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Politicizing Intelligence

The Obama administration leaks and spins.

Feb 15, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 21 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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This time, Blair responded, haltingly. “I understand your question, sir,” he said. “As I said before, I—the—but the level of—the level of—the political dimension of what to me ought to be a national security issue has—has been quite—quite high. I don’t think it’s been very—particularly good, I will tell you, from the inside and in terms of us trying to get the right job done to—to protect the United States.”

Politico reported that Blair’s words were a “blast” at the White House, and Blair’s office issued a clarification later in the day attempting to separate Blair’s words from the question that prompted them. Although the question had been about the White House and politicization of intelligence, and although Blair prefaced his answer by saying “I understand your question, sir,” a statement from Blair spokesman Arthur House claimed “the DNI did not criticize the administration in any way.”

Did the White House tell the DNI to clarify Blair’s statement? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time. Two weeks ago, when Blair testified before the Senate Homeland Security Committee, he said that the U.S. government had made a “mistake” by not allowing the high-value detainee interrogation group (the HIG) to question Abdulmutallab. Within hours, under the headline, “Intel Chief’s Comments Infuriate Obama Officials,” Newsweek magazine reported that the “White House has ordered Blair to ‘correct’ his remarks.” Blair did so quickly, noting that the HIG did not yet exist at the time Abdulmutallab was detained.

Obama officials were no doubt embarrassed by the gaffe. But what really made them angry? “Administration officials said the comments by Blair were especially galling because they seemed to vindicate the chief Republican criticism of the handling of the Detroit incident,” Newsweek reported. And in case there were any confusion about his new views, Blair emphasized them again in an odd exchange during the Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday. As Senator Bond was questioning Mueller, Blair interrupted, offering his unsolicited support for the Obama administration.

There are decisions that have to be made in which you balance the requirement for intelligence with the requirement for a prosecution and the—the sorts of pressure you can bring on—bring on to the people that you arrest in either form. It’s got to be a decision made at the time, and I think the balance struck in the Mutallab case was a very—was an understandable balance.”

Two weeks earlier Blair had called the interrogation a “mistake.” Now, after his scolding by the White House, he was eagerly defending it. 

The administration is apparently so overwhelmed by its spin efforts some officials have continued to push bogus narratives even after they’ve been put to rest, on the record, by senior officials. For example, a Washington Post story Thursday sourced largely to “administration officials” repeated the false claim that Abdulmutallab had already stopped talking when interrogators mirandized him. 

According to the Post: “Administration officials have acknowledged that the suspect initially spoke to investigators for less than an hour before being treated for injuries. He then asked for a lawyer, although U.S. officials say he stopped speaking to investigators before he was read his rights.” But three sources familiar with Abdulmutallab’s interrogations told The Weekly Standard that the al Qaeda operative stopped talking only upon being advised of his right to remain silent.

In any case, Mueller, during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, acknowledged, without qualification, that Abdulmutallab stopped talking once he was provided with a lawyer:

We were then given an opportunity later that night to again interview him, and after consultation—or in consultation with Justice Department attorneys, we determined to follow our protocols, protocols established by the Supreme Court, in terms of how you interrogate and question individuals in custody in the United States. He was—a team went in to talk with him, he talked for a few moments, and then afterwards, after he was given his Miranda warnings, asked for an attorney, and we discontinued the questioning.

Abdulmutallab stopped talking—and the FBI “discontinued the questioning”—after he was given his Miranda warnings and asked for a lawyer, not before. But “administration officials” continue to tell reporters otherwise.

It is understandable that the White House would be eager to try to spin away the incompetence on display in the aftermath of the Christmas Day bombing, and to explain away the deleterious national security implications of the administration’s stubborn insistence on treating terrorists as criminal suspects who need to be read their rights like ordinary criminal suspects. 

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