- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The leaders of a commission that investigated failures related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks told a Senate panel Tuesday the Obama administration mishandled the interrogation of the failed Christmas Day airline bomber.

Former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, New Jersey Republican, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, Indiana Democrat, said U.S. intelligence agencies should have been consulted before the bombing suspect, Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was granted constitutional protections under U.S. law, known as Miranda rights, and initially stopped talking to investigators.

The criticism from two of Washington’s respected former government officials comes as a bipartisan panel on Tuesday gave the Obama administration a failing grade for its efforts to date to prepare for and respond to biological-weapon terrorist attacks.

Mr. Abdulmutallab, who is now in custody, was interrogated for 50 minutes after he was pulled off of a Northwest Airlines flight after he purportedly tried to detonate a homemade explosive device sewn into his underwear.

Asked for his reaction to the fact that the intelligence community was not consulted, Mr. Kean told the Senate Homeland Security Committee, “I was shocked, and I was upset.”

The former governor said that “it made no sense whatsoever to me that, here is a man who may have trained with other people who are trying to get into this country in one way or another, who may have worked with some of the top leadership in Yemen and al Qaeda generally — and we don’t know the details of that — who may know about other plots that are pending, and we haven’t found out about them.”

Mr. Hamilton was questioned about the issues and said he agreed with Mr. Kean.

“There did not seem to be a policy of the government as to how to handle these people,” Mr. Hamilton said. “And that has to be clarified.”

Last week, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair testified before Congress that after FBI agents apprehended the would-be Christmas Day bomber, Mr. Abdulmutallab, the agents handling the case should have referred it to a special group authorized to interrogate so-called “high-value” detainees. Some five hours later, Mr. Blair issued a statement saying his critical testimony was misconstrued and stating that the interrogation unit was not “fully operational.”

The criticism from Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton added to other bipartisan concerns in Congress that the White House is shifting its focus from waging war on al Qaeda in favor of a law-enforcement-oriented approach to countering terrorism.

On Monday, the chairman and ranking Republican of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, respectively, wrote President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, to complain about the handling of Mr. Abdulmutallab.

They stated in the letter that “the decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a criminal rather than (an unprivileged enemy belligerent) almost certainly prevented the military and the intelligence community from obtaining information that would have been critical to learning more about how our enemy operates and to preventing future attacks,” the two senators wrote.

That view is disputed by many in the administration. Mr. Brennan himself suggested earlier this month that Mr. Abdulmutallab may be cooperating through a plea bargain.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III last week in testimony said he supported the decisions made by his agents on the ground and could argue it both ways as to whether or not reading a suspect his Miranda rights provides incentives or disincentives to cooperate.

The critique from the heads of the 9/11 commission also came on the day another bipartisan panel released a report finding the Obama administration’s preparations for a biological terrorist attack are lacking.

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