Additional stupefying revelations of national security malfeasance

There is one reason that the White House should be thrilled about the Massachusetts Senate race. It crowded out news that came out of the stunning testimony of Obama administration officials Wednesday on the Christmas Day terrorist attack.
Stephen Hayes, The Weekly Standard

Earlier this evening I was leafing through Thursday’s New York Post, and saw this cut line in bold at the top of a page:

“We don’t know what that individual knows, learned while he was working with al Qaeda, and we may never know, because he now has got a lawyer who’s telling him to be quiet.” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), speaking to FBI Director Robert Mueller about alleged underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

When I read that, even though I had seen similar statements before about the handling of Abdul Mutallab following his arrest, something about it hit me with a new impact, and for the first time I thought that there was a serious possibility that Obama will be ejected from the presidency in 2012. It seemed to me that the totality of the lack of care that he and his people show for the country is adding up to his being—I was about to say “Jimmy Carter squared,” but that phrase, while suggesting incompetence, naivete, and blind self-righteousness, fails to capture Obama’s sheer stubborn negligence, his willful indifference, indeed his depraved indifference, to the interests and well-being of the United States. If Obama shows incompetence, it’s not because he lacks ability, though he does lack ability; it’s because he doesn’t care. If you hired William Kunstler and Ron Kuby to protect America from Communist or Islamic enemies, would you expect them to carry out their duties with energy and devotion? Of course not. It’s the same with Obama and his crew of freaks (e.g. Napolitano) and fops (e.g. Blair). They do a jaw-droppingly bad job of protecting the United States because in their heart they don’t like the United States, and therefore it’s not in them to side unambiguously with the United States and against its enemies.

The subject covered in the Post article was also in a Fox News item I quoted earlier, but the Fox story misses the most sensational and unbelievable revelation from Wednesday’s hearings of the Senate Homeland Security Committee:

In another stunner before the committee, it was revealed that the Obama administration failed to consult with the nation’s top three terror officials—[head of National Counterterrorism Center Michael Leiter, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano]—before a decision was made to put Abdulmutallab in the hands of a civilian court.

A Nigerian Muslim, a terrorist who had been trained and sent on his mission by an al Qaeda group in Yemen which is training other terrorists to blow up U.S. planes, had just attempted to destroy a U.S. airliner with 300 aboard, yet the government’s procedures allowed the FBI agents on the scene to arrest and charge him as a criminal defendant with his own lawyer and the right to remain silent, rather than handing him over to the military as an enemy prisoner. And—this was the shocking news from Blair—the FBI were allowed to take this step without consulting with the government’s three top counterterrorism officials. Further, having had the FBI arrest and Mirandize Mutallab, and now knowing from his own statements prior to his being Mirandized that he had been trained and sent by al Qaeda, and, further, despite Obama’s declaration that the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the administration have not, in the month since Mutallab’s arrest, reversed the FBI’s inexcusable action (which they can readily do) and ordered the FBI to transfer Mutallab to military custody as an enemy soldier so that he can be properly interrogated about al Qaeda’s plots against the U.S.

Obama’s actions are beyond egregious; more and more people are seeing it; and it seems more and more likely that he lacks the desire or ability to change. And this makes me think that notwithstanding the historic aura of his election and presidency that so captivated the world, he is in the process of coming to be seen as something worse, far worse, many times worse, than Jimmy Carter, and he will not be re-elected. That’s not a prediction. It’s a possibility that I’m seeing for the first time.

Here is the Post article, and below that is a Weekly Standard article on the same subject.

Feds hit a bad spell By CHUCK BENNETT Last Updated: 11:09 AM, January 21, 2010 Posted: 2:24 AM, January 21, 2010

The nation’s most sophisticated intelligence databases lack the “Google-like” ability to decipher misspelled words, counterterrorism officials sheepishly admitted yesterday on Capitol Hill.

“We do not have that exact capacity,” said National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter when asked to explain how a misspelling of al Qaeda-trained underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s name in government files allowed the plot to go undetected.

Abdulmutallab’s father told US Embassy officials in Abuja, Nigeria, that he suspected his son was mixed up with Yemeni terrorists, but a State Department employee misspelled his name in a database entry.

The databases “have blind spots that don’t allow the sort of Google-like [searches] we have from our own computers,” said Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence.

