Top White House adviser David Axelrod believes the U.S. government properly handled the Christmas Day bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, despite the fact that Abdulmutallab stopped talking to interrogators after having had Miranda rights read to him. In an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Axelrod was asked about the decision to read Abdulmutallab his rights after just 50 minutes of interrogation. "We have not lost anything as a result of how this case has been handled," Axelrod said. It was an updated version of the claim that Robert Gibbs made last week, when he said that FBI interrogators had gotten "all they could get" from Abdulmutallab in their brief session.
If the White House political and spin teams believe this is true, the actions of the FBI officers themselves suggest that the claim is not true. After a five-hour break following the first interrogation session, the FBI sent a second team to interrogate Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day -- something that would have been unnecessary if the FBI had, in fact, gotten everything it could from him. And on Friday the Washington Post reported that Justice Department officials are still trying to get more from Abdulmutallab. The Post reported that U.S. government officials are now working on a plea bargain with Abdulmutallab's lawyers -- a deal that would allow interrogators access once again to Abdulmutallab. That wouldn't be necessary if we had gotten everything we could have gotten from him.
Intelligence collection is an ongoing process. It doesn't stop after just one interview with a terrorist. The best information often comes after a series of back-and-forth sessions with the subject that last days, even weeks. Interrogators take bits of information provided by the subject and test it against information collected from other sources -- intercepts, human collection, open source material, and other detainees -- to learn more and to fill in the intelligence picture on a particular subject or group or operation. By allowing Abdulmutallab to remain silent, the Obama administration has chosen -- and it is a choice -- to collect less information and ultimately to know less about the al Qaeda operatives trying to kill Americans.
We have yet another example of this short-sighted approach today. According to the Associated Press, Malaysian authorities detained 10 suspected terrorists who are believed to have ties to Abdulmutallab.
The AP reported: "The government-linked New Straits Times newspaper said foreign antiterrorism agencies told authorities the suspects were in Malaysia and were linked to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a young Nigerian accused of trying to detonate a bomb during a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Dec. 25...They include four men from Syria, two from Nigeria, and one each from Yemen and Jordan, said Syed Ibrahim Syed Noh, head of a rights group that assists people held under Malaysia's Internal Security Act, which allows indefinite detention without trial."
Who are these suspected terrorists and what do we know about them? Surely the CIA is pressing its Malaysian colleagues for more information on these detainees. And perhaps they are known to the U.S. intelligence community. It's possible that the U.S. government provided the intelligence that led Malaysian authorities to the suspected terrorists.
If those reports are true, wouldn't it be nice to ask Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who they are, how he came to know them and why he was in league with them?