Dennis Blair criticizes White House on terror politicsBy KASIE HUNT
February 3, 2010
The nation’s top spy says politics is hindering the ability of intelligence officials to deal with the aftermath of the Christmas Day bombing attempt.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair says the politicking on the issue has been “high” and that it hasn’t “been very particularly good” for the intelligence community—even as his own White House bosses and congressional Republicans continue to spar over the issue, leaking information to the media and hammering each other in public.
“The political dimension of what to me ought to be a national security issue has been quite high. I don’t think it has been very particularly good, I will tell you, from the inside, in terms of us trying to get the right job done to protect the United States,” Blair told the House Intelligence Committee.
“We’re just trying to bring intelligence and law enforcement to bear to get the right info to make sure that those who threaten our country get behind bars,” Blair said.
Blair’s comments came after sharp questioning from Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) about a Tuesday night briefing held for reporters at the White House. Two senior officials offered new details about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s interrogation, outlining how counterterrorism agents traveled to Nigeria to enlist help from his family.
“The decision made last night at the White House to be releasing what I would consider to be classified information or damaging information, and I just wondered if the entire intelligence community was consulted before these political decisions were made,” King said.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) also hammered the White House “broadcast” that Abdulmutallab was talking again. “I can’t figure out a reason that would happen other than political cover,” Thornberry said.
“I have been surprised by the combination of reality and politics having to do with this issue. I just try to do the job, to do the right thing for the country, and I just can’t control all of the politics,” Blair responded.
The White House briefing was aimed at pushing back against pitched Republican attacks about giving Miranda rights to the alleged underwear bomber. Led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Republicans have accused the Obama administration of jeopardizing national security when they read Abdulmutallab his rights after he was arrested in Detroit.
Collins gave the weekly Republican radio address Saturday. “Abdulmutallab was questioned for less than one hour before the Justice Department advised him that he could remain silent and offered him an attorney at our expense. Once afforded the protection our Constitution guarantees American citizens, this foreign terrorist ‘lawyered up’ and stopped talking,” she said in the address.
In a new statement today, she accused the administration of cutting a plea bargain with the accused terrorist. "If Abdulmutallab is now talking in the context of plea negotiations, that is, of course, welcome, but it implies that the government is willing to grant him a measure of leniency for the information he is willing to provide,” she said in a statement.
Obama officials immediately pushed back. “Abdulmutallab has not been offered anything,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday. “The Department of Justice take his cooperation ‘into consideration,’” Gibbs said.
In January, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said a plea bargain for Abdulmutallab was “on the table.”
Top Senate Republicans have also bashed the White House over the handling of Abdulmutallab — and they kept up the criticism today.
“Instead of addressing the substantive policy concerns many of us have expressed about this incident, the administration has put anonymous sources on the telephone with reporters to take shots at their critics. These anonymous sources have leaked information aimed at rehabilitating and justifying the administration’s mishandling of the Nigerian bomber,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a Wednesday address at the Heritage Foundation.
“Yemeni forces needed that information on Dec. 25, not six weeks later. Meanwhile, the American people are left to wonder whether, in place of interrogations, their safety depends on terrorists having families who can persuade them to talk,” McConnell said.