There is a silver lining for Democrats in the Brown cloud that has
descended upon them. It's distracted attention from testimony the
intelligence failures with regard to the Christmas bomber were more
appalling than we'd been told.
On Wednesday, 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
The officials were Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano,
Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair, Michael Leiter,
chairman of the National Counterterrorism Center, and FBI Director
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.
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.
Mr. Blair also said he had been pressured to trim the "no fly" list.
The DNI 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
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
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.
administration's harsh response to Adm. Blair's honesty indicates the
president is more concerned with covering his own posterior than in