HIG’s lack of involvement. What is the purpose of a “High Value Detainee Interrogation Group” if not to question, or at least play a role in the handling, of a guy sent into the country by an emerging branch of al Qaeda with explosives in his underwear?
Blair’s testimony seemed too bad to be true, and that turned out to be the case — not because the HIG did, in fact, interrogate Abdulmutallab, but rather because the HIG does not actually exist as an operational entity.
Blair made this clear in what must rank as the among the most embarrassing “clarificatons” of congressional testimony ever. Blair was forced to amend his testimony to say that the FBI questioned Abdulmutallab using its “expertise in interrogation that will be available in the HIG once it is fully operational” (emphasis added).
The fact that, a year after being touted by Obama as a key element of his plans to keep the country secure, the HIG still isn’t functioning probably represents worse news than if it did exist and for some reason hadn’t been used. But it isn’t “too bad to be true” because this is precisely what one would expect from an administration that isn’t serious about protecting America.
Stated differently, the problem with this administration isn’t so much that the folks on the ground charged with protecting us aren’t using tools that are available to them. Rather, it’s that the administration hasn’t provided them with the right tools. It got rid of key tools used so successfully during the Bush administration and has failed to deliver tools it promised to supply as replacements.
I guess Obama couldn’t find the time to make sure the HIG was established and made operational. He must have been “so busy just getting stuff done and dealing with the immediate crises.”
Meanwhile, he has given us an intelligence chief who, if he testified truthfully (as I assume to be the case), didn’t know that the HIG was not operational. Obama needs somehow to find the time to appoint a new intelligence chief.
JOHN adds: The Associated Press has just come out with a leaked account of Abdulmutallab’s interrogation. You should read it all; you will likely find it infuriating. Some excerpts:
Captured after a bomb hidden in his underwear ignited but failed to explode, Abdulmutallab spoke freely and provided valuable intelligence, officials said. Federal agents repeatedly interviewed him or heard him speak to others. But when they read him his legal rights nearly 10 hours after the incident, he went silent. …
After being restrained and stripped bare by fellow passengers and crew, Abdulmutallab was handed over to Customs and Border Protection officers and local police.
With hindsight, they should have left him with the passengers and crew. They would have performed a more effective interrogation.
The officers decided the suspect needed immediate medical attention, and an ambulance crew took him to the burn unit at the University of Michigan Medical Center.
Along the way, Abdulmutallab repeatedly made incriminating statements to the CBP officers guarding him. He told them he had acted alone on the plane and had been trying to take down the aircraft.
Abdulmutallab arrived at the hospital just before 2 p.m. Still under guard, Abdulmutallab told a doctor treating him that he had tried to trigger the explosive. The Nigerian said it didn’t cause a blast, but instead began popping and ignited a fire on his groin and legs.
FBI agents from the Detroit bureau arrived at the hospital around 2:15 p.m., and were briefed by the Customs agents and officers as Abdulmutallab received medical treatment.
Shortly after 3:30 p.m., FBI agents began interviewing the suspect in his hospital room, joined by a CBP officer and an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. …
Note the priority given to providing medical treatment to the terrorist over obtaining information from him. This is a recurring theme.
The suspect spoke openly, said one official, talking in detail about what he’d done and the planning that went into the attack. Other counterterrorism officials speaking on condition of anonymity said it was during this questioning that he admitted he had been trained and instructed in the plot by al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.
The interview lasted about 50 minutes. Before they began questioning Abdulmutallab, the FBI agents decided not to give him his Miranda warnings providing his right to remain silent.
A good decision, but one that should not have needed to be made.
Abdulmutallab’s interview ended when the suspect was given medication and the investigators decided it would be better to let the effects of the drugs wear off before pressing him further.
He would not be questioned again for more than five hours. By that point, officials said, FBI bosses in Washington had decided a new interrogation team was needed. They made that move in case the lack of a Miranda warning or the suspect’s medical condition at the time of the earlier conversations posed legal problems later on for prosecutors. …
That five-hour gap would prove to be critical.
In the end, though, the “clean team” of interrogators did not prod more revelations from the suspect.
Having rested and received more extensive medical treatment, Abdulmutallab was told of his right to remain silent and right to have an attorney.
He remained silent.