- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 4, 2010

The White House on Thursday demanded a Republican senator apologize and accused him of playing politics after he charged that the Obama administration had leaked to the press sensitive information about the Christmas Day bomber’s cooperation with U.S. authorities.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs lashed out over a letter from Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, the top Republican on the chamber’s intelligence panel, chiding President Obama for disregarding warnings from his own national security team that information about Umar Farouq Abdulmutallab’s interrogation be kept secret. Mr. Bond said a White House briefing to reporters that details that the Nigerian man is cooperating with law enforcement has no doubt “reached the ears of our enemies abroad.”

“I urge you, Mr. President, to consider the consequences of publicly disseminating sensitive information vital to the defense of the American people. I do not believe the American people want this information jeopardized to further political arguments,” Mr. Bond wrote. “The American people rightfully expect the governments first priority to be their security. It is also critical that our courageous law enforcement and intelligence professionals know that they can trust that sensitive information vital to their efforts to protect the American people will not be disclosed.”

In the letter, Mr. Bond said he discussed Abdulmutallab’s case with FBI Director Robert Mueller, who stressed to him that “keeping the fact of his cooperation quiet was vital to preventing future attacks against the United States.”

But Mr. Gibbs hit back Thursday, dismissing the letter as a tool for political gain.

“No briefing is done here or anywhere in this administration where classified information is used in a place where it shouldn’t be. And I would suggest that somebody that alleges that when they know it doesn’t happen owe people an apology,” he said.

The debate over whether to try terror suspects in civilian courts and read them their Miranda rights has intensified after Mr. Abdulmutallab’s alleged attempt to blow up an airplane bound for Detroit. Critics like Mr. Bond, who is not seeking re-election this year, have argued that awarding suspects constitutional rights means losing valuable intelligence that could prevent further attacks.

Mr. Gibbs said White House staff decided to brief reporters on Mr. Abdulmutallab’s cooperation in order to “contextualize” media reports on the issue, and said Mr. Bond owes an apology to both administration officials and the law enforcement community.

He also challenged Mr. Bond’s information, noting that the senator at a hearing Tuesday said Mr. Abdulmutallab refused to cooperate after being read his Miranda rights when, one day earlier, national security officials told members of the intelligence panel that the suspect was indeed cooperating.

“Why does Senator Bond continue to knowingly not have information curb what he’s saying? Or is this a bunch of politics?” he said.

Mr. Bond’s office stressed that the senator’s comments about Mr. Abdulmutallab ceasing to cooperate was in reference to the five weeks that passed between his initial arrest and his recent decision to resume cooperation.

“After telling me to keep my mouth shut, the White House discloses sensitive information in an effort to defend a dangerous and unpopular decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab and Im supposed to apologize?” Mr. Bond said in response to Mr. Gibbs’ remarks.

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