Accusing President Obama of "dangerous folly," The Wall Street Journal falsely claimed that Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, "told the Senate that by immediately handing [alleged Christmas Day attacker Umar Farouk] Abdulmutallab to the civilian justice system, the government all but slammed the door on its ability to interrogate him thoroughly." In fact, Blair has acknowledged that the FBI gained "important intelligence" from Abdulmutallab.
WSJ falsely claimed Blair said government did not interrogate Abdulmutallab thoroughly
WSJ falsely claimed Blair testified that "the government all but slammed the door on its ability to interrogate him thoroughly." In a January 22 editorial headlined " 'Duh': Another intelligence blunder," the Journal claimed that the "Director of National Intelligence told the Senate that by immediately handing Abdulmutallab to the civilian justice system, the government all but slammed the door on its ability to interrogate him thoroughly. Specifically, the feds failed to avail themselves of a unit called the High-Value Interrogation Group, or HIG, which Mr. Blair says was created '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.' "
WSJ accused Obama of "dangerous folly." The editorial concluded: "Mr. Blair's testimony was almost instantly disputed by an anonymous Administration official, and he later issued a statement saying his comments had been 'misconstrued.' We think we heard Mr. Blair right the first time, and his departure from script reveals the dangerous folly of the Administration's policy of treating terrorists like common criminals."
Other right-wing media outlets have distorted Blair's testimony to accuse Obama of endangering Americans. As Media Matters for America has documented, right-wing media outlets including the Ace of Spades blog, The Weekly Standard, National Review Online and The Las Vegas Review-Journal have made similar, false assertions about Blair's testimony
Blair, Mueller stated that FBI got intelligence from interrogation
In fact, Blair never claimed Abdulmutallab was not interrogated thoroughly. At no point in his January 20 unclassified testimony before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs did Blair state that Abdulmutallab was not interrogated thoroughly or that he should have been transferred from civilian to military custody. When asked directly by Sen. John McCain if Abdulmutallab should be "tried in civilian court or should it be under military tribunal," Blair stated: "I'm not ready to offer an opinion on that in open session. We can talk about it in closed session, Senator McCain."
Blair subsequently acknowledged FBI received "important intelligence." While the Journal acknowledged that Blair subsequently stated that his testimony had been "misconstrued," it did not mention that Blair also stated that the FBI had received "important intelligence." From Blair's January 20 statement: "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."
FBI Director Mueller testified that Abdulmutallab gave information to FBI. From FBI director Robert Mueller's January 20 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (accessed from the Nexis database):
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI): Do you not react differently to cases that have a national security and terrorism overtone than to you regular book of criminal business, in terms of making early decisions as to what type of interrogation is appropriate?
MUELLER: Certainly we do. And that's what the agents did in this particular case. There were no Miranda warnings given. They immediately went in, when they had the opportunity to interview him to determine whether -- to gain intelligence, intelligence about whether there's another bomb, whether other coconspirators, where'd he get the bomb, all of that information without the benefit of -- or within the Miranda warnings.
It had to be done very quickly because of the fact that he had been injured, was in a hospital, and the window of opportunity to do this had to be undertaken very quickly.
But the fact remains, as well, later that evening, he was Mirandized and -- and went into the judicial system. I'm not going to opine one way or the other, because I don't think it's my role to -- to necessarily adopt the policy as to where the person goes. It's to other persons at the Department of Justice and elsewhere.
Mueller: Criminal justice system has been "a fountain of intelligence in the years since September 11th." During his Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, Mueller also stated: "[W]e've had a number of cases in which through the process -- the criminal justice process of the United States, individuals have decided to cooperate and provided tremendous intelligence. That is not to say that there may not be other ways of obtaining that intelligence. But, yes, in answer to your question, the criminal justice system has been a -- a fountain of intelligence in the years since September 11th."
High-Value Interrogation Group cited by Blair is not "fully operational," designed for overseas interrogations
Group that Blair said should have been consulted is not "fully operational," not designed for use in the U.S. As Blair acknowledged in the subsequent statement referred to by the Journal, the HIG -- a proposed "specialized interrogation group" designed to "bring together the most effective and experienced interrogators and support personnel from across the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense and law enforcement" to "interrogate the most dangerous terrorists" -- is not "fully operational." Indeed, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff reported: "Abdulmutallab couldn't possibly have been questioned by the HIG because the unit doesn't exist yet. The task force had recommended it be created to handle the questioning of 'high value' Qaeda leaders who might be captured overseas -- a criterion that clearly doesn't apply in Abdulmutallab's case. But the proposal is still being reviewed by the National Security Council, and the actual unit has not yet been created."
HIG reportedly not designed to have jurisdiction over suspects on U.S. soil. In a November 20, 2009, blog post on Fort Hood shooting suspect Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman wrote: "[I]t is unlikely that the HIG would interview Hasan. Dean Boyd, a spokesman for the Justice Department's national security division, clarified that the new group is mandated to operate 'overseas only.' " Isikoff further wrote that "since Abdulmutallab was not a Qaeda leader, and was captured in Detroit, not overseas, the HIG wouldn't apply in any case, said the source, who worked closely on the proposal."