Republicans have seized on the Senate testimonies of Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and FBI Director Robert Mueller III yesterday to revive accusations that the Obama administration has been weak on national security, particularly the decision not to have Umar Abdulmutallab interrogated by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Unit (HIG).
Over at the Weekly Standard, Dick Cheney hagiographer Stephen Hayes is hysterical over the fact that Abdulmutallab was mirandized by the FBI agents who apprehended him, rather than having the entire national security bureaucracy of the United States government mull over the decision of how Abdulmutallab should be handled. He's also angry that Abdulmutallab was charged as a criminal defendant instead of an enemy combatant, something conservatives have asserted blindly harms intelligence collection. (When Bush was in office, they didn't feel that way.) Andy McCarthy writes, "It is a drastic overstatement to call it a 'decision' since that implies that actual thought went into it."
Again, the mundane ways in which our national security apparatus has worked since 9/11 have become outrageous since Obama was elected. Abdulmutallab committed a crime and was apprehended on U.S. soil. He was not captured on a battlefield and his alleged target was not military. He was interrogated by the FBI, which has the most experienced counterterrorism investigators in our national security apparatus. Prior to 9/11, the CIA had "discontinued virtually all involvement in interrogations." The assertion that he "shut up" after being told by his lawyer that he could seems to be fabricated out of thin air. Hayes writes, "According to Senator Jeff Sessions, whose tough questioning left Mueller stuttering — Abdulmutallab was Mirandized and he stopped talking." The reason why Hayes attributes the idea that Abdulmutallab "stopped talking" to Sessions is that Mueller didn't say that's what happened; there is no such suggestion in his prepared remarks or in his subsequent testimony. In fact, the FBI has said the opposite occurred, and there's reason to believe that's true -- terror suspects like Brent Vinas and David Headley gave information even after being indicted.
Moreover, the complaints about Abdulmutallab being given a lawyer instead of being tried by military commission is bizarre -- terror suspects charged by military commission are given lawyers! As Ken Gude wrote yesterday, "There is virtually no difference between military commissions and criminal courts in the provision and availability of defense counsel." Not only that, but the military commissions have proven to be inefficient, slow-moving, and have been more lenient than civilian courts. It's also not clear that they'll hold up against a constitutional challenge -- something Bush lawyers Jim Comey and Jack Goldsmith have tried to point out to the GOP torture caucus.
Blair also said that the administration should have considered handing Abdulmutallab over to the HIG, and Hayes complains that it doesn't exist yet, a year after its creation was mandated by the executive order closing Guantanamo. That's a problem, but as Spencer Ackerman points out, the HIG would be used for interrogating terror suspects captured abroad, so Abdulmutallab wouldn't have been a candidate anyway. It's not as though American intelligence agencies have ceased collecting intelligence -- the accelerated use of (legally questionable) drone strikes against suspected terrorist targets proves that the intelligence community isn't simply sitting still waiting for the HIG to be created. Rather, it seems as though Hayes requires some sort of totemic replacement for the Bush administration's torture program -- which he would then criticize for being inefficient because it doesn't torture people.
The actual news here seems to be that DNI Blair seemed not to know what he was talking about, not that the government's behavior in the aftermath of the failed underwear bombing was unusual or reckless.
-- A. Serwer