Saturday, January 23, 2010

Is Eric Holder Running National Intelligence?

Wednesday’s revelation that none of four top intelligence officials were consulted about the decision to handle Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal defendant, instead of an Al Qaeda combatant, only reinforces my belief that the Obama administration is incompetent to handle national security.

Those top officials who testified they were left out of the loop:
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. (“System failure”).
Blair told the committee that handling Farouk with reckless disregard for his value as an intelligence source was a foul-up, caused by the failure to implement the high-value interrogation unit, still on the White House drawing board, charged with making critical decisions about whether a person “detained should be treated as a case for federal prosecution or for some of the other means.”

But at the same time, Mueller, head of the FBI, defended what happened.

"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."
Agents on the ground made those decisions???

Other versions report Blair saying that “FBI agents on the ground consulted with headquarters and the Justice Department on the decision to charge Abdulmutallab.” (“Intelligence chief says FBI was too hasty in handling of attempted bombing”). So then the FBI agents consulted with the DOJ first?

Then Mueller testified that “’in consultation with the Department of Justice and others in the administration,’ the agents read [Farouk] his rights.” (“On bombing suspect, tough questions for Eric Holder”).

So the DOJ and others in the administration directed Farouk be read his Miranda rights. And so, as Byron York writes:
[T]hat was that. "Isn't it a fact, that after Miranda was given ... the individual stopped talking?" Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions asked Mueller.

"He did," Mueller answered. But Mueller declined to say who made the decision to grant Abdulmutallab the right to remain silent.

The issue is enormously important because Abdulmutallab, newly trained by al Qaeda in the terrorist group's latest hot spot, Yemen, likely knows things that would be very useful to American anti-terrorism investigators. He's not some grizzled old terrorist who's been sitting in Guantanamo Bay since 2003 and doesn't have any new intelligence. He's fresh material. Yet he is protected by U.S. criminal law from having to answer questions.
Brian Moskowitz, Detroit’s local agent in charge with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told the AP the agents did everything right. His explanation strongly suggests Moskowitz didn’t even graspwhat the basic controversy was, anyway, which isn’t a good sign for someone in his position. He defended the way it was handled by saying, “it was critical that agents immediately speak to Abdulmutallab to determine whether ‘there were other people on other planes planning to do the same.’” (“Intel chief: Detroit bomb case mishandled”).
But no one’s questioning that Faoruk should have been questioned immediately to find out what he knew. The question is, whose big idea was it to get him a lawyer so he would stop talking about what he knew?

So was it local FBI agents who made an executive-level national security decision about how Farouk should be prosecuted, or did they consult with the Department of Justice, or with anyone else in the administration--or didn’t they? Could all of this be down to yet another decision made by Attorney General Eric Holder?

That’s what some of the committee members would like to know.
So on Thursday all seven Republicans on the Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Holder asking for a full explanation: Who made the decision and why, and whether the administration now has “a protocol or policy in place for handling al Qaeda terrorists captured in the United States.”

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