With the name misspelled, analysts were unable to correlate the father’s tip with an electronic intercept of a Yemeni militant message that mentioned Abdulmutallab’s first name.

Both Leiter—who came under fire for taking a weeklong ski trip the day after the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253—and Blair told the Senate Homeland Security Committee they expect a technical solution to be in place within weeks.

In another stunner before the committee, it was revealed that the Obama administration failed to consult with the nation’s top three terror officials—Leiter, Blair and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano—before a decision was made to put Abdulmutallab in the hands of a civilian court.

Blair also said that a new terror task force, the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG, was not called in to question Abdulmutallab before he was turned over to civilian authorities.

Blair told the committee, “That unit was created exactly for this purpose. We did not invoke the HIG in this case. We should have.”

And though Blair’s office later backed off his statements and put out a notice praising the FBI’s interrogation of Abdulmutallab, the revelation shocked senators on the committee.

“That is very troubling,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

“It appears to me that we lost an opportunity to secure some valuable intelligence information, and that the process that Director Blair described should have been implemented in this case. And I think it’s very troubling that it was not, and that three key intelligence officials were not asked their opinion.”

The revelations were more examples of the lack of coordination and technological innovation by counterterrorism officials nearly 8½ years after 9/11.

Blair also said that adding suspected terrorists to the “no-fly list” was overly burdensome because of legal hurdles and too many “Why are you searching grandmothers?” complaints.

“I should not have given in to that pressure,” Blair said. “Shame on us for giving in to that pressure.” [LA replies: In any ordinary government, the head of an executive department who said, “Shame on us,” would be seen as confessing an incompetence in office that would require him to resign. But Blair remains on the job. Meaning that a self-confessed incompetent remains on the job.]

Abdulmutallab was placed on an unwieldy watch list of 400,000 names that had no impact on his travel to the United States.

Meanwhile, during a separate hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller defended his agency’s handling of Abdulmutallab.

But Senate Republicans ripped into Mueller, saying Abdulmutallab, 23, should have been turned over to military authorities.

“We don’t know what that individual knows, learned while he was working with al Qaeda, and we may never know, because he now has got a lawyer who’s telling him to be quiet,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the committee.

Acting without instruction from higher-ups, the FBI agents who met Flight 253 on the ground in Detroit charged Abdulmutallab criminally, rather than give him to the military.

“It sounds to me like the guys on the ground just made a decision on the fly,” Sessions said. With Post Wire Services

Here is Stephen Hayes at the Weekly Standard:

System Failure
The Christmas Day bomber was never asked specific questions based on the intelligence the U.S. government had already collected on him.
BY Stephen F. Hayes
January 21, 2010 1:00 AM

There is one reason that the White House should be thrilled about the Massachusetts Senate race. It crowded out news that came out of the stunning testimony of Obama administration officials Wednesday on the Christmas Day terrorist attack. Four top counterterrorism officials testified before a congressional committee that they were not consulted about how to handle the interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the al Qaeda operative who attempted to blow up Flight 253 on December 25, 2008.

That group 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.

With surprising candor, Blair, the nation’s top intelligence official, explained that these officials were not deliberately excluded from the decisionmaking process in the immediate aftermath of the attack. Rather, he told the Senate Homeland Security Committee, there was no process at all.

“I’ve been a part of the discussions which established this high-value interrogation unit, [HIG] which we started as part of the executive order after the decision to close Guantanamo. That unit was created for exactly this purpose—to make a decision on whether a certain person who’s 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,” he said. “We should have.” [LA replies: in this account there is a failure to distinguish clearly between two different issues, the issue of whether HIG should have been invoked by Blair, which was within his authority, and the issue of the decision by the FBI to arrest Mutallab as a criminal defendant without consultation with Blair and the other counterterrorism heads.]

That’s quite an admission. Blair wasn’t finished (see the 51:00 mark of this video). “Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people and, duh!, we didn’t put it then. That’s what we will do now. And so we need to make those decisions more carefully. I was not consulted and the decision was made on the scene. It seemed logical to the people there but it should have been taken using this HIG format at a higher level.”

When Blair said “Duh,” he literally gave himself a slap on the forehead, as if to say, “I cannot believe we were that stupid.” It was an appropriate gesture. [LA: As I said above, a top government official charged with defending the country from mortal enemies who says “Duh!” and slaps himself on the forehead before a congressional committee should not remain in his job, because he has shown that he is not only incompetent but has a very easy attitude about his incompetence and is not a serious man.]

Blair admitted that Abdulmutallab was not interrogated for intelligence purposes because the Obama administration had not considered using the newly-created elite interrogation unit on terrorist in the United States.

If Blair considered the handling of Abdulmutallab a mistake, FBI Director Robert Mueller, testifying at the same time before the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not. Mueller, like Blair, acknowledged that the crucial decision about how to treat Abdulmutallab was made by local FBI agents. But unlike Blair, he vigorously defended it.

“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.”

Again, stunning. The FBI Director believes it is appropriate—very appropriate—that four of the nation’s top counterterrorism officials were never consulted about how to handle an al Qaeda terrorist who very nearly blew up an airplane with almost 300 passengers aboard.

Mueller testified that those FBI agents interviewed Abdulmutallab about “ongoing and other threats.” What the FBI director did not mention was that his agents interviewed the terrorist without any input from the National Counterterrorism Center—the institution we now know was sitting on top of a small mountain of not-yet-correlated information about the bomber.

So whatever information Abdulmutallab provided, he gave up in response to general questions about his activities, not in response to specific questions based on the intelligence the U.S. government had already collected on him. And within 24 hours—according to Senator Jeff Sessions, whose tough questioning left Mueller stuttering—Abdulmutallab was Mirandized and he stopped talking. (It would be nice to learn, from Mueller or someone else in a position to know, precisely when Abdulmutallab was read his rights.)

The administration’s embarrassing performance continued even after the hearings had been adjourned. Blair’s office released a statement intended to clarify his earlier remarks about the high-value detainee interrogation group—HIG.

“My remarks today before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs have been misconstrued. The FBI interrogated Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab when they took him into custody. They received important intelligence at that time, drawing on the FBI’s expertise in interrogation that will be available in the HIG once it is fully operational.”

The problem was not so much that Blair had not contemplated using the HIG on terrorists captured on U.S. soil—Duh!—but that it is not yet fully operational. And this is better? As Blair testified himself, the HIG was “started as part of the executive order after the decision to close Guantanamo.” That was a year ago tomorrow. So the elite interrogation unit that was to have been keeping us safe after the administration banned enhanced interrogation and vowed to shut down Guantanamo Bay—it doesn’t actually exist yet.

Barack Obama should call Scott Brown again—not to congratulate him, but to thank him for guaranteeing that this extraordinary incompetence does not get the coverage it deserves.

[end of Hayes article]

- end of initial entry -

Paul Nachman writes:

Having already read the whole entry and gone to the video of Sessions grilling Mueller, I was most impressed with Leahy’s stupidity right at the end, where Leahy is pointing out to Sessions that it’s going to be no trouble getting a conviction of the Nigerian dweeb since there all kinds of eyewitnesses to the dweeb’s flaming pants.

Would it be possible to miss Sessions’s point more thoroughly than Leahy did?

LA replies:

He misses the point either because, at worst, he has a conscious animus against the U.S. or, at best, the U.S. as an entity does not exist for him, and therefore the notion of defending the U.S. as the U.S., the notion of “us” and “them,” does not exist for him. So he can conceptualize Mutallab only as a criminal to be tried and found guilty, not as an enemy waging war against the U.S.

But ultimately it doesn’t matter what his precise thought process is. Any way one looks at it, he is not on the side of the U.S., and he will not defend it from enemies.

Jack writes:

You make a good point about the need for proper interrogation of the Nigerian but this line of thinking leads to men held for years without end at Guantanamo giving the left a talking point in their discussion of the evils of America.

In a sane world, the Guatanamo terrorists would have been interrogated in situ for a few weeks or months after capture and then handed over to the local authorities to be anonymously executed. [LA replies: what local authorities are you talking about?] In 2001 when the Guantanamo detentions were announced many predicted what eventually happened. Once Bush brought the terrorists to Cuba it was only a matter of time until the Left got them lawyers and full legal rights that they as illegal combatants do not deserve.

One could even argue that summary execution without delay would provide greater deterrent value and display a seriousness of purpose to the enemy that far outweighs the value of any information that could be obtained. What is the Nigerian going to tell us anyway: that moslems hate us and want to kill us, we know that already. Anecdotal reports from the battlefield indicate that some variation of this tactic [summary execution?] is already in use given the current catch and release policy.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 22, 2010 01:24 AM | Send

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