Obama’s Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Homeland Security Committee that he was not consulted on whether Abdulmutallab should be questioned by the recently created High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG.
The U.S. intelligence chief said Wednesday that the Christmas Day airline bombing suspect should have been treated as a terror suspect when the plane landed. That would have meant questioning him initially by special interrogators rather than standard law enforcement officers. Blair said. “We did not invoke the HIG in this case. We should have.” Also, Michael Leiter, chief of the National Counter Terrorism Center, said he was not consulted.
Since the incident, Republicans have argued the Obama administration mishandled the case by treating it as a crime rather than an act of war. “It’s a terrible, terrible mistake, when it’s pretty clear that this individual did not act alone,” Sen. John McCain, a top Republican, said.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was interviewed by federal law enforcement investigators when Northwest Flight 253 landed in Detroit after he allegedly tried to detonate a homemade bomb sneaked through airport security in Nigeria and Amsterdam. Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, is being held in a prison near Detroit.
Blair also said criteria for adding people to the government’s “no fly” list was too legalistic. And he said that in recent years there has been pressure to shrink rather than expand the list because of a cascade of complaints from people getting “hassled” by authorities. “Why are you searching grandmothers?” was a too-common refrain, he said.
“I should not have given in to that pressure,” Blair said. Since the Dec. 25 episode, the list has been expanded, he said.
In a separate hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller said al-Qaida and its offshoots are spreading and rebuilding. He said the U.S. has dismantled much of al-Qaida’s infrastructure in Afghanistan, but the terror network and its associated groups are rebuilding in Pakistan, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa.
In a testy exchange with Sen. Jeff Sessions, the senior Republican on the committee, Mueller said Abdulmutallab made statements to FBI agents before being given his right to remain silent warnings. Sessions argued it was inappropriate to arrest the suspect and put him in the criminal justice system, and said that instead he should have been declared an enemy combatant and turned over to military authorities for interrogation.
“Intelligence is what saves lives,” said Sessions, his voice rising. “It sounds to me like the guys on the ground just made a decision on the fly.” MSNBC