A PRESIDENT WHO CARES MORE ABOUT PROTECTING HIMSELF THAN HIS COUNTRY
There is a silver lining for Democrats in the Brown cloud that has descended upon them. It’s distracted attention from testimony revealing that the intelligence failures with regard to the Christmas bomber were more appalling than we’d been told.
Yesterday (1/20), as panicked Democrats wondered what Scott Brown’s stunning win in the Massachusetts senate race portends for them, four senior intelligence officials testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee about the interrogation, such as it was, of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who had tried to blow up a Northwest Air Lines flight with a bomb built into his underwear.
The officials were Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Admiral Dennis Blair, National Counterterrorism Center Chairman Michael Leiter, and FBI Director Robert Mueller.
At the Homeland Security Committee hearing, Ms. Napolitano, Mr. Blair and Mr. Leiter said they weren’t consulted before the decision was made to treat Mr. Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant.
That decision was made by a senior official at the Justice Department who the Obama administration is unwilling to identify.
Shortly after assuming office, President Obama stripped the responsibility for interrogating terrorists from the CIA and gave it to a new group, the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG), which would report directly to the DNI, Admiral Blair.
Mr. Abdulmutallab should have been questioned by agents from the HIG, Admiral Blair said at the hearing.
"The unit was created exactly for this purpose," the DNI said. "To make a decision on whether a certain person who was 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. We should have."
One reason why the HIG wasn’t called in, Admiral Blair told Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me), was because "frankly, we were thinking more overseas people" than of terrorists captured in the United States."
DNI Admiral Blair was ordered to "amend" his testimony by furious Obama administration officials, said Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff.
"One senior official described the comments by Blair… as misinformed on multiple levels and all the more damaging because they immediately fueled Republican criticism that the administration mishandled the Christmas day incident," Mr. Isikoff wrote.
Mr. Blair did issue a statement saying his testimony had been "misconstrued;" that the real reason the HIG didn’t interrogate Mr. Adulmutallab is because the unit isn’t "fully operational."
It’s difficult to say which is more disconcerting: That it hadn’t occurred to senior intelligence officials that a terrorist might be captured within the United States, or that nearly a year into Mr. Obama’s presidency, he hadn’t set up a means to interrogate captured terrorists to replace the one he dismantled.
In any event, until his lawyer arrived, Mr. Abdulmutallab was questioned by FBI agents who regarded this as an ordinary criminal case, and who were not familiar with the information about terrorism gathered by the NCTC.
At the Judiciary Committee hearing, FBI Director Mueller acknowledged Mr. Abdulmutallab clammed up as soon as he was told he had a right to remain silent. But he defended the decision both to treat him as a criminal defendant, and to make that decision without consulting senior intelligence officials, himself among them.
In response to sharp questions from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala), a stuttering Mr. Mueller said the decision to treat Mr. Abdulmutallab as a criminal was made "on the fly" by the agents on the scene. He indicated they’d received no guidance from higher authority on how to deal with such situations.
Eric Fehrnstrom, an adviser to Scott Brown, said his candidate’s stunning victory was fueled more by Mr. Brown’s opposition to treating terrorists as criminal defendants than by his opposition to Obamacare.
Panicked Democrats who are urging the president to "pivot" on health care should urge him to "pivot" on terrorism as well. Pressing Obamacare can only hurt the political prospects of Democrats. Continued laxness on terror could get a lot of Americans killed.
But the administration’s harsh response to Adm. Blair’s honesty indicates the president is more concerned with covering his own posterior than in protecting ours.
Jack Kelly is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.