Judicial Watch • Intel Chief’s Ignorance Displayed In Senate Hearing

Intel Chief’s Ignorance Displayed In Senate Hearing

Intel Chief’s Ignorance Displayed In Senate Hearing

JANUARY 22, 2010

In yet another indicator that incompetents are handling national security, the U.S. government’s top intelligence official told a senate panel that the Al Qaeda operative who recently tried to blow up a passenger jet should have been questioned by a special interrogation unit that doesn’t even exist.

If this sounds like a late-night comedy show skit, just take a look at the news report that provides the embarrassing details. Testifying before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the president’s Director of National Intelligence (Dennis Blair) said that the Nigerian terrorist who tried to blow up the Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas should not have been questioned by the FBI, but rather a yet-to-be-created interrogation outfit. 

The hypothetical unit—to be called High-Value Interrogation Group or HIG—was recommended by an Obama Administration task force last summer but has not yet come together. Even when it does, it’s only supposed to handle the questioning of high-value Al Qaeda leaders captured overseas, a criteria that didn’t apply to the Christmas Day terrorist (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab) since he was apprehended upon landing in the U.S. None of this stopped the Director of National Intelligence from telling congressional leaders that the HIG should have questioned the bomber instead of the FBI.

"That unit was created exactly for 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," the director told the senate panel. "We did not invoke the HIG in this case; we should have. Frankly, we were thinking more of overseas people. And, you know, we didn’t put it then—that’s what we will do now. And—and so we need to make those decisions more carefully."

This sort of ignorance certainly doesn’t paint a very positive portrait of the official who, not only heads the nation’s intelligence community, but also acts as the principal adviser to the president as well as the Department of Homeland Security. Annoyed, angry and frustrated, the White House quickly ordered the remarks corrected. Blair followed orders, subsequently claiming that his testimony had been “misconstrued.” What he meant to say is that the HIG will be of tremendous value once it’s fully operational.

This hardly marks the first controversy involving Homeland Security blunders that indicate the system is perhaps not the most efficient. The nation’s Secretary of Homeland Security is actually best known for her many gaffes, including the laughable assessment that the aviation security system worked because Abdulmutallab didn’t actually succeed in blowing up the plane. Never mind that the system allowed a radical Muslim who appeared on the terrorist watch lists of two countries to board an airplane with explosives in his pants and that it was actually passengers—not authorities—who stopped him.

President Obama subsequently revealed that incompetent U.S. intelligence agencies actually helped the Al Qaeda terrorist who came dangerously close to blowing the plane up with 300 passengers aboard. The commander-in-chief called it a “potential catastrophic breach” of security because the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been sitting on valuable information about the bomber’s terrorist connections for months and the terrorist’s own father had warned American embassy officials that his son had “become radicalized.” 

